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Is Nico Hulkenberg the unluckiest man in F1 history?

By Cameron Kirby, 03 Aug 2020 Motorsport

Is Nico Hulkenberg the unluckiest man in F1 history?

Whoever cursed Nico Hulkenberg has done a mighty fine job of it

Formula 1 has its fair share of poor souls that have had wretched luck in their careers, but perhaps the unluckiest (certainly of the modern era) has to be Nico Hulkenberg.

The German driver has the unfortunate record of having started more F1 grands prix than any other competitor without ever finishing on the podium.

Hulkenberg has started 177 grands prix, collected 511 points, scored a single pole position, even won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but never, ever, stood on the F1 podium.

It seemed his Grand Prix career had ended at the end of 2019 when The Hulk was forced into retiring from F1 after a decade on the grid, destined to ply his racing trade elsewhere.

But with Sergio Perez testing positive for COVID-19, Hulkenberg was called up at the last minute to fill the Mexican driver’s seat at Racing Point.

With the Racing Point arguably the second-best car on the 2020 F1 grid, this seemed the perfect moment for Hulkenberg to nab that elusive podium.

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Then, come race day, the darned car wouldn’t start, and Hulkenberg never took his place on the grid.

This was just another chapter in the torrid tale of Hulkenberg’s hunt for a podium, but does it make him the unluckiest driver in F1? Let’s look at some of his other misfortunes, and fellow nominees for the unenviable title.

NICO CAN’T CATCH A BREAK

Perhaps Hulkenberg’s greatest misery came at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012.

Driving for Force India, Hulkenberg was leading the field by lap 18, but was overtaken by Lewis Hamilton after a Safety Car.

As the pair approached a backmarker on lap 54, Hulkenberg made his move to retake the lead.

On a damp but drying track, the German locked his tyres, and collided spectacularly with Hamilton’s McLaren.

While Hamilton was forced to retire, The Hulk finished fifth after receiving a drive-through penalty for his part in the incident.

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Hulkenberg admits that if it weren’t for that mistake, his career could have gone in a very different direction.

“I was trying to get the lead back. It was a bit unfortunate; it was damp still on one side and we had this other lapped car in front, which didn’t help as well,” he told CNN earlier this year.

“It was racing, but also a bit too rushed; [I was] not patient in the moment, that was maybe not the smartest thing.

“So, if I had maybe settled in that corner and waited for another opportunity it could’ve been a very different day.

“It was early in my career and that could have put my career in a different path, a different trajectory.”

CHRIS AMON COULD HAVE, SHOULD HAVE, BUT NEVER DID

Before Hulkenberg many consider Chris Amon to be F1’s unluckiest driver.

The New Zealander had such torrid fortunes that rival Mario Andretti once joked, "If he became an undertaker, people would stop dying.”

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Former Ferrari Technical Director Mauro Forghieri once said Amon was  "by far the best test driver I have ever worked with. He had all the qualities to be a World Champion but bad luck just wouldn't let him."

During his career, Amon led 183 laps, yet never once won a Formula 1 race. Ouch.

Like Hulkenberg, Amon found success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning the endurance classic with Bruce McLaren in 1966 – yes, the one where the Ford GT40 pounded the Europeans into dust.

SIR STIRLING MOSS: THE WORLD’S FASTEST BRIDESMAID

It is no stretch to call Sir Stirling Moss one of the greatest racing drivers to have ever lived.

Of the 529 races he entered during his career, Moss won 212 of them. That’s a frankly insane win rate of 40 percent.

Read next: Twelve of the weirdest Formula 1 aero ‘innovations’

From 66 Grand Prix starts, Moss won 16 times, but was never able to clinch the world driver’s championship – not for lack of trying.

In the seven years between ’55 and ’61 Moss was runner-up for the F1 driver’s title four times, and third in the championship another three times.

WOLFGANG ALEXANDER ALBERT EDUARD MAXIMILIAN REICHSGRAF BERGHE VON TRIPS: LONG IN NAME, SHORT IN LIFESPAN

In the list of awesome names that have competed in racing, old mate Wolfgang just about takes the cake.

However, the story of Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips, or simply Taffy, is one mired in tragedy.

Wolfgang was a German nobleman and successful racer in the early days of grand prix racing, and was set to clinch the ’61 driver’s title.

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All he had to do was finish third at that year’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza and the crown would be his.

Instead, the 33-year-old crashed into Jim Clark, slammed into a barrier, and was fatally ejected from his race car. He would posthumously finish second in the championship fight behind teammate Phil Hill.

In a double twist of bizarre fate, the plane von Trip was set to catch the next day on the way to the US crashed over Scotland.

MARTIN BRUNDLE HAS THE WORST TIMING

Martin Brundle is loved by many for his commentary during F1 television broadcasts, but what some forget is he has a colourful F1 racing history of his own, mired with poor decisions and even worse timing.

A young Brundle harassed Ayrton Senna on track when both competed in F3, taking the title to a nail-biting finish.

Finally getting his first F1 seat at Tyrell in 1984, his debut season was entirely scrubbed from the record books when the team was disqualified for an entire year over blatant chea- ahem, rule bending. The same year he smashed his ankles into oblivion in a nasty shunt, and never fully recovered.

Read next: Eight awesome unraced F1 liveries

Bouncing between midfield teams, Brundle landed a seat as a fill-in driver at Williams in 1988, but left for Brabham just prior to Sir Frank’s team’s period of domination after failing to get a full-time gig.

In 1992 he was racing for Benetton, and nabbed a couple of podiums, but again left just as the team hit its championship-winning stride.

Even his year at McLaren was a nightmare, as the Woking crew used woeful Peugeot engines.

Finally, he finished his career at Jordan, but his timing was off once again, retiring at the end of 1996 before they also started winning races.

FELIPE MASSA: THE 40 SECOND CHAMPION

For roughly 40 seconds, Felipe Massa was the 2008 F1 world champion, having won in dramatic fashion in front of his home crowd at a soaking wet Brazilian Grand Prix.

Massa and his Ferrari team had fought tooth and nail against a young Hamilton at McLaren, taking the championship to the final race of the year.

The Brazilian driver had to win the race with Hamilton finishing lower than fifth to secure his maiden F1 crown.

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At the completion of 71 laps, Massa took the flags, having done everything he could to win secure the title. As the Ferrari crossed the line, Hamilton was still stuck in sixth place.

Then, a few moments later, Hamilton managed to pass a struggling Timo Glock in the dying seconds, crossing the line in fifth to win his first F1 championship.

The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix would be Massa’s 11th and final victory in F1.

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