Force India F1 driver and winner of the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours
Force India F1 driver and winner of the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours
In 2015 Force India star Nico Hülkenberg became the first active Formula One driver to win the Le Mans 24 Hours since 1991. His victory for Porsche at the Circuit de la Sarthe is just the latest highlight in a career that has seen him dominate nearly every series he has raced in on his way up the racing ladder.
Nico Hulkenberg answers your questions!
With testing so limited now, how much time do you spend on racing simulators and how important are simulators for you, as a driver, and for development of the car?
Actually there is quite a difference between teams. Some teams use them a lot and they develop them for a long time and they are very professional and advanced with the technology, but obviously the simulator takes a lot of effort to keep developing because the car is continuously developing and you need to keep the software updated every couple of weeks.
We have a simulator but it is still in development so we can’t really use it that much at the moment for development purposes or for practicing, but it is not a problem to be honest. When you get out on Friday you have two 90-minute practices so there is plenty of practice and then driving and to get yourself dialled in.
How strict do you have to be when it comes to your diet throughout the racing season? Are you allowed to treat yourself?
Yes, I do. I have my sweet tooth moments every five minutes almost, but yeah sometimes you need to watch out. During the summer break for example in the first week you can be a bit less strict and also have some not-so-healthy food. Generally it is not too bad because we train quite a bit and that burns a lot of calories, so in terms of what I can eat it is not too bad.
What exercises do you do to train both mentally and physically, and how many times a week do you train?
It really depends on the schedule, what is happening that week, how much travelling and whatever else I have to do, but it is very regular. I am a runner, I love my running so I do quite a bit, play tennis, go swimming, do cardio stuff, these three mainly, but just recently I have discovered biking as well. I try to keep it interesting and rotate it around so that it doesn’t get too boring just doing one. Also doing weights and core exercises in the gym is quite important and working the neck muscles, especially if you haven’t been in the car for a few weeks and you need to remind them what they are going to face.
There are no sports that I really need to avoid, I mean if you are in the habit of getting injures then maybe, but I am not one of these people so I am pretty solid and safe from that point of view. I have never had a broken bone. You shouldn’t train the legs too much, they need to be fit and in shape but you don’t need too big muscles there because then you are going to be too heavy and that is not good.
In your Formula One car, do you ever use an asymmetrical set up? For example do you have different tyre pressures on the left and right hand side of the car depending on if the circuit is clockwise or anti-clockwise?
Yeah, that happens quite a bit actually. Tyre pressures are very dynamic and obviously the engineer gives the instructions and the tyre guys adjust the pressures, but I think that is quite a common feature that they are offset to get the optimum performance from each tyre.
Hi Nico, From your experience driving exotic F1 and Le Mans machines, do you feel something has been taken away from the driver today? Instead of being racers, are they becoming “robots” who mainly operate the sophisticated equipment – like airline pilots?
Not really, I don’t feel like that at all to be honest. Obviously we are in 2015 and technology is quite advanced and we have these electrical systems that have different functions, but no I still think that you are so busy in the car driving quick but also adjusting all the electronic settings that you have on the steering wheel which keeps you quite busy and is quite a challenge. If you think back in the day, like 20 years ago, it was really hard working with the manual shifting and stuff so that is obviously a bit easier now, but I think these new modern tools came in and it is a different kind of challenge.
You are the best F1 driver out there Nico! My question is how has your size and weight affected you during you career?
I am not sure actually, because if I wasn’t chosen because I was too tall people wouldn’t tell me, so I don’t 100% know. I fit in most of the cars quite comfortably, I mean it is tight but I don’t get out in pain, but if I were 10cm smaller that would certainly make my life a lot easier and would also be a benefit on the weight side, but I don’t think it has held back my career.
In a situation like in Hungary where your front wing failed, what advice would you give to a young driver? Are there any techniques or procedures that would help in that circumstance?
Not really, in that moment you are just a passenger, there is not much you can do. You are reacting as quickly as you can do get on the brakes, but apart from that in ones like that when you can’t turn the car anymore you can’t use the brakes properly there’s not much you can do unfortunately and you just hope for the best.
Jim in Pennsylvania
Where do you focus the most, at the start going into the 1st turn – the tire, side pod, mirror or traffic? Thanks
Good question. I think it’s everything, obviously you look ahead but at the same time you use your peripheral vision. I think that is very important for an F1 driver especially at the start and during the first lap of the race because a lot is happening. You don’t really look into directly into the mirror, but rather with your peripheral vision so you can see where a car is and then position yourself accordingly or brake later or earlier or turn in later or earlier, so I think it is a combination of everything.
What are your thoughts on Formula E? Do you want to have a go?
No, not at the moment as I am fully focused on my F1 career. I am busy with that and I have no thoughts about going there at the moment, but yeah it looks interesting. The cars need to gain some more performance and become a bit faster and more dynamic, but you know if they develop in the right direction it could get very interesting.
Hi Hulk, I am a crew chief for my best mate in a semi-amateur racing division in Australia. My question to you is what do you look for in a crew chief? What sort of things do you focus on together after a session and what advice do you like to hear after you have given your feedback?
I think as a number one mechanic it is very important that you have a strong character because you are leading all the other mechanics on the car. It is important that you tell them in the right way, in a nice way, what they have to do, whether they have to focus or improve. You have to be strong, you need to have an aura and be calm in every situation even when it becomes hectic. It is very important to have everything under control because everyone looks to you and will react to what your body language is.
How much do you guys compromise on the setup in the 919 Hybrid since you are sharing a car with two other people?
To be honest I don’t think we compromised because Nick, Earl and myself more or less always tended to have the same comments about the balance and we all wanted the same things from the set up, so actually I don’t think that we had to compromise ourselves across the whole car.
Hey Nico! Congratulations on your win in the Le Mans 24 hours. What advice would you give to a young karter who wants to move up to a junior single seater series such as Formula Renault 2.0?
Work hard, be very self critical of yourself. I know that it is very easy to blame the car or the team when things have not gone right, but that’s the easy way and you shouldn’t go down that route. Just analyse and be self critical, be disciplined and then if you are skilled enough and have the right people behind you in terms of funding and luck, then you will come through.
You have had success switching between Le Mans and F1 – what advice would you give me for switching between two different types of race car throughout the season?
I would advise to only do that if you are 100% confident that you can deliver your best in each one of them. If you think you will compromise one then don’t do it, but if you are confident that you can manage it then go for it. Give yourself time, get used to the car, build it up slowly, build up your confidence – Rome wasn’t built in one day. It takes time to really get all the confidence you need in the car and feel comfortable and at home.
Hey Nico. Who is the best driver you have ever raced with, whether it be in karts, F1 or Le Mans? What made him so good?
I think that would be Rubens Barrichello in 2010 at Williams. Good question. I think as a teammate and as a person Rubens was a really tough cookie because of his experience and you know he was very clever. I can remember as a rookie that he was the most experienced guy on the grid and I learned a lot from him and he was one of the toughest drivers that I was against.
How did you get your start in motorsport and what did you have to do to get your funding to promote your racing?
I discovered karting through some friends of the family when I was seven. Their son was racing as a hobby and they invited me to come and watch a race. I was really impressed and asked my dad if I could try it and the next day we went and tried it and I was quick right away. I had a big smile on my face and he had a big smile because he had been a big racing fan since he was a kid.
Initially it was funded by my dad and my grandpa and we took it from there. We started with small national championships and then went and did more and more international racing. Our success brought more funding even in karting. You become a factory driver and you get the karts and the engines, you get them for free but you still have the hotel expenses and that. But with success people start to help you.