Nico Hulkenberg has heaped praise upon his team after an inspired two-stop strategy allowed him to finish today’s Malaysian Grand Prix in fifth place.
The Force India driver had qualified seventh in the wet session yesterday, but he did not appear to have the pace to build upon this result during the race on Sunday. A good start saw him move up to fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, but Alonso soon demoted the German down to sixth. By going longer on his tires, Hulkenberg managed to stop just twice whilst every other driver made three changes, allowing him to move up the order and finish the race in fifth place.
“Today was a super team effort and I’m very happy with fifth place,” he explained. “We were the only team among the front-runners to do a two-stop race and we had good pace all afternoon. It shows that the team’s hard work over the winter is paying off and it feels great to be so competitive and fighting up at the front.”
The Malaysian Grand Prix is traditionally tough on tires due to the extreme heat, but Hulkenberg – who returns to Force India in 2014 after missing out on a move to Ferrari and Lotus – managed his well. He is now hoping to carry this form over to the next round in Bahrain, which is live on NBCSN next weekend.
“We showed that we could manage the tyres well, although I felt a bit more comfortable on the medium compound tyres than on the hards, but we always had the tyre management under control,” Hulkenberg explained. “So I’m feeling happy that we can take all these positives to Bahrain and leave Malaysia with a good helping of points.”
His teammate, Sergio Perez, suffered from a gearbox problem on his installation lap, meaning that he could not start the race at all on Sunday.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.