Nico Hulkenberg’s final Formula 1 season – for the time being at least – was not without frustrations.
Hulkenberg also went through a spell where he wasn’t satisfied with the car’s balance. New team mate Daniel Ricciardo alongside him was well=placed to capitalise.
For all these reasons, Hulkenberg felt his 2019 campaign lacked consistency. “We always had potential,” he reflected, “but then things happen all the time. Whether it’s reliability or human error or strategy, there was many things that kind of held us back this year. And, sometimes, our own mistakes.
“We’d have a good result, keep on rolling it but then something always prevents another good one and another good one. So we’ve had definitely a lot of headwind this year.
“It was not the easiest kind of season and definitely not the smoothest, especially if you compare it and look with McLaren. I think they also had problems, but not as much as us.”
Qualifying: Lap time
The lower the lines, the better the driver performed
Ricciardo seized the early initiative in the qualifying battle, though the margins between the two were often razor-thin early in the season. In France the team introduced an upgrade which did not produce the desired results, and from that point on Hulkenberg seemed less at ease with his car.
Later in the season he got the car handling more to his liking, qualified closer to his potential and even beat Ricciardo for three Saturdays in a row at one point. Asked what had changed, Hulkenberg said several factors were at work.
“These things are hard to describe,” he said. “It’s a little bit related with set-up and that we found a happier place for me. But also it’s a feeling thing. If you don’t feel right in the car and you know the car, you just don’t feel that connected with it.
“That’s when you can’t find the last like one, two tenths, for example. I had a period in the middle of the year where that was the case. Then it became more together again and better.”
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Race: Start versus finish
Hulkenberg often found himself on the cusp of breaking through into Q3. If he did, he often found himself in the lower reaches of the top 10 and under threat from those starting behind him on new tyres; if he didn’t, the reverse was often true, and he was able to move forwards into the points-scoring positions.
The biggest disappointment of his season by far came in Germany, where he was in the hunt for a podium finish when he crashed. After the next race Renault announced he would be replaced by Esteban Ocon.
But leaving the championship despite several missed chances to take the rostrum finish which still eludes him “doesn’t feel like unfinished business”, said Hulkenberg.
“I’ve done my business, I’ve really performed well over the years, very consistently,” he explained. “[There were] many times when it was on the verge or other people didn’t get hired or get a job. I still was wanted and then hired and paid to drive. So that also speaks for some quality.
“Of course I would like to have a different kind of record and more points on there, podium or victories. But I know why, the reasons and why things maybe didn’t go that way. But I’m at peace with myself. I sleep well at night with my eyes closed. I’d love to continue racing but if not then life goes on.”
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Race: Share of points
Race: Results versus other drivers
Hulkenberg contributed a significant chunk of Renault’s points and both drivers lost further potential scores due to unreliability and errors. Over the season, Hulkenberg didn’t manage to break out of the midfield quite as often or successfully as Ricciardo did.
But however good Ocon may prove, it’s doubtful that a change in their driver line-up is the main area Renault were lacking last season. Their progress stalled in their fourth season since returning to F1.
“Obviously they still have a big, big challenge on their hands,” said Hulkenberg. “With ’21 in mind, a lot of things change. Obviously, they want to progress and get further off the grid.
“[Last] year was kind of a not a setback, but not the year that we that we wanted and needed. So they have that challenge on their hands to bounce back from that and do better next year. So definitely interesting and challenging time for them. I wish them good luck and all the best.”
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Race: Reasons for retirements
2019 F1 season
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