Hulkenberg: Botched start in Japanese GP ruined chance of points

© XPB 

Nico Hulkenberg concluded his Japanese GP just outside the points in P11, but the Haas driver reckoned that a top-ten finish would have been within reach had he not botched his launch off the grid.

Hulkenberg qualified 12th and enjoyed a strong initial start only for his momentum to grind to a halt when a red flag triggered by a clash between Daniel Ricciardo and Alex Albon halted proceedings.

Unfortunately, the German drivers suffered a sluggish getaway on the restart that dropped him well down the order.

Determined to salvage his race, Hulkenberg opted for an early pit stop for hard tyres. On lap 33 of 53, he made another pit stop for fresh rubber, showcasing decent pace while battling in the midfield.

Despite his efforts, he just fell short of a crucial top-ten finish, clocking in just 5 seconds behind tenth-place man Yuki Tsunoda.

Haas’ post-race analysis revealed an "anti-stall" issue during Hulkenberg's second start, which the US outfit will be investigating to prevent similar setbacks in the future.

Although frustrated by the missed opportunity, Hulkenberg seems encouraged by the car's overall pace in the midfield and his ability to show good speed during his long first stint on hard tyres.

“I think 10th probably [was the highest I could have finished] – not more than that, definitely not more than that. [Tsunoda in 10th was] 50 seconds behind Hamilton so... I didn’t have that kind of pace!

“[I made] one good start, one really bad start – went into anti-stall so we need to look into what happened, why it did that.

But afterwards, head down, I think the pace was pretty good for midfield guys. [I] had a very long stint on the first hard, and then had quite a splash and dash kind of on the second hard where I could really show some pace.”

While he had little to show for his efforts at Suzuka, Hulkenberg was optimistic about the team's performance, believing it "definitely" set a promising tone for the upcoming races.

“[We] take it as a positive and it's much more promising, and to be honest it was better than what I expected before the race,” the 36-year-old said.

“So in a way that’s really a relief, and I'm happy that it’s that way and not the other way around, so I think it's quite promising for China and going forward.”

Starting from 18th on the grid, Kevin Magnussen involved himself in intense duels with both Alpine cars and Valtteri Bottas' Sauber.

However, difficulties emerged in the latter part of the race as he grappled with tyre issues, causing his competitive edge to diminish, ultimately finishing the day in 13th place.

But at one point, while running among the top ten, the prospect of a point crossed the Dane’s mind.

“At some point I was running in the top 10 and I didn’t have the overview of what the others were doing, so I didn’t know if it was realistic or not, but I was trying,” he said.

“I think with the tyres we had, the red flag effectively helped a few people that were then able to do a one-stop hard-hard [tyre strategy], and I had to do a one-stop medium-hard which was pretty tough.

“I had to pit quite early for the second stint on the hard and it was a bit tricky, but otherwise okay.”

Like his teammate, Magnussen was also encouraged by the race pace of Haas’ VF-24.

“I think we were there or thereabouts in the race again, so that’s encouraging and giving some hope for the coming races that we can still be in the fight for points,” he said.

“[RB] look quick, but hopefully we can catch up a little bit.”

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter