If Daniel Ricciardo had not won the Chinese Grand Prix through some terrific driving and team strategy, Nico Hulkenberg would have been my driver of the race. Hulkenberg had no less than six passes and yet again, out performed his teammate, Carlos Sainz.
I’ve been speaking about the difference in pace between Hulkenberg and Sainz and I am not quite sure what Carlos is struggling with regarding this year’s Renault car. To be perfectly honest, having seen Carlos attack the car and remaining three races of 2017, I thought Nico may have entered this season with a real challenge if not a sobering fact of getting beat by the Spaniard.
That’s not what’s happened so far and it and while I have always rated Nico very highly, I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise. As a fan of Nico’s since he entered F1, perhaps I wasn’t giving my guy enough credit.
I was incensed when McLaren passed on Nico and used the excuse that he was too tall. I also have heard all the comments about his being a difficult personality and not easy to work with or the best on car set up but in the end, he’s delivering. He’s risen to the challenge of Sainz and more.
According to Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul, Nico has some margin over Sainz.
“It’s fair to say he [Sainz] has a bit of a margin compared to Nico, but that does give an indication of how strong Nico is,” said Abiteboul.
“It’s always interesting to follow the change of team for drivers, because by comparing one to the next you can establish an overall comparison between the grid.
“If you remember what Carlos was doing against Verstappen, that does give an indication of how strong Nico is actually.”
Not quite sure how Cyril came around to the thinking of pinning Carlos to Max’s pace and then…POOF!…you have Nico measured on the Max Meter but for me, beating your teammate is what matters and I think we already know Carlos is a mighty opponent.
For me, Nico is among the top drivers in F1 and I’m more interested in his performance against champions, not 20-year-old up and coming drivers. Nico has been at this a while and the way he fights Fernando Alonso for best of the rest as well as Ricciardo, Vettel and Hamilton all add up to a guy, given the car, would be a fierce competitor. IT’s a long season, though, and as Nico himself says, don’t praise him too soon.
“I do feel that with all the seasons I’ve done, the experience, I’m doing amongst the best driving I’ve ever produced.
“So far I’m happy, but don’t praise the season too soon.”
I still think Carlos will overcome his current slump and I won’t rule anything out given his talent. I said that Renault made the best choice they could when they hired Nico and while the world talks about Daniel Ricciardo to Ferrari or Merc, there could be three seats open at top teams. Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren may all have spots open and if I were a team boss, I would look very closely at Nico.
Hat Tip: Autosport