Nico Hulkenberg says both he and Sauber are ready to take the 'next step'
German says his own expectations are highest of all
By Mike Wise. Last Updated: February 3, 2013 9:59am
Nico Hulkenberg stopped short of saying it outright, but there is little doubt that he is targeting victory with Sauber this coming season.
The 25-year-old German has joined the Swiss-based outfit at a time when the momentum of both driver and team appear to be gathering pace. Hulkenberg had an impressive season with Force India last year and led the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. Sauber, meanwhile, earned themselves four podium finishes as they challenged Mercedes in the Constructors' Championship.
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Two of those podiums, in Malaysia and Italy, were second places for the now departed Sergio Perez. Speaking at the launch of Sauber's new C32 car on Saturday, Hulkenberg suggested that both driver and team are now ready to win.
"The Sauber F1 Team made significant progress last year from 2011," he said. "Now the team is ready to take the next step, and I want to play my part in making that happen. My personal aim is to put in a good, steady performance this season.
"Out of everyone here, my own expectations are probably the highest. That's part of the job, part of Formula 1 - I'm not worried about that.
"It's just a really exciting time to start and I'm really looking forward to the start of the season and finally to be in Melbourne and on the grid."
Since Hulkenberg's Sao Paulo showing - he eventually finished fifth after colliding with Lewis Hamilton's McLaren in treacherous conditions - he has swapped Silverstone for Sauber's factory in Hinwil.
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"After the end of last season I've been around quite a bit. It's a new team, so I've been getting to know the people - the engineers, the people I work close with is really quite important," Hulkenberg said.
"But also the winter training has gone pretty well. The last two or three weeks I've spent a lot of time getting myself in good shape. Now I'm really excited about this season, this year, and I'm looking forward to start it."
Embarking upon his third full season of F1, Hulkenberg will have to quickly familiarise himself with his new surroundings as he is effectively team leader.
His team-mate, 21-year-old rookie Esteban Gutierrez, has a long-standing relationship with Sauber - he first tested for them in late 2009 - but the Mexican is setting his sights lower for now.
"I think the most important challenge in Formula 1 is to adapt to the whole psychological atmosphere. You have the media around; of course, there's certain additions to the car," the former GP2 racer said.
"The challenge I really want to achieve is to be consistent at a high competitive level. This is what I'm looking for."
Of her two new charges, Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn added: "We have very high expectations and both of them know that. We have two young, fast and very talented drivers.
"As for Nico, we'd been watching him last year and often enough we felt ourselves how fast he could actually be. We think he's a very efficient driver and if he gets the opportunity, he takes it and brings that result home.
"With regard to Esteban, we've known him for quite a while and we've tried our best to support his way into Formula 1. We think now is the right time and I'm also confident that he will contribute to the success of the team."