The 2011 championship season is barely two races old, but Force India test driver Nico Hülkenberg is already wanting to make sure he stays on the radars of the teams up and down the grid in the hope of returning to a race seat in 2012.
The German, the 2009 GP2 champion, had a promising debut season with Williams last year, with the biggest highlight being a shock pole position at the penultimate race at Brazil, only to find out a week later that his services with the Grove squad were no longer required. The 23-year-old was replaced by the well-backed Pastor Maldonado for the 2011 season.
With there scarcely being a spare race seat available on the 2011 grid, Hülkenberg was signed as Force India’s third driver for the 2011 season, where his duties will predominantly involve the opportunity to drive the VJM04 in the opening practice session at each Grand Prix this year.
“I want to race,” he told reporters at a press conference this week. “On the other side, I am happy that Force India have picked me up. It has given me a chance to prove my talent and deliver.
“Hopefully, they can give me a chance to [race] next year,” he added.
With the team’s rookie driver – and Mercedes-Benz protégé – Paul di Resta having scored points with a pair of tenth-place finishes in the opening races and having out-qualified team-mate Adrian Sutil in both races, it could be Hülkenberg’s compatriot who may find himself under pressure to retain his seat next season.
For the first time, he opened up about his departure from the Williams team, and confirmed his knowledge that Maldonado – “a pay driver”, in Hülkenberg’s assessment – has helped the Grove team to raise its budget for the 2011 season.
“[Williams] had always mentioned that they see me as a long term driver with the team and they never mentioned that they were unhappy with my performance,” he continued.
“At the end of the year, the story developed that they were losing sponsors and needed money … Then came Pastor Maldonado,” he shrugged.
[Original image via Sutton Images]