Nico Hülkenberg and the tale of GP2

Brought to you by Adam Macdonald.

Described above as the ‘greatest lap of Nico Hulkenberg’s career’ by the American commentator, it seems that the Interlagos circuit really brings about high and low points for Nico Hulkenberg.  After a completely unexpected pole position on a drying track in Brazil, the young German didn’t manage to keep the lead into the first corner and fell back through the field to finish in 8th position.  But this was the 2009 GP2 Champion; surely he would be given more than just a year.

Alas not, the P45 was sent out by Royal Mail first class and he was dismissed by the Williams team; finding himself left with no drive for the 2011 season, he elected to sign for Force India as a test driver.  He replaced Paul Di Resta at the Silverstone based team, with the pay driver Pastor Maldonado taking his seat at Williams.  He reportedly took a job in the Force India factory as well, in order to gain knowledge of the car and further enhance his chance of succeeding.  In a twist of fortune (at least for Nico), a position became available following a few poor decisions by Adrian Sutil in a nightclub in central Shanghai.

All avid Formula One fans will remember the Nico’s performance in the final race of 2012, which saw him keep pace with Jenson Button, whom many consider to be the master of the changing conditions.  It even saw him take the lead of the race, before a misjudged braking zone going into turn 1 brought about a drive-through penalty and left Lewis Hamilton feeling disgruntled.  Then the move to Sauber which has not been the best career move.  One has to wonder whether he jumped or was pushed, given the fact Adrian Sutil was lurking on the horizon.

GP2 too far removed?

As much as Formula One is the top level of motor racing worldwide, it seems to me strange that somebody who wins the 2nd tier of racing can be dumped out so quickly when they reach the top.  A year is a long time in racing, but some time to adapt has to be afforded to the rookies.  So who is to blame for the lack of success of the transition from GP2 into the big time that is Formula One?  Some would argue the structure of GP2 is unrealistic, as it is completely different to anything the drivers experience in the top grade of racing.  There is, to date, only one driver who has transitioned from being GP2 driver into being a WDC in F1 – Lewis Hamilton – who has driven for a top team for all his career.  For those who do not know, there is a breakdown of the scoring system for GP2 below.

From the 2012 season, the GP2 series has changed its scoring system.  Feature races will be run with a scoring system the same as the one used in Formula One:

Point system for the feature race

 1st 

 2nd 

 3rd 

 4th 

 5th 

 6th 

 7th 

 8th 

 9th 

 10th 

25

18

15

12

10

8

6

4

2

1

The top eight finishers in the sprint race receive points as follows:

Point system for the sprint race

 1st 

 2nd 

 3rd 

 4th 

 5th 

 6th 

 7th 

 8th 

15

12

10

8

6

4

2

1

Pole position for the feature race is now worth 4 points, and 2 points will be given for the fastest lap in each race. Therefore, the maximum number of points a driver can score at any round will be 48.

There is yet to be anybody to score a maximum with the new points system, although Nelson Piquet, Jr. during the 2006 season, and Nico Hülkenberg during the 2009 season, did manage this under the old points system.  Unfortunately for Nelson, his in-car acrobatics around the streets of Singapore seem to have put pay to any future career in F1.

And what about Nico

Different sections of the F1 media questioned Perez’s appointment to the Woking based squad last year, saying the young German should have been given the race seat instead.  If Mr Hülkenberg was forced to leave the Force India team, he can rightly feel aggrieved at the rough deal he has been handed.  However, if it was purely his choice to leave the Silverstone team, then it must go down as one of the worst decisions of recent times!

After putting in the hard work to get a drive for the 2012 season, to have thrown away such a chance to drive in a competitive car this season could be a decision he regrets when he hangs up his driving gloves, if he never gets the big break, that many feel he deserves.

Spare a thought for…

Giorgio Pantano must resent the sight of the Red Bull racing team winning each year, given the fact they were the reason he lost out on a race seat with relatively competitive Jaguar outfit in 2004 (the final year before they became Red Bull Racing).  The 2008 GP2 Champion had his place revoked following $10,000,000 funding from Red Bull, for Christian Klien to get the seat instead.  So even when the option was there to take on a genuinely more decorated driver, even if it was before he had won the inaugural GP2 title, money still won.  This was much the same for Hülkenberg in 2011, as well as Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen this year.

The issue of pay drivers is not a new concept in Formula One.  If anything though, this makes it all the more worrying, given that pay drivers are evidently endemic to the sport!

A word on Mercedes and their ban

Of course, the FIA was put in a difficult position following the ‘secret’ tests.  However, one of the bigger losers in this situation is the would be young drivers who are now going to be denied the chance to test in an F1 car.  I jokingly suggested they should be given the 2012 HRT for the test, which incidentally, is owned by Pirelli.

So where now?

Should GP2 and GP3 graduates be given more time to adapt to life in F1?  On the evidence of Esteban Gutierrez, the answer is an unequivocal yes.  The inaugural GP3 Champion in 2010, and a top 3 finisher in GP2 in 2012 shows he certainly has the talent.  The jury should still be out on him, with no decision on his potential to be made yet.

This should be much the same for more of the new drivers to the sport.  Max Chilton is getting ever closer to Jules Bianchi, and maybe the home British GP will be all the impetus that he needs to finally outshine his teammate.

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