By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Motorsports Tribune reviews the top 10 Formula 1 drivers of 2017. Our list begins with 10th place finisher Nico Hulkenberg.
Nico Hulkenberg, No. 27 Renault Sport Formula 1 Team
- 2017: 10th in the championship, 43 points
- Wins: 0, Podiums: 0, Top 5: 0, Top 10: 8, Poles: 0, Laps Led: 0, Fastest Laps: 0
- Best Finish: 6th – Four times (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Nico Hulkenberg holds the unfortunate record of having the most Formula 1 race finishes without a podium, 135 Grands Prix. The journeyman driver has raced for Williams, Force India and Sauber, but seems to have finally found a solid home with Renault right in time for them to make a major push up the grid. Renault’s renewed investment in F1 timed perfectly with the faster 2017 cars, and more durable Pirelli tires gave us a rejuvenated Hulkenberg this year as he lead the Renault team with authority. With Carlos Sainz Jr. set to push him far harder than the hapless Jolyon Palmer ever could, Hulk and Renault should be an even more potent force in 2018.
The start of the 2017 season proved difficult for the 30 year old German as it was clear that his Renault chassis was far better over a flying lap than an entire race distance. Many times he would reach Q3, only to be shuffled back a few places by the end of the race.
It was also difficult because Brit Jolyon Palmer offered little resistance as a team mate. Hulkenberg was only beaten once by Palmer in qualifying and his points total of 43 was over five times greater than the eight points Jolyon managed before he was replaced with Carlos Sainz Jr.
Renault’s reliablity also hampered Hulk’s progress throughout the year and he suffered a reasonably high number of DNF’s with six, without which he could have finished higher up the standings to challenge Sainz and the Force India Drivers. The most disappointing retirement came at Singapore when he had a legitimate chance to finally reach the podium before his car let him down.
There were many high points though, Bahrain, Russia, and Spain capped a three race string in the points with a strong sixth place finish. At Silverstone the team brought a heavily revised and upgraded chassis and Hulk qualified an excellent sixth place. He finished the race in sixth as well, right on the tail of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, and ahead of Sebastian Vettel who suffered a late race puncture.
The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa was another high point as once again he qualified and finished “best of the rest” behind the big three teams.
A string of late season retirements in Japan, America and Mexico could have ended Hulkenberg’s season on a down note, but he bounced back with a 10th place finish in Brazil and a crucial sixth in Abu Dhabi to clinch sixth place in the Constructor’s Standings for Renault. The sixth in Abu Dhabi came under the most intense pressure from the Force India drivers which caused Hulk to cut a corner and receive a 5 second penalty. Despite the adversity he maintained his position and the team celebrated his finish as if it were a victory.
2017 was ultimately a very good year for Hulkenberg as he finally got a factory drive in F1 and seized the opportunity with everything he could. He is maturing into a true team leader and has fully ingratiated himself within Renault. With more and more money pouring out of France into Enstone and a hungry, young team mate in Carlos Sainz Jr. 2018 looks very promising. Hulkenberg and Renault will be an even more potent force in the coming season where they should finally reach that elusive podium.