Just Don’t Make Him Angry
The fifth new driver under the performance spotlight is Williams’ Nico Hulkenberg. Affectionately known to his team as “The Hulk” this driver is just too nice to be compared to the large green comic book hero of the same name. Has Nico the potential to be a super hero or is he too mild mannered to succeed?
Hulkenberg, the 2009 GP2 champion joined Williams after a single season in the premier feeder series; with five wins under his belt he convincingly led the championship ahead of second placed Vitaly Petrov. At the Grove based team he’s partnered by Rubens Barrichello, now in his eighteenth season in the sport but his first with Williams. It’s no surprise that the young German, in common with other new drivers, is taking time to settle into his team but with Rubens delivering consistently high standards has “The Hulk” lived up to expectations?
Its fair to say that Nico’s performance in qualifying has been quite good, having taken the lead in just under a third of their joint outings. Understandably Rubens leads the way, having won eight of the twelve sessions, Nico lead in three, whilst in Spain they tied on exactly the same time. The majority of Nico’s qualifying sessions (66%, 8 sessions) ended in Q2 with the remainder in Q3; Rubens most successful session was Q3 (50%) with 41% (5 sessions) in Q2 and one in Q1; on average, this has meant Rubens starting grid position is 10.5 to Nico’s 11.9. But straight head to head counts don’t tell the full story, what of the differences in lap time, has Nico been able to narrow the gap between them as the season progressed?
Whilst Rubens’ average lap advantage is 0.439 seconds on those laps he has led, Nico’s average is just 0.278 seconds, leading to an overall advantage to Rubens of 2.681 seconds. This is not a bad as we have seen from other pairings but I have to admit I had expected more, given his pre-F1 qualifications. There is no consistent trend towards smaller lap time differences as the season has progressed but Nico is slowly eating into Rubens advantage, mainly because of his performances in Canada and Europe where he set similar times. I’d expect the younger driver to need to need the remainder of the season to be consistently on the pace of his team-mate.
In race trim, Rubens is again the stronger of the two, finishing eleven races to Nico’s nine with neither driver finishing the race in Monaco. Of those races, Nico has beaten his team-mate twice, at Malaysia and Hungary, both of which were races where he had the higher qualifying grid slot. Looking at their average finishing position over the whole season to date we can see that Nico’s average is 12.9 compared to 10.0 for Barrichello, their highest finishing positions being 6th and 4th respectively. Rubens also leads Nico on championship points by 30 points to 10.
It seems clear that Nico has the pace but has been let down by his qualifying position, once he has managed to sort that out his qualifying gremlins he should be a force to contend with and a great prospect for the future.
Image © LAT/AT&T Williams F1