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Talk on Corners
Christopher Wheelahan

Chris first caught the F1 flu back in 2003 but lost track due to the snooze-fest that was the 2004 season. In 2010 Chris rediscovered the sport and has become enthralled since. He makes no claims to be a superb writer or journalist but only an obsessive follower of motorsport, particularly F1. Nowadays Chris spends his spare time experimenting with cocktails and wasting time with Musical Theatre types. He does not enjoy long walks on the beach… sorry.

The Hulk is a beast // Comparing Di Resta and Hülkenberg for the Lotus seat

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Nico Hülkenburg is a beast, as his nickname would imply. Pundits and journalists have been talking for years about how he’s one of the best drivers in the field and how he should be in a much better, race-winning seat. Thankfully, that is poised to happen next year with Kimi Räikkönen’s open spot at Lotus. My previous article discussed the fate of Paul di Resta and mentioned how he would be a good fit at the Enstone outfit, so Nico is not without competition.

Comparison Test

Hülkenburg and di Resta have exactly the same amount of experience. 55 race starts (I’m including Nico’s DNS in Australia this year, as he got the whole weekend but the race in and the DNS was not his fault). Nico did 2010 with Williams, spent 2011 as a reserve driver for Force India, and raced in 2012 for Force India and this year for Sauber. Paul has been with Force India for his whole F1 career, with 2010 as a reserve driver and the last 3 years as a member of the race team.

Nico heads out for a run in the Sauber
Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

What’s better is that we can directly compare the two drivers even though they drove for different teams! Williams in 2010 and Force India in 2011 scored the same number of points in the Constructor’s Championship, so that’s fair. They drove for the same team last year, so that’s fair. And Sauber and Force India are comparable cars this year if you chalk up the point discrepancy between the two coming from the inexperience of Esteban Gutiérrez rather than the quality of the car, which seems reasonable.

Di Resta has scored points in 45% of his race starts. Hülkenberg has scored in 47% of his race starts. That’s a difference of one race. I don’t think that’s a statistically significant difference.

Nico has five top-5 finishes to Paul’s two, so that’s something that separates the two.

Paul has six retirements to Nico’s seven. That’s a wash, really.

Really the only other significant variable between the two is Paul di Resta’s time with Force India. Di Resta has been a cornerstone of Force India’s improvement over the last four years. I’ve not done the math, but driver turnover in the mid-pack teams is certainly higher than every-four-years. This indicates that Vijay Mallya believes di Resta is a valuable asset, and a rock within the team. He is consistent, smart, and steadfast. He says what he thinks, but not at the expense of the team. He’s very much like a young Mark Webber in that respect. Nico on the other hand has been with three teams in four years. If we’re willing to believe Mallya (and no-one’s saying we are) di Resta’s stay with Force India is a testament to his ability to fit into a team and become a vital part of the team’s success rather than just a cog in the wheel. Point to Paul.

Only as good as your last race

Nico Hülkenburg has been on somewhat of a roll recently. Remember those 47% of top 10 finishes? 7% of those came in the last 5 races! He has been just unstoppable in his little black speed-machine. Nico has an average finish of 9.66 in the last 10 races and only had one retirement after being bullied by a slower Giedo van der Garde.

Di Resta keeps it on track
Credit: Sahara Force India Formula One Team

Unfortunately, Paul di Resta’s average finish over the last 10 races has been 12th. Not all that bad at the outset, especially considering the car he’s driving is a consistent 9th-14th place finisher – however that does not take into consideration his retirements. 3 retirements in 10 races, and all due to driver error. Not too good. We can’t be sure what’s going on in Paul’s head right now or why he’s pushing himself so hard... It could be that he saw the Lotus seat opening up before it happened, or that he is feeling the pressure from his teammate: Adrian Sutil. Whichever way you cut it, Paul di Resta has some work to do to get back into the good graces of F1 team bosses looking for drivers next year. Thankfully the Indian GP was a good start for him, with a solid 8th place and a Classified-DNF for Hülkenburg.

How the picture has changed

The picture these two drivers paint has changed rather significantly over the last few months. Let’s look at the same statistics as we did above as of right after the Hungarian grand prix: six races ago.

Paul di Resta had top 10 finishes in 49% of his starts. Nico had 45%. Slightly better for Paul.

Nico had 3 top-5 finishes to Paul’s 2. Nothing between them.

Most importantly, however, are the retirements. Di Resta had three retirements to Hülkenburg’s seven. That’s a huge difference.

Di Resta is in a bit of a slump, but he is consistent and has tremendous race-craft

Paul di Resta has been an incredibly consistent driver over the course of his career. It’s a bit uncanny for such a young driver, actually. If you have someone scoring in essentially half of all his Grands Prix in a mediocre car, you know you have a talent on your hands.

The folks who make the hiring decisions at the top-tier teams as well as the media tend to have short attention spans. Paul di Resta is in a bit of a slump, but he is consistent and has tremendous race-craft.

Boullier’s choice

The truth of the matter is that there is basically nothing between these two drivers. They’re both competent, fast, smart and would be a great fit for Kimi’s seat at Lotus. All the noise is that the Hülkenburg deal is pretty much signed, sealed and delivered. I wouldn’t be so fast to jump on the Nico train. Di Resta is in a slump. That much is obvious, but I wouldn’t want the drama of the last 6-10 races to take away from the decision of choosing the next iconic team-driver.

Boullier will give his recommendation to the board
Credit: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team

The decision should be carefully balanced and weighed heavily. Both Hülkenburg and di Resta have also been linked to Ferrari in years past, so if this Kimi + Fernando pairing ends up not being a match made in heaven, it could work out for the two young drivers to stick it out another year in the mid-pack. Also, Daniel Ricciardo is far from a sure-thing at Red Bull for a 2015 drive so there’s potential for improvement. Boullier will probably go with Nico. I would not be so fast to make that decision.