Nico Hulkenberg has always possessed an ability to deliver impressive speed over one lap. His recent qualifying statistics not only demonstrate a continued adeptness at maximising a Saturday afternoon, but they also make a case for rating Hulkenberg as one of Formula 1’s strongest qualifiers.
Hulkenberg’s remarkable run of form was quantified in the drivers’ press conference ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Tom Clarkson, journalist and the presser’s MC, highlighted that Hulkenberg has out-qualified his team-mate in each of the last 27 races – a run stretching back to the 2016 US Grand Prix.
Most recently, Hulkenberg has commanded the best-of-the-rest position behind the three top teams, securing seventh on the grid in the last seven races.
When asked if he thought that he had made a step in improving his qualifying performance in order to sustain this run of form, he said; “I think I’ve just managed to hit it on the head each time.
“I quite enjoy qualifying, I like getting out there where it counts and putting a lap together. I feel also the last 20 or so races I also had a car that allows me to do that and gives me the support that a driver needs also.
“Since last year, with this generation of cars, when you have the downforce, you’ve got more grip to work with. It’s just been a bit more fun and probably helps the way I drive also a little bit.”
Hulkenberg’s remarkable run is not without precedent. During his seven full seasons in F1, he has claimed victory in the team-mate qualifying head-to-head six times.
His rookie season in 2010 was the only occasion in which he was out-qualified by a team-mate across the course of a season. In this instance, Ruberns Barrichello’s experience shone through – but only just.
Hulkenberg’s qualifying average was a slender 0.14 seconds slower than Barrichello’s. The rookie also delivered his maiden pole position on a damp afternoon at Interlagos, adding a caveat to this particular intra-team qualifying battle.
Since 2010, Hulkenberg has commanded a 0.370s advantage on average against his team-mate’s. It could be argued that having faced Esteban Gutierrez and Jolyon Palmer in ’13 and ’17 respectively, the average is skewed as in these cases, his team-mates endured tumultuous seasons.
However, during his three years against the highly rated Sergio Perez at Force India between 2014 and ’16 Hulkenberg still held a 0.313s advantage.
Hulkenberg has long possessed a trait for delivering impressive qualifying times. His current purple patch on Saturday’s is also seemingly translating to Sunday form. He has so far beaten team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr in each of the three races held so far this year. Hulkenberg is currently joint sixth in the drivers’ standings.
The fact that he had fallen off the radar of F1’s top teams prior to the signing of his long-term commitment to Renault belies his ability. Hulkenberg is a driver who deserves an opportunity in machinery that is capable of delivering pole positions and race wins.
It would be a travesty if a career spent as one of the category’s single-lap specialists ended with a solitary pole position on the scorecard.