Ever since he burst onto the Formula One scene in 2010, Nico Hulkenberg has always been tipped as a driver to watch, one with immense promise and talent. Willi Weber – formerly Michael Schumacher’s agent, tipped him to be one for a great future.
He captured the attentions of everyone when he sat on pole in a rain-soaked qualifying session at Interlagos in his début year, in a Williams more suited to the back of the grid, rather than their usual top 5 spot which they currently occupy.
But now in his fifth year in the sport, Hulkenberg may be forgiven for getting a slight sinking feeling when he looks at his Formula 1 prospects. After taking a year off in 2011, he has since driven for Force India and Sauber and put in consistent performances, bothering the points paying positions in most races – which may not come as a shock due to his team’s solid midfield team credentials.
One gets the feeling that inside his cool, polite (and rather tall) exterior, there is a top class driver patiently waiting to be given a chance in a Ferrari, Red Bull, a better Williams or dare I say, a Mercedes. A car where he can truly show his talent.
And therein the brief, glancing description I gave of the German lies his main problem. His frame. There have been other drivers who have bordered on the realms of being noted as Motorsport giants – Alex Wurz, Dan Gurney, the late Justin Wilson, 1958 World Champion Mike Hawthorn and former Red Bull ace Mark Webber being a few names that spring to mind. Other than Hawthorn and arguably Gurney and Webber, they all have one thing in common – their talents have been hindered by their…lankiness, shall we say.
Standing at a shade over 6 foot (1.84m), Hulkenberg’s options are limited. And the fact he weighs 75 kilograms doesn’t help either. There are major reasons why slimmer, lighter drivers are preferred. ‘The Hulk’ as he is affectionately known, is the heaviest driver in the field, affecting his speed. For starters, the car has to be a minimum of 702 kg with the driver in it (but no fuel) and if it is any lighter than that, the teams face disqualification from the race weekend. So with that minimum weight, the lighter the driver, the quicker the car. Seems obvious, really.
Sebastian Vettel weighs 64 kilograms, Lewis Hamilton is 68 kg, leaving Hulkenberg 11 and 7 kg’s heavier than two of the three main title contenders – not ideal. It’s been said that every extra 10kg on a car is worth 3 tenths of a second – light years in F1 terms.
Hulkenberg is as lean as he can be – as are all F1 drivers. Both Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil had real difficulties getting down to their target weight last year, Sutil even having to be hospitalised in pre-season as a precautionary measure due to health worries.
For the popular German, his future successes may lie in the exponentially growing World Endurance Championship with Porsche – lest we forget him winning the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans this year with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. Webber and the equally tall Brendon Hartley are also finding success in the WEC, narrowly leading the Driver’s Championship ahead of the all-conquering Audi trio of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer with one round to go.
He may have retained his Force India/Aston Martin (whatever the outcome of that may be) for 2016, but at 28, finding a better one seems like a tall order (sorry, Nico).
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