Hulkenberg plays down practice pace
Ferrari-linked driver says long runs could be a different matter
By Mike Wise at Suzuka. Last Updated: 05/10/12 11:48am
Nico Hulkenberg is refusing to get too carried away by the prospect of a strong finish in the Japanese Grand Prix, despite showing well in practice on Friday.
The German, who is currently being linked with a move to Ferrari next season, ended the afternoon's practice session fourth fastest on the timesheets behind Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
It was a day of contrasts for the team as a whole, though, with team-mate Paul di Resta crashing out of P2 after just six minutes.
Hulkenberg ended the day less than half a second shy of Webber's Red Bull but reckoned Force India still have work to do improving their long-run pace.
"If you look on the timesheet it looks good but I think the high-fuel runs didn't look maybe as good compared to the low fuel. We can improve there," he said.
"It's a good starting point but the target as usual is to get points on Sunday," added Hulkenberg, whose only previous race appearance at Suzuka, in 2010, lasted just yards before his Williams was hit by the Renault of Vitaly Petrov.
Force India have found points easier to come by in recent races, with di Resta earning his best-ever result, a fourth, in Singapore to match Hulkenberg's finish in Belgium.
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The VJM05 chassis appears to be performing well on all types of circuit, yet of far greater interest right now is the relative performance of its drivers.
Di Resta has also been linked with Ferrari but a stronger rumour suggests that Hulkenberg might be the driver to replace Felipe Massa as Fernando Alonso's team-mate.
The F1 driver market has reached critical mass in recent days but Hulkenberg denied that it has made the competition between him and di Resta more intense.
"It's been like that from the first day, from the first race. I'm used to it now, we're both quick, we're very competitive and we're always close," he said.
"It's a good challenge with Paul. If you beat your team-mate and people rate your team-mate well then it's a good achievement for yourself."
Hulkenberg, who said he found the notion of staying with one team for several years "difficult to imagine", also reckoned there are drawbacks to being placed such a spotlight.
"Those rumours are something positive, because you wouldn't be in that situation if you had a horrible season," he added.
"It's not bad but it's getting to the point where it's a bit tiring."