Hulkenberg: Qualifying result will lift spirits at Sauber

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Nico Hulkenberg has made no secret of his happiness following a highly impressive display during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza today, finishing a remarkable third behind both Red Bull drivers.

The German driver ran well throughout qualifying to get into Q3, but little more was expected from Sauber given that the team’s best grid position of the season until today was tenth. However, Hulkenberg rallied to post a blistering final lap time of 1:24.065 once the checkered flag had fallen to finish just three-tenths behind pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel and ahead of both Ferrari drivers.

“This was a nice surprise for all of us,” Hulkenberg explained. “I didn’t expect that after a very difficult Friday. Yesterday we struggled a lot with the  car and the guys have done a fantastic job turning it around to give me such a competitive car today.”

2013 has been a difficult year for Sauber, dogged by financial uncertainty and lacklustre results on track. However, Hulkenberg is confident that this result will give the team something to cheer about.

“It is a highlight for the whole team. Such a result will lift our spirits.

“During qualifying the car just got better and better and the track improved as well. We made the right decision to go for one timed lap in Q3 and then this happened. I hope the long run pace is good tomorrow. A big thank you to the whole team and everyone in Hinwil, who have been working hard and have never given up in this difficult year.”

From P3, Hulkenberg will be hoping to add to his tally of seven points in the drivers’ championship for 2013, with rumors suggesting that he could be in the running for Felipe Massa’s seat at Ferrari should the Italian marque opt to drop the Brazilian driver.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.