Nico Hulkenberg’s run of bad luck at the Australian Grand Prix continued on Sunday when he was unable to even make it onto the grid for the start of the race after his Sauber developed a fuel system problem.
The German, who had qualified 11th, was making his final preparations for his debut for his new team in his 40th race when the fault was identified and it was deemed too dangerous for him to start.
The 25-year-old’s problems at Albert Park began on his first race lap on the Melbourne street circuit in 2010 when Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi crashed into a barrier and careered into Hulkenberg’s Williams, ending his race.
Two years later, Hulkenberg was back with Force India but, having qualified an impressive ninth, damaged his car in a first corner incident and failed to make it to the end of the opening lap. “I’m bitterly disappointed about what happened today,” he said. “(But) things like this happen in racing.”
“Obviously, Melbourne is not a good place for me. It was my third grand prix here and the third time that I leave this place empty handed. The only good thing is that the next race takes place next weekend.”
It was a disappointing weekend for the entire Sauber team, celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, who had been encouraged by their pace in the first two free practice sessions on Thursday but ended up without any points.
Mexican Esteban Gutierrez failed to get through the chaotic first round of qualifying on Saturday and started the race in 18th position before battling his way up to 13th – first among the five rookies in the field.
“My main goal was to finish the race, and to achieve that is really enjoyable,” said the 21-year-old.
Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn sounded as anxious to get away from Melbourne and on to the second race in Sepang as Hulkenberg.
“This was not the way we expected the new Formula One season to start,” she said. “The problem with the fuel system was unlucky, particularly at this point in the race weekend.
“We are very sorry for Nico. Esteban drove a solid first race. However, starting from P18 was too much of a handicap for him.
“I’m confident we will solve the problems we had and that we will be in better shape in Malaysia.”