Nico Hulkenberg’s reputation is set to take a knock in Singapore
An embarrassing record
A shot with Renault is his only shot
Carlos Sainz could cause a problem
Lewis Hamilton was finally able to overcome Michael Schumacher’s long-standing pole position record a fortnight ago. This weekend in Singapore, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg is on course to break another, less valued record.
Should Hulkenberg fail to make the podium on Sunday, he will have started 129 races without ever finishing on the podium. That is not the kind of record someone with his kind of talent should claim.
Even if he does manage to find the podium in Singapore, he will still take the record for the most races before his first podium. Martin Brundle only took 91 races to make the top three.
Is Hulkenberg’s reputation overblown?
That stat always surprises me. Hulkenberg is widely regarded as a driver capable of winning Grand Prix. From the moment he took pole in appalling conditions at Interlagos in 2010, he was labelled a future champion.
Since then, his performances have not been up to world-beating standard. Incumbent best-of-the-rest driver Sergio Perez outperformed him during their time together at Force India. The Mexican achieved four podiums during that period.
The fact Hulkenberg has not even managed a podium finish though, is baffling. He should be winning races, no doubt about it. But he is simply unable to secure a competitive seat. A series of sidesteps have horribly hindered his progress.
He made his debut for Williams while they were struggling at the wrong end of the grid. Now, having moved from Force India to Sauber and back again, Hulkenberg has forged an opportunity with Renault.
In his seven-year career, Nico has been unable to break out of the mid-field. At 30, he still has time to achieve something in this sport. But that is an awful lot of time wasted fighting for scraps.
Time for a forwards step
Now, as a lead driver in a works team, Hulkenberg finds himself in a strong position. It’s widely accepted in Formula 1 that, under the current regulations, the Championship can only be won by a works outfit.
So in theory, the Hulk, as the de-facto number 1 driver in that team, could be a potential title contender. That of course relies on Renault being able to get their act together and build a competitive engine.
Renault are now focussing their team around this guy. Hulkenberg is going to receive some serious investment over the next couple of years. All that waiting may well have paid off.
Time to live up to the hype?
Carlos Sainz is virtually guaranteed a move to Renault. The exciting Spaniard could arrive as early as next month’s Malaysia Grand Prix.
Should that all fall into place, Hulkenberg will have a real challenge on his hands. Because, as unfortunate as it is for the Brit, Jolyon Palmer has been poor this season. Hulkenberg has not had to do much to solidify his status as number 1. He will be found out if Sainz comes in and finds some speed.
Nico Hulkenberg has maintained his reputation as a quick driver. But a reputation cannot sit in a trophy cabinet. It’s to put some silverware on the shelf.