Nico Hulkenberg interview: ‘I needed to adapt my driving style quite a bit to win 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015’

At 124 race starts, Nico Hulkenberg is a Formula 1 veteran. His racing profile boasts of a list of championships he’s won ever since he started racing — Formula BMW ADAC (2005), A1 Grand Prix (2006-07, also known as the World Cup of Motorsport), Formula 3 Euro Series (2008) and the much-popular feeder series to Formula 1, GP2 (2009).

 Nico Hulkenberg interview: ‘I needed to adapt my driving style quite a bit to win 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015’

Porsche 919 Hybrid driver Nico Hulkenberg celebrates on the podium after winning the Le Mans 24-hour race in 2015. REUTERS

Hulkenberg’s Formula 1 career has been consistent and credible. After plenty of rumours of a switch to Ferrari (as Felipe Massa or Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement), he finally got the much-awaited break with a ‘manufacturer’ team at the end of the 2016 season — with the returning former World Champion team, Renault.

The German driver’s talent is highly regarded; he’s raced for some of the leading mid-field teams including Williams, Sauber and Force India. But despite his best efforts, a podium finish has remained elusive. However, Hulkenberg’s profile boasts of something that no other current Formula 1 driver can boast of — a victory at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 attempt brought the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’ back into the limelight. The ‘Triple Crown’ includes winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (not in that order) — which means that Hulkenberg already has ‘one’ crown to his name. The fact that he won it on debut lends further credibility to his win.

In a special interview, Hulkenberg shares his experience at Le Mans, the difference between Formula 1 and Le Mans racing cars and whether he ever plans to attempt winning the Indianapolis 500. And, of course, since we had his attention, we did get tempted to ask him who he thinks would win this year’s Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship. Excerpts:

Do you miss participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans? It’s been two years since your debut win, how was the experience then?

Yes, it has been two years since my debut win with Porsche, a great experience and (I collected) memories of a lifetime. But at the moment, I don’t think I am missing participating in the Le Mans. I am focused on the Renault F1 team project and I would like to give this my best shot. Moreover, Porsche hasn’t entered three cars, so the possibility didn’t exist this year at least.

(Note: Le Mans is a part of the World Endurance Championship where each team is allowed to field two cars in championship scoring position, but for Le Mans, they are allowed to field three cars)

Do you think we could see you back at Le Mans soon? The FIA has promised to avoid clashes of dates in the future

I don’t have a firm plan to return to Le Mans, at least not for the next few years. But beyond that, I can’t predict the future.

We’ve seen the support Fernando Alonso got from McLaren and the paddock for his Indianapolis 500 debut, would Renault be open to your participation at Le Mans, if you so desired?

Frankly, Renault and I haven’t spoken about Le Mans, because Formula 1 is top priority for me right now. And, I am exclusive with Renault as a manufacturer, so I would like to keep it that way.

(Note: Renault’s last win at Le Mans was in 1978, in the Renault Alpine A442 at the hands of Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. In fact, Renault quit sports car racing after this win to focus their efforts on Formula 1.)

Do you believe that Liberty Media is more supportive of such cross-series racing?

I think such decisions are more between the team and driver, so as long as they’re comfortable, I wouldn’t see a problem.

(Note: Bernie Ecclestone did seem to have a problem with ‘his’ drivers racing in rival series. Liberty Media’s stance is a welcome change!)

You have ‘one’ crown of the triple already, would attempting the Indy 500 be next?

The Indy 500 isn’t on my list, I don’t find oval racing too exciting, but this is a personal choice. Also, after seeing the accidents there, I also feel that it is a little more dangerous.

How different is it driving a Le Mans car to an F1 car? Can you explain a few key differences?

Well, they’re racing cars, but they’re very different. I remember how I needed to adapt my driving style quite a bit and how it takes time to get used to the differences.

Rubens Barrichello, the most-experienced driver in Formula 1, is making his Le Mans debut this weekend, any specific advice?

Rubens has massive racing experience, even outside of Formula 1. My only advice would be to stay on the road and watch out for the traffic! If in LMP1, you just overtake the other cars, but if you’re in slower cars (Barrichello will be racing in the LMP2 class for Racing Team Nederland), you’ve to keep your eyes on the mirror for the other faster class! Best of luck, Rubens, go have fun!

There’s talk of Fernando Alonso making a possible switch to Renault in 2018, your thoughts on him as a teammate?

Fernando joining Renault would be very positive for our project — it would be a good push for the team. He is considered as the best in business and personally, he would be a very good reference for me. It will definitely be a challenge, but one that I would happily take on.

Who do you think will win this season, Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton?

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari seem strong overall — they’ve shown speed across different tracks. I am sure that there will be a tight battle and the momentum will keep switching throughout the season, but I have a feeling that Vettel will clinch the title!

Here's another fun interview of Hulkenberg where he reveals his favourite Formula One joke among other things.

Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.

Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 12:16:08 IST