Hulkenberg: Team performance in Korea was outstanding

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Nico Hulkenberg continues to ride the crest of a wave following his excellent performance at last weekend’s Korean Grand Prix where he managed to equal his career-best finish by coming fourth ahead of both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

With the car failing to live up to expectations and Sauber being blighted by financial difficulties, Hulkenberg has had a tough season. However, he appears to be enjoying an upturn in fortunes heading into this weekend’s race at Suzuka in Japan, and he attributed this resurgence to the improved pace of the car.

“I certainly haven’t changed,” Hulkenberg said on Thursday in Japan. “I think the car. Of course we’ve put on some updates: a big one in Budapest – which we now understand better and better – and then some small bits and bobs. I think the tires did the rest.”

Hulkenberg went on to thank his team for such a good performance in Korea where he managed to hold off Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen throughout the race despite the drivers having quicker cars and four world titles between them.

“What we did in Korea I think was outstanding,” he said. “I’m really happy and proud about that but we probably punched above our weight there and out-performed a few cars which we shouldn’t do. But there was this opportunity and we grabbed it. So that was very good.”

Following Hulkenberg’s twelve-point haul in Korea, Sauber are now tied with Toro Rosso on thirty-one points for seventh place in the constructors’ championship.

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.