A solid seventh place in Melbourne for Nico Hülkenberg opens up his points-scoring account for 2018. Now the German is eyeing up another strong weekend in the Bahrain desert.
How do you reflect on the season-opener?
It was a straightforward race and successful for us. It was a strong weekend and I was pleased by our good race pace. I felt good out there and it’s a solid result. Overtaking was very difficult as the cars are aero sensitive and the speeds are so high. Seventh was probably a fair result for us; we would have been higher barring the unfortunately timed virtual safety car. We have to keep working and make sure we beat the teams around us. We’ve sent out a positive message from Enstone and Viry, but we need to reduce the gap to the front and that’s the challenge.
What do you like about the Bahrain Grand Prix?
The Bahrain International Circuit is a great facility in the middle of the desert. The track itself is quite technical with the natural elements adding a few further challenges, most notably the wind. I really enjoy Bahrain as the heat is guaranteed and the atmosphere is always good to experience.
What kind of approach do you have to take for a night race in the desert?
You take a smooth and gentle approach to the track in Bahrain, while, of course, being as fast as possible. We joke about it being in the middle of the desert, but sand is a genuine element we have to consider in our preparation. If it’s windy it gets blown on to the track, so it can vary a lot from one session to another. You’re always adapting to the grip levels as well as the wind direction, which you need to suss out to get that perfect lap. My qualifying lap last season was as close to perfect as possible, even on par with the 2010 Brazil one. Hopefully we can repeat that this season and put ourselves in a good place ahead of next Sunday’s race.
What other characteristics do you bear in mind in the build-up to the race?
The Middle East is always hot, and that used to be a major factor when preparing for this race, but it’s not so prevalent these days as we race at night and it’s far cooler at that time. Having said that, it makes Free Practice 2 crucial as it’s the session that’s most representative of race conditions, so we’ll be putting a lot of emphasis on that.
How do you tackle a lap of the Bahrain International Circuit?
There’s a long straight with hard braking into turn one where you need to lose about 240kph and it’s easy to overshoot that corner if you get it wrong. Traction on the exit is limited so you’re fighting the rear end. T5-6 is a very fast combination and very satisfying if you nail it. T8 is a tight and slow hairpin and another place where it’s easy to out-brake yourself with front-locking, especially if you get off-line. T9-10 is a long left-hander where you’re braking deep into it. Trail-braking is always difficult because of the propensity for front-locking as the variability of wind direction is trying to catch you off guard too.