Feb.3 (Force India) Nico Hulkenberg made his Formula 1 debut at the start of 2010 with Williams, but despite a stellar rookie season (including pole position in Brazil that year) the German was axed – big bags of money did the talking at Grove – and he found his way to Force India as reserve for 2012. This year he has been promoted to the race seat in Vijay Mallya’s outfit. He talks about the forthcoming season.
Did you have a chance to relax this winter and how have you been preparing for this season?
After Brazil I took some time out and just chilled a little bit and did some training. I went on a little holiday to New York after Christmas and since the beginning of January I’ve been pretty much flat out. It’s not like I’ve been sitting at home, there’s been plenty to do and think about!
What are your initial thoughts on the VJM05?
I think the car doesn’t look too different to last year, expect maybe at the front of the nose, where there is a bit of a change. Apart from that, there isn’t much obvious, although the exhaust position is different. Aero-wise, it’s in the details again. I saw the car in the wind tunnel and it looked good, but you never know where you are until you are out there and you compete against the others, so let’s wait and see.
All the teams have lost downforce with the exhaust rules. Are you confident that the team has
been able to claw enough back?
Everyone is positive. Losing the blown floor was a setback, but at the same time the aero guys and engineers are moving on and trying to develop other areas to try and gain what you lose. Nowadays you need a strong aero package, a good aerodynamic car, but also mechanically you cannot afford to have poor suspension. It all goes together as a package and you have to have harmony in the car.
How would you describe the team’s philosophy with the new car?
I think very clearly the philosophy is to build a competitive and very quick car! With 20 races this year you need a car which is very good on every circuit, not just high-speed tracks like Monza, or tight street circuits like Monaco. I think if you want to compete against the others, and it’s pretty tough in the midfield, you need to be competitive everywhere. We’re just trying to develop and make the car stronger in every aspect.
How hungry are you to get started after not racing last year?
Very! Preparations have been full-on with simulator sessions, the seat fitting, and my training regime has gone up a little bit in volume and intensity. So I’m getting myself back into shape again. It’s exciting times and I’m looking forward to it.
Will it take you a couple of weekends to get back into the rhythm of qualifying and racing?
It’s difficult to know. Obviously I went through that process in 2010, and I still have memories of it. However, it’s not a situation like the beginning of 2010 when I was a complete rookie and completely new to everything. I’ve gone through it before and I know what to expect and what is coming up. It’s not a bad situation, but not having been on the grid for a year means it might take some time and some adjustments before I’m fully up there and back in my race rhythm.
You learned about the Pirellis in your Friday testing last year, but you don’t know about how they develop over the weekend into qualifying and the race. Is that the major thing you have to learn?
Track evolution from P3 to qualifying, what you’ve got to do with your set-up to re-adjust it, how the soft tyres behave in the race – I only know about that from the Bridgestone days, and I didn’t really run a soft Pirelli compound last year in free practice. So there’s a lot to learn and there are only a few tests before Melbourne. We’ve got a lot on our schedule, but it’s a good challenge!
Apart from learning more about the tyres, what are your goals in testing?
I just have to get back in the groove, get some mileage, get the F1 feeling back, and just prepare. The important thing is to do a qualifying and race simulation as well, at the latest by the last Barcelona test. It’s what you would do usually, but maybe this time it’s a bit more for myself to prepare.
What are your thoughts on Paul? Obviously he’s going to be your main rival this year.
I know Paul very well from last year, and I saw what he could do. I think he did a very good and a competitive rookie season. Having a winter and then coming back for your second year, you’ve got to be stronger, it’s natural. You can have a good think about things. I think we both have a very competitive nature, and we both had some great success before F1. It’s going to be competitive, and at the same time what I could see from last year is that we work well together. It’s a healthy rivalry between us, we can push ourselves to the limit, and the team can be pushed to the limit as well, which is good.
Do you have similar driving styles and set-up preferences?
It’s difficult sometimes to make out the difference and you always think about your own set-up rather than your teammate’s. So I don’t know yet whether we have a similar driving style.
The team did a great job to finish sixth last year. How tough is it going to be to repeat that, given the strength of the middle of the field?
I think that’s the case every year, and if you look at how competitive it was in the midfield last year, there’s nothing new there. Obviously Williams wants to come back and push forward again – they want to make our life more difficult! We want to establish ourselves and maybe even gain one more place to be fifth in the constructors’, so it’s going to be interesting with Lotus as well.