|© AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Nico Hulkenberg put in a superb defensive drive over the last 17 laps of the Korean Grand Prix on Sunday by holding off a queue of world champions behind him after the second safety-car period ended, finishing fourth to equal his career best.
Driving a Sauber, the German successfully battled with Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in the early stages of the race and then fended off Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to maintain his position.
His drive was bewildering as the 2008 world champion found out.
"It's unreal how much traction he's got," a stunned Hamilton said over the radio on lap 50.
Indeed, Hulkenberg credited the traction and straightline speed of his car that allowed him to put on a show.
Despite numerous tries, particularly with attempted lunges at Turn 1, the British driver just could not overtake the Sauber.
"Anyone got any suggestions?" a frustrated Hamilton asked his team over the radio.
Hulkenberg, who was heard telling his team that he was giving “110 percent”, has impressed in the last few races, particularly at Monza when he qualified third and finished fifth.
He was a candidate for Ferrari for next season, but the Italian team overlooked him despite the performance at the Italian GP.
Now believed to be in contention for a Lotus seat next year, his strong result in Korea could elevate him to the Enstone-based outfit for 2014. Lotus’ other contender, Felipe Massa, didn’t impress much after he spun on the opening lap leaving Hulkenberg as the best choice for 2014.
“Today I drove one of the best races in my career so far,” he said. “I have had cars in the mirrors before, but today there were a lot and it was a bit annoying.
“Lewis really put the pressure on at the end, especially in the last sector. I knew I needed to get out of Turn 1 well. The car’s traction was very good today, so that kept me alive against Fernando and then Lewis later on. We were also very fast on the straight,” he explained.