Nico Hülkenberg is a racing driver from Germany who competed in Formula One World Championship between 2010 and 2019 but the highlight of his career was the victory at Le Mans 24 Hours in 2015 when he was driving as a guest for Porsche factory team.
In Formula 1, Hulkenberg raced with four teams (Williams, Force India, Sauber, Renault), not scoring wins or podiums in 177 starts, what makes him the record-holder with most starts without podiums.
Earlier in a career, he was GP2 Series champion in 2009, Formula 3 Euro Series champion in 2008, A1 Grand Prix Series champion in 2007 and Formula BMW ADAC champion in 2005.
Winning the titles right from the start
Born in August 1987 in the old town of Emmerich am Rhein, Nicolas 'Nico' Hulkenberg started his career in karting when he was 10 years old and over the years he won many races.
In 2002, he was crowned as the German Junior Karting Champion and then after one year he became German Kart Championship title winner. The Hulk, which is one of Nico’s nicknames, was a great talent but he had to wait some time before he could move to the higher level.
Formula BMW champion in the first attempt
Finally, in 2005 Hulkenberg debuted in German Formula BMW series, driving for Josef Kaufmann Racing. Nico won the title on his first attempt after being fastest in 8 out of 20 races and having other 6 podium finishes. He also drove in Formula BMW World Final where he was again the winner, but the victory was annulled after it was claimed he had brake-tested his rivals during a safety car period.
The following year, Hulkenberg drove in German Formula 3 in which he took the 5th position and joined German A1 Grand Prix team for the 2006/2007 campaign. That proved to be a perfect move as he won the title, becoming the most successful driver in the history of the competition after he won nine races in one season.
Formula 3 Euro Series title winner in 2008
He won A1 GP title in an impressive way, and he also competed in the Formula 3 Euro Series, driving for ASM Formula 3 team. German again showed his potential finishing 3rd overall, behind Romain Grosjean and, again, Sebastien Buemi. He qualified for Masters of Formula 3 at Zandvoort Circuit where he dominantly won the race.
Nico stayed in Formula 3 Euro Series but moved to ART Grand Prix, which was one of the leading teams. Hülkenberg was very convincing and won 7 out of 20 races and became a champion, by beating some well-known names like Jules Bianchi, Edoardo Mortara, Sam Bird and Christian Vietoris. However, he couldn’t repeat a success from the previous campaign in Formula 3 Masters. Nico finished 2nd at Circuit Zolder, losing to Bianchi.
Nico won the GP2 Series crown in his rookie season
2009 was the season of Nico’s complete affirmation. He moved to GP2 Series and won the title in his rookie season, again as a driver of ART Grand Prix. With five wins and other five podiums, Hulkenberg collected 100 points and grabbed the title in front of Vitaly Petrov, Lucas di Grassi, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, etc.
Logically, the next step was Formula 1. Hulkenberg already had some tests with Williams in 2007 and impressed everybody in the British team that signed him to become a test driver while in 2009 Nico was acting as a reserve driver for the team.
F1 debut with Williams
Ultimately, in 2010 Hülkenberg became the Williams F1 team's driver. In the first half of the year, a rookie struggled against much more experienced rivals but still managed to collect his first F1 points, finishing 10th in the Malaysian Grand Prix. The second half of the season was much better and he earned points in six races. Nico surprised many by winning the pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix that year.
At the end of the season, Nico was 14th overall which was a solid achievement for the rookie but Williams opted not to retain his services. Formula 1 again proved its cruelty when the talented German was replaced with Pastor Maldonado, not because of the driving skills of the Venezuelan, but because of his wealthy sponsors.
Hulkenberg joined Force India in 2011
However, Hulkenberg quickly found a new engagement. He became a Force India’s test and reserve driver for 2011 before he was promoted to the race driver, and his partner was Paul Di Resta.
In his second season in Formula 1 World Championship, the German driver proved that he can be not only fast, but also very reliable driver. He retired from only two races and he took 11th position in the Drivers’ Championship. The highlight of the season was 4th place in Belgian Grand Prix and, which was pretty interesting, because he picked 17 points more than his teammate Di Resta.
One season with Sauber F1 Team
Surprisingly, he left Force India to join Sauber at the beginning of 2013. Just like in the previous season, German driver was in a stable form and moved to the 10th place in the rankings, even though he picked fewer points than in 2012.
Hulkenberg retired from only one race that year, he earned points in 10 races while his best result again was the 4th position, this time in Korean Grand Prix, during which he showed great skills in defensive driving.
Return to Force India in 2014
For the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship, Hulkenberg again signed with Force India. The team announced that Nico will drive alongside Sergio Perez. That season was the best so far in Nico’s career as he finished 9th in the Drivers’ Championship, scoring 96 points. His form was at the pretty high level throughout the whole season.
Nico scored points in 10 consecutive races in the first half of the campaign while in the second half of the season his performance slightly dropped. The most notable result was a 5th place which he scored in four races – in Malaysia, Bahrain, Monaco, and Canada.
Many people thought that his rise will continue in 2015, but unfortunately, the results weren't so good. Still, with Sahara Force India team, he ended the championship in 10th place but failed to finish five races and missed points in other four. That year probably was marked by a big crash he had at the Hungarian Grand Prix when he crashed into the barriers after went airborne. The best results were 6th places in Austria, Japan, and Brazil.
Video - Nico talks about driving in Formula 1 and Le Mans
Triumph at Le Mans 24 Hours ih 2015 with Porsche
Although that Formula 1 season wasn’t memorable, Hulkenberg still had something to remember. He made a debut at Le Mans 24 Hours in June 2015 and won the race on his first attempt!
A couple of months before the race it was confirmed that he will drive factory-backed Porsche Hybrid 919 alongside Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. He made a debut in a car at Silverstone 6 Hours and then in the next race he surprisingly won the world's greatest endurance race. The #19 crew managed to beat some more experienced drivers while Hulkenberg became the first active F1 driver who triumphed at Le Mans since 1991.
One more season with Force India, move to Renault in 2017
Unfortunately, because of his Formula 1 duties, Nico wasn’t able to defend his crown at Circuit de la Sarthe in 2016. The start of the following F1 season was pretty similar to many previous seasons but despite all efforts to finally grab the podium spot, he remained unsuccessful. Hulkenberg's best result in 2016 was the fourth place at Belgian Grand Prix.
For the 2017 Formula One season, Hulkenberg moved to Renault Sport F1 Team to drive the #27 Renault RS17. He was far from a podium again, scoring sixth place as the best result in a couple of races. He was tenth in the points at the end of the season.
Leaving Formula 1 at the end of 2019
In 2018, he stayed with Renault F1 Team. The fifth place in the German Grand Prix was his best result and he finished seventh in the championship, the best of the rest behind six drivers of three dominating teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull).
The results weren't so good in 2019 both for Nico and his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Hulkenberg's best result was fifth place in the Italian Grand Prix and he finished just 14th in the final classification.
During the season, it was announced that Esteban Ocon will replace Hulkenberg in 2020. He didn't find another seat in Formula 1 and it seems that his F1 career is over.