He might still be something of an unknown quantity, but if Michael Schumacher’s legendary manager, Willi Weber, has taken him under his wing, then Nico Hulkenberg must be considered a Formula One star of the future. This season Hulkenberg is Williams’ test and reserve driver. He is also currently third in the GP2 Asia standings and the 21 year-old is confident he’ll become the grid’s sixth German Formula One racer in 2010…
Q: Nico, you had the honour of driving at the rollout of the FW31. What won you that privilege?
Nico Hulkenberg: Well, when we roll out any new car, the first things we concentrate on are system checks and reliability. It’s not like a normal test day, I think that’s why I did it.
Q: You have said you are aiming for a race drive in 2010. Are you hoping to stay with Williams?
NH: Yes, I do want to stay with Williams in 2010 and race for them.
Q: There are five German drivers on the grid this season - and very likely the same amount in 2010. Does Formula One racing have enough room for a sixth German driver?
NH: I don’t believe there are any rules or limitations which say Formula One can’t have more than five German drivers, but you are right, there are quite a few!
Q: You are managed by Willi Weber, Michael Schumacher’s legendary manager. That’s bound to raise expectations. How did the two of you get together? And what do you think he sees in you?
NH: We first encountered each other in the A1GP series during my first test. We then got to know each other after I won my first race. That win probably made him interested. Really, I just think he sees a young driver with potential who could secure his pension.
Q: You are Williams’ test and reserve driver, but you are also competing in the GP2 Series to stay race fresh. How problematic is the in-season test ban for an up-and-coming Formula One driver?
NH: The testing ban makes it very hard for drivers wanting to break into Formula One because we cannot get enough experience with the car or the team. It’s a fact of life though now, so we just have to deal with it. It’s not an impossible situation.
Q: In GP2 you are driving for the ART team which is owned in part by Nicolas Todt, son of Jean Todt. Is it the old Weber-Todt connection that got you there?
NH: No that’s due to the Weber-Hulkenberg-Vasseur connection! Willi and I have a very good relationship with (ART team boss) Frederic Vasseur, plus I’ve raced for ART in the Formula Three Euroseries for the past two years and ended the season last year with the title.
Q: In your first ever GP2 race in January in Bahrain you claimed pole position and finished fourth. Now after a couple of races - and a magnificent win in Qatar - you are third in the standings. Has the experience of driving a Formula One car helped you to become accustomed to the GP2 car so quickly?
NH: Having driven an F1 car before definitely made the step into a GP2 car easier because I was used to the higher speeds, more horsepower, the carbon brakes and all that.