Nico Hulkenberg lamented his “one-way street” journey in the “wrong direction” after an exceptional qualifying performance in Canada led to a P15 finishing position on race day. The Haas driver was the star of Saturday’s qualifying in Montreal as he secured a front-row start in P2 during a dramatic rain-affected session.
However, following his elation of bagging that position, things soon began to unravel as he was subsequently hit with a three-place grid penalty for the Grand Prix after stewards found him guilty of committing a violation under red flags during qualifying.
That decision saw him drop to fifth place on the grid – elevating the spots of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in the process – but that was just the start of Hulkenberg’s journey down the order.
From the start of the race, Esteban Ocon soon got the jump on the Haas driver to run fifth, and he was also one of a number of drivers to lose out with a pit stop just before the Safety Car emerged following George Russell’s brush with the wall.
There followed a largely anonymous afternoon en route to his 15th-placed finish, one place behind the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda and a place ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu.
“It was a one-way street in the wrong direction today,” admitted Hulkenberg post-race. “It was, to some extent, expected.
“You always obviously hope for the best so that it’s better than what you had in the previous race, but it just confirms once again that we have a lot of work to do on long-run pace and tyre consistency because that’s really killing our Sundays.”
While Haas’s efforts to extract Sunday pace go on, the quest to unlock their car’s potential for Hulkenberg wouldn’t have been aided by a lack of practice time. The German’s FP2 session in Canada had been brought to a premature halt after an engine issue – following a disrupted FP1 – but the 35-year-old insisted there was more work to be done than simply looking back to that lack of running.
“Of course, that wasn’t great,” he said, acknowledging his lack of FP2 running. “Maybe there’s a little bit of performance there that we couldn’t extract because of that reason.
“But, still, I think it looks like, or felt like, we’re a long way away. I think we’re looking for more than just a practice session.”
The challenge of making the Haas machine more competitive on a Sunday is also something Hulkenberg’s team mate Kevin Magnussen is acutely aware of. It was a similarly disappointing day for the Danish driver, as he dropped down the order from 13th on the starting grid to a P17 finish.
“We were just lacking pace compared to where we want to be, and struggling with tyres again – at least more than the others,” he said.
“A tough one again. I think the car over one lap has really good pace, we’ve shown that several times this year. But we need to work hard to try and keep that strength for Sunday.”
Haas currently find themselves eighth in the constructors’ standings on eight points, one point ahead of ninth-placed Williams and a point behind Alfa Romeo in seventh, with the Austrian Grand Prix weekend next up from June 30-July 2.