Germany’s Nico Hülkenberg is facing a golden career opportunity in 2019, with the chance to beat F1 A-lister Daniel Ricciardo in the same car.
The 31-year-old’s reputation has been rejuvenated at Renault, where he’s most recently seen off the challenge from Carlos Sainz; a contest he was not expected to win so convincingly.
And he takes that underdog status into this season against a revitalised Ricciardo, who is pencilled in to lead the charge for the French marque.
SOUNDBITE (English) NICO HÜLKENBERG,
F1 DRIVER, RENAULT:
“I think we’re a good line-up, a good team. Obviously we’ll push each other to the limit, which will bring the best out of ourselves - and the car. That will benefit the team. So, hopefully [together] we can push Renault forward this season and have the best year to date.”
But while many expect Ricciardo to dominate, Sainz’s despatch points to Hülkenberg’s talent especially in extracting those crucial last few tenths from a Renault with rear instability.
It’s also quite easy to forget Hülkenberg’s history as a multiple champion in the junior categories, initially in Formula BMW ADAC, A1 GP, F3 Masters, the ultra-competitive European F3 Series and GP2-now-Formula 2.
He also stunned in his debut season with Williams back in 2010, setting 2-laps good enough for pole at a wet Brazilian Grand Prix - before being replaced for the following year by Pastor Maldonado.
… the team choosing Venezuelan cash over outright talent.
And while he then went on a six-year journeyman phase with Force India and Sauber, Hülkenberg was still able to stand out: winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2015 with Porsche.
…despite starting a record-156 races without reaching the podium in F1.
Beating Ricciardo will finally remove all doubts on his talent as a Grand Prix driver, and prove his ultimate value to Renault as a developer - one able to lead the team, just as he has done since 2017.
And all with little risk, Ricciardo joining as an F1 star and race winner.
SOUNDBITE (English) CYRIL ABITEBOUL,
MANAGING DIRECTOR, RENAULT SPORT RACING:
“We’re extremely excited with our driver line-up. It’s probably one of the best line-up in the [Formula 1 ]grid right now - maybe one of the most exciting from a marketing also perspective. So we very much look forward [to] see[ing] them racing. We think they’ll be extremely complementary, we really want to see that happening.”
It’s time for the Hulk to get angry and demolish his opposition at Renault.