The Williams 2010 driver line-up, which pairs veteran Rubens Barrichello with rookie Nico Hulkenberg, is notbable at least in one respect, for matching the most experienced driver on the grid with a relative novice. This is by design. Williams have been using Hulkenberg as a tester up to now (although, under the current rules, this means he’s allowed very limited time in the car during the year), and they are now anxious to continue his development. They feel that the best way to do this is to have a seasoned veteran like Barrichello mentor the younger driver.
As Williams technical director Sam Michael said in a recent interview with Reuters, “We wanted to put someone quite experienced and strong and a grand prix winner next to Hulkenberg so that he develops properly. We didn’t want him to come in as a rookie and not have that support. He [Hulkenberg] will…get to look at someone who is a multiple grand prix winner and look at how they work and how they blend the team around them and get the team to do the best job for them.”
Hulkenberg first joined the Williams stable after a successful test at Jerez, Spain, in December, 2007. During the test, Hulkenberg outpaced regular Williams driver Kazuki Nakajima, and came within 0.4 seconds of Nico Rosberg’s time.
Hulkenberg’s career in the lower formulas has been impressive. He has won titles in Formula BMW, A1 Grand Prix, European Formula 3 and most recently, European GP2. Williams have used an interesting tool to predict Hulkenberg’s performance in Formula 1. As Sam Michael told Reuters, “Inside Williams we have a big spreadsheet which basically maps a driver’s achievements from the age of eight and the reference in that spreadsheet has been Lewis Hamilton because of what he did from eight years old to get into F1. Basically Nico Hulkenberg has been on exactly the same path, coming up obviously through different countries.”
In other words, if you charted Hulkenberg’s early career alongside of Hamilton’s, the upward slopes, and the achievements behind them, would look very similar. And it’s clear that Williams intend to see that parity continue in Formula 1. Said Michael, “There’s no point in putting a rookie in the car unless you think he can be a world champion.”
Whether Hulkenberg actually attains the sport’s highest honor, only time will tell. But Sam Michael isn’t the only one who thinks Hulkenberg can become a champion. The young German’s manager, Willi Weber, shares this belief, and he should be able to recognize a future champion, if anyone can. Weber also managed Michael Schumacher’s career.
Image by Cynthia H., licensed through Creative Commons.