F1 2016 Driver Review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 27
Races: 21
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: 4th (Belgium)
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 72
Laps Led: 0
Championship Position: 9th

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Nico Hulkenberg continues to be one of the most frustrating drivers in Formula 1. We all know just how good he is – you don’t win Le Mans on debut by accident – but he is still yet to score a podium finish in F1.

2016 was arguably his best chance yet, with Force India enjoying its strongest season to date. Teammate Sergio Perez was able to stick the car on the podium twice, but Hulkenberg was always lagging behind. His best chances came in Austria, when he started second before fading in the race and retiring, and in Belgium, where he finished an agonizing fourth after being passed by the recovering Lewis Hamilton through the race.

Those were the stand-out moments in an otherwise-muted year for Hulkenberg. P7 and P8s on a regular basis is hardly poor form, but with Perez always one step ahead, the German ended up 29 points back in the drivers’ championship.

A move to Renault beckons for 2017, with the French manufacturer seeing Hulkenberg as the man to lead its charge back up the grid. It could be the move that finally takes him onto the rostrum.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Maddeningly inconsistent, or frustrating as my colleague Luke calls him, is the way to sum up Nico Hulkenberg’s 2016 season. Few doubt his overall pace but by way of strategic errors (Brazil most notably coming to mine) or poor luck (several first-lap accidents), Hulkenberg’s season was yet another one truly unfulfilled.

Belgium and Brazil witnessed the two latest missed podium opportunities for a driver still yet to score one in more than 100 Grands Prix. And even though he finished ahead of Sergio Perez in seven races when both finished, only one of those was higher than seventh. Otherwise, it was Perez who ended ahead when the team banked more points.

A change of scenery should do him well next year at Renault, and if the car’s a better package, we could see him emerge from the Mexican driver’s slight shadow.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.