Hulkenberg vs Di Resta

 

Arguably the most equally matched pairing in the 2012 Formula 1 season are the two Force India drivers; Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta. Both drivers arrived in Formula 1 through very different channels, racing in a wide range of junior formulae and series'. Hulkenberg had a very traditional single seater rise through the ranks; winning the Formula BMW ADAC, A1 GP, Formula 3 Euro and GP2 titles on his way up to Formula 1. He spent the 2009 season as the Williams test driver, the season he took the GP2 title, before moving up to partner Rubens Barrichello in 2010. Nico showed that he could win in anything he drove and how quickly he could adapt to new cars, new tracks and new series. Paul di Resta on the other hand won the 2006 Formula 3 Euro series title before making a switch to DTM. He spent four successful years racing for Mercedes, culminating in the Scot taking the 2010 title. This earned him the move to Force India, a team powered by Mercedes engines, for the 2011 season.

Despite a strong debut season in 2010, with the season highlight being pole position in Brazil, Hulkenberg found himself without a race seat for 2011. He signed with Force India to become the teams test/third driver; a move which kept him in and around the Formula 1 paddock. It became clear early on that the young German would be replacing Adrian Sutil for the 2012; with the experienced Sutil being involved in some on and off track issues. Paul di Resta had a good first season in the sport, impressing many along the way by not only consistently finishing, but finishing inside the points on plenty of occasions. Thus the two, Nico and Paul, became team mates for the 2012 season.

With two young and hungry drivers in the same team, both with a strong winning pedigree, I thought it'd be interesting to see how they have fared against each other so far this season. There has been plenty of speculation surrounding both drivers and what their plans might be for 2013; with moves to some of the big teams being whispered and rumoured around the paddock. So who has come out on top so far? Has either driver managed to out-perform the other and show why they should be the one to move up? First of all, let's begin by looking at the qualifying and race results.

Qualifying

In terms of the head-to-head record, it is di Resta that comes out on top, having out qualified Hulkenberg 7-6 so far this season. The early part of the season definitely belonged to the Scot, where barring the opening round in Australia, he would out qualify his team mate in 4 of the opening 5 rounds. Lest we not forget though, Hulkenberg hadn't qualified or raced a Formula 1 car since 2010 and the year break may have explained a bit of rustiness when it came to putting in that one important lap.

Since then though the German has turned things round. Heading into this weekend's race at Monza (round 13), the score was tied at 6-6. Having seen Nico take a stunning pole position in mixed conditions at Brazil for Williams, we all knew just what 'The Hulk' can do in qualifying. He showed that again at his home race in Germany, where he lined up 4th after showing strongly throughout all 3 sessions. The two have often found themselves close to each other on the grid and have frequently displayed very evenly matched pace throughout numerous weekends, particularly when it comes to Q2.

A fuel pressure problem just minutes into the first part of qualifying at Monza quickly put an end to Nico's qualifying; and for the first time in the his career the German would drop out of qualifying at the first stage. Had it not been for an enforced gear box change and resulting 5-place grid drop, di Resta would have lined up 4th and in a career best grid spot. As a result of Nico’s fuel pressure problem, it's di Resta that heads away from this weekend just with an edge in qualifying.

Races

Let's now have a look at the race results and performances of each driver; beginning with the opening 5 rounds of the season. What appeared to be fairly evident over the course of those opening weekend was that di Resta had the beating of Hulkenberg, both in terms of qualifying and the race itself. In terms of points di Resta had amassed 15 compared to Hulkenberg lowly haul of 3. The Scot's drive in Bahrain was arguably his best ever race in Formula 1. He was able to make a 1 stop strategy work, something many others couldn’t, and as a result moved up several places throughout the race. It was his third point's haul of the season, having scored in both the Australian and Malaysian races. Hulkenberg scored in just 2 of the opening 5 rounds meanwhile, taking a 9th in Malaysia and then a 10th in Spain, a result that saw him finish above his team mate for the first time this season.

To conclude the final part of this section, we'll have a look at the 4 races between Silverstone and Spa. The race at Silverstone was pretty much disastrous for the Force India team and represented their worst weekend of the season in terms of results. Hulkenberg was running in the points until near the end of the race, before dropping back and outside the points, crossing the line in 12th. Things were worse for team mate di Resta though, with the Scot retiring on just the second lap of his home race after first lap contact with Romain Grosjean.

Since the European Grand Prix things have definitely turned in favour of Nico Hulkenberg. The young German has really stepped up his game and has improved greatly in both qualifying and the races. Lining up 4th on the grid in his home race at Hockenheim, he would have expected or hoped to have at least remained in the top 5 or 6 come the end of the race. Unfortunately as we've seen on numerous occasions this season, the Force India doesn't always seem as fast over a race distance as it does on a Saturday afternoon. Still, it was another points haul and third race in a row in which he finished ahead of his team mate.

Hungary was a track that didn't necessarily suit the car, something that appeared to be confirmed by both cars finishing outside the points. Given the likes of Sauber and Williams had shown potential to take podiums and wins this season, it was imperative for Force India to start consistently scoring points. The team certainly benefited from the horrific first corner incident with the cars coming out of turn 1 in 3rd and 4th. Hulkenberg would go on to finish 4th after challenging strongly for a podium spot for the most of the race, battling with the likes of Schumacher and Raikkonen. Not only was it his best result in Formula 1, but represented the teams best finish since Giancarlo Fisichella's 2nd place, also at Spa, in 2009. Things didn't go so well so di Resta though as he could only come home in 10th. Yes he had a KERS issue, but that didn't equate for the big difference in speed between the two in the race. Hulkenberg had now finished ahead of di Resta on 5 consecutive occasions. Hulkenberg has now managed to move ahead of di Resta in the standings after overhauling the once 14 point gap between the two and now leads by 3 points. For full standings check out the Standings page!

Speculation

The first half of the season definitely belonged to di Resta; and as a result has been linked to drives at Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes. You could see why he'd be a good fit at each of those teams. He'd be the perfect team mate for Fernando Alonso; someone who could push him hard and be able to take points off the Spaniards rivals. He's got two things going for him if he were to move to McLaren. Number 1, he's British. Number 2, he's a Mercedes backed driver having driven for the German brand in the DTM for 4 seasons prior to Formula 1. This would also give him a chance at Mercedes GP too; a team that seem to have built themselves very much about German or German backed drivers.

Unfortunately for di Resta, since the rumours and speculation have started to pick up pace he has struggled, both in terms of pace and against his team mate. In fact he has only scored 7 points since the Canadian Grand Prix, compared to the 24 scored by Hulkenberg. It's not only the points scored where there has been a gap between the two. Hulkenberg has out qualified di Resta more often than not in recent events and has then gone on to convert that into stronger results come the Sunday afternoon.

It is now firmly Hulkenberg with the momentum, with the German really starting to show what he is capable of across a full Grand Prix weekend. It's because of these strong qualifying performances (4th in Germany) and excellent race results (5th in Valencia and 4th in Spa) that it is now Nico that is being linked with these very same drives. The stand out and most obvious choice appears to be Mercedes, given both his nationality and that the team he currently drives for being powered by a Mercedes engine.

Monza and beyond

Monza traditionally is the race in which lots of driver talks happen; and given that this is the last European race weekend of the season, many teams and drivers may want to head off to the 'fly-away' races knowing what their plans are for 2013. Therefore a strong weekend here can really do you chances of racing next season the world of good. For the first time in his Formula 1 career Nico Hulkenberg failed to make it into Q2, not because of a lack of speed, but because of a fuel pump problem. The car was clearly quick, as shown by Paul di Resta in the remaining parts of qualifying, something that will have hardly helped Nico's mood on Saturday evening. Talking of Paul; he put a truly stunning Q3 lap and ended up 4th, before being demoted 5 places for a gear box change.

Similar problems that have haunted Force India for much of the season appeared to air themselves again at Monza. Strong qualifying pace didn't turn into strong race pace; and despite di Resta coming home in 8th place, the pace wasn't really there. Hulkenberg fought through from the back of the grid up to 14th before having to retire from the race with just 2 laps to go. It's the first time di Resta has finished ahead of his team mate for 6 races; and also moves ahead in the drivers standings.

So who has impressed you the most? If you had to pick one of these drivers to move to Ferrari, McLaren or Mercedes, which would it be? It's perfectly possible that there will be both a space at Ferrari and Mercedes with the futures of Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher currently undecided and unknown. But if I had to choose just one who would I go for? Nico Hulkenberg. I think the German has just edged it over the course of the year, particularly in recent races. Both have now competed in 32 Formula 1 Grand Prix's and have a very evenly matched record, but for me Hulkenberg is just that little bit ahead. He would be the one I'd have to choose to make the step up for 2013. That doesn't mean I don't think di Resta could do an equally good job at one of the top teams, but given the uncertainty over what places could be available, I've decided to pick the one I think is best suited. Whether either driver does move on or not remains unknown, but they have certainly done enough to warrant a place in Formula 1 for many years to come.

I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter. Who would you choose if you were a team manager? Hulkenberg or di Resta? It's a tough choice that's for sure.

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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