Hulkenberg finally sees checkered flag in Oz with sixth-place result

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For the first time in his Formula One career, Nico Hulkenberg made it to the end of an Australian Grand Prix last weekend, claiming a sixth-place finish as part of a double points day for Sahara Force India.

The talented German, who migrated to Vijay Mallya’s squad over the winter from Sauber, originally placed seventh but moved up one position after Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo lost his runner-up result and was disqualified for a fuel flow irregularity.

Prior to Saturday night, Albert Park had not been a very kind place to Hulkenberg.

In the 2010 and 2012 Aussie GPs, he was victimized each time by a first-lap incident and last year with Sauber, he was unable to start at all due to a hydraulic problem on his car.

So, if Hulkenberg was heard going ‘Whew!’ after his race Saturday night, it would have been most understandable.

Hulkenberg rose as high as fourth in the early going, holding Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Jenson Button at bay for a time until he lost out to both of them in the pits.

Late in the going, he was unable to keep back a hard charging Valtteri Bottas and eventually settled for P7 – at least, until Ricciardo’s DQ.

“I made a strong start and enjoyed good track position for the first two stints when I was running up in fourth,” Hulkenberg said. “The only real issue I had was some front left graining on the soft tires, which never really cleared up and that compromised my first two stints.

“It was a shame to lose two positions at my second stop [to Button and Alonso] but it looks like some of the cars around us have a bit more pace at the moment.”

Still, he said “it’s nice to reward everyone with some points at the first race.”

New teammate Sergio Perez also made progress in his Force India debut before finishing P11. But the aforementioned issue with Ricciardo enabled Perez to move up one spot to 10th in the race results and, more importantly, earn one world championship point to start the year.

Perez suffered a first-lap puncture following contact with Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez and was forced to pit, but caught a break when a Safety Car appearance allowed him to catch up with the field.

After that, Perez moved up the scoring pylon but was unable to get past Adrian Sutil on track. He would eventually do so in the pits but by that point, catching Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat for P10 had become too tall an order.

“It’s positive to finish the race, because it gives the team lots of information and hopefully that will make us stronger for Malaysia,” Perez said before being elevated into the points, which helped Force India take home nine points altogether from Australia.

Not the biggest of hauls, but certainly a welcome one.

F1 2017 driver review: Kimi Raikkonen

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Kimi Raikkonen

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 7
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 7
Best Finish: P2 (Monaco, Hungary)
Pole Positions: 1
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 205
Laps Led: 40
Championship Position: 4th

While this may have statistically been Kimi Raikkonen’s best campaign since his first year back in F1 in 2012, there is a good case for it being one of his most disappointing to date.

Raikkonen’s continued role at Ferrari has been questioned on a number of occasions, but the Finn looked capable of answering his critics heading into 2017 after impressing through pre-season testing as he appeared to get to grips well with the new-style cars.

But we soon grew accustomed to the same old story: flashes of potential, but otherwise an underwhelming, unsatisfactory campaign that saw Raikkonen be dwarfed by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s charge to his first pole position for over eight years in Monaco gave hope of a popular win, only for Ferrari to play its strategy in favor of title contender Vettel – why wouldn’t the team do so? – to leave him a disgruntled second.

While Vettel was able to impress at the majority of circuits, Raikkonen only looked strong at tracks that were unquestionably ‘Ferrari’ tracks, such as Hungary and Brazil. Like Vettel, Raikkonen should have racked up a good haul of points in Singapore, only for the start-line crash to sideline both Ferraris before they even reached Turn 1.

Again there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ in Malaysia had it not been for the spark plug issue on the grid, yet in Japan, Raikkonen was nowhere, finishing behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls.

Finishing just five points clear of Daniel Ricciardo despite having a much faster car for the best part of the season and the Red Bull driver’s own reliability issues sums up the disappointment of Raikkonen’s campaign.

He should have been an ally for Vettel in the title race by nicking points of Lewis Hamilton, much as Valtteri Bottas was doing for his Mercedes teammate. Instead, Raikkonen seemed to be tagging along for the best part of this season.

Season High: Pole in Monaco, his first since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

Season Low: Finishing a distant P4 at Spa – a circuit he made his own in the 2000s.