From fifth place on the grid, the hope was high that Nico Hulkenberg could finally secure his first podium finish in a Grand Prix Sunday in Mexico City. The Sahara Force India driver, who will join Renault next year, outqualified both Ferraris – but was always concerned they’d get ahead of him on race day.
Hulkenberg could well have been the beneficiary had either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg been penalized for going wide through Turns 1 and 2 on the opening lap – Hamilton running wide after a lockup and Rosberg continuing through the grass after contact with Max Verstappen – but in the end he was fourth behind them once the Virtual Safety Car, then actual Safety Car was deployed following the Pascal Wehrlein accident behind them.
Hulkenberg would later drop behind the first of the Ferraris as Sebastian Vettel played the long game on softs to start the race, with 31 laps running.
Hulkenberg was still poised for sixth place though, running ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, before a late spin with contact between the two dropped him back behind the second Ferrari.
It was a slightly tough end but otherwise a good weekend, as Hulkenberg explained, because the Force India did not have the measure of the Ferrari in race pace.
“We weren’t fighting with same weapons. He had a massive car and tire advantage. I was surprised to keep him behind so long!” Hulkenberg told NBCSN.
“When it got serious, you could see he was trying to overtake me. He just had a big enough advantage. Braking on a dirty track with 60-odd lap tires is quite tricky. He turned in on me and I had no possibility to stop the car more. I had to spin to avoid a crash.”
Additionally, with Hulkenberg having gone out on the first lap of several Grands Prix this season – Austin and Singapore being the two most recent examples – it was a huge day for him to end seventh and secure valuable points. It’s his best result since coming fourth in Spa.
“This was the strategy for us. Two stop, we had nothing to gain. Seventh was the maximum today, as expected,” he said. “Nice as it was yesterday, you see with Seb, he’s way up the road. We don’t have the power or pace to fight them. I’m quite happy with my weekend. Yesterday was the highlight but today was a good drive.”
Hulkenberg was surprised Hamilton wasn’t investigated further for the first turn dust-up.
“I think so. I’m quite surprised. He was far from making Turn 1 and 2,” he said.
“The fact it wasn’t looked at is surprising to me. Otherwise you’re losing positions. I cant understand why that wasn’t looked at.”