Nico Hulkenberg: Connection with car still needs to grow

Jaden Diaz

Nico Hulkenberg faced plenty of scrutiny after his 2023 Haas move was announced, but the German driver has already demonstrated his F1 prowess after just three rounds.

The 35-year-old’s arrival at the American outfit was heavily criticized by some fans, who were unhappy that Haas prioritised his experience over the youth of Mick Schumacher.

However, in a Championship where speed and points are more important than your birth certificate (as Alonso and Hamilton are proving), Haas saw no issue in signing Hulkenberg.

After securing an impressive 7th place finish in Australia – which could have been a podium in slightly different circumstances – Hulkenberg has propelled Haas up the Constructors’ standings.

Having outqualified Kevin Magnussen in all three qualifying sessions this year, despite his hiatus from the sport, it can be said the German driver is adapting very quickly to his new team.

Then again, Hulkenberg has proven his pace and adaptability on numerous occasions – including on his ‘super sub’ appearances for Racing Point in 2020.

Speaking after his first points of the year, he explained that there is still room to become more acclimatized with his machinery:

“Of course, the learning curve is steep for the team at the beginning of the season, but also for me,” quotes him as saying.

“So I’m delighted and confident that more good things lie ahead. 

“I felt good from the start. But we’re only into race three, so the connection between me and the car needs to grow. But I can feel it’s getting better and better.” 

JEDDAH STREET CIRCUIT, SAUDI ARABIA – MARCH 17: Nico Hulkenberg, Haas F1 Team during the Saudi Arabian GP at Jeddah Street Circuit on Friday March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Andy Hone / LAT Images)

Hulkenberg’s consistent pace will be crucial for Haas in this year’s midfield battle, with the field very closely matched after the top four teams.

The VF-23 proved vulnerable in race-trim at the Bahrain GP, which, coupled with Ferrari’s struggles, sparked legitimate fears about the American team’s package.

However, consecutive points in Jeddah and Bahrain have largely eliminated these concerns, providing Hulkenberg with a platform to compete for points:

“You have four or five teams in the front and then the remaining five teams in the midfield. Backmarkers don’t really exist anymore.”

If Haas could maintain 7th place in the Constructors until the end of 2023, it would be the team’s best finishing position in Formula 1 since 2018.

Considering the instability surrounding the team in recent years – both on and off track – this result would undoubtedly be welcomed.

Hulkenberg and Magnussen represent a return to the original model Haas used to sign drivers, where skill and experience took precedence over youth or sponsorship.

Although Magnussen and Grosjean – for example – were far from the ideal driver pairing, Haas signed both drivers focusing on their experience and ability.

The team’s stint with Mazepin indicated how financial struggles had severely destabilised Haas and impacted their decision-making.

Then again, some would argue that finances played a significant role in Mick Schumacher being dropped from the team. With MoneyGram as their new title sponsor, there are clear signs that Haas is in a more secure position. 

Guenther Steiner has revealed the team can now spend at the budget cap, highlighting the quite drastic turnaround in the last twelve months.

This has also vastly improved Haas’ capacity to introduce upgrades and develop mid-season, an area they traditionally have been weak.

Moving forward, the Haas team principal will expect the VF-23 to provide a platform to become established in the midfield.

Steiner will be pleased that critics of his Hulkenberg signing have been largely silenced, as he pushes the team to continue his points streak.