Hulkenberg hoping to turn Australian Grand Prix fortunes around with Force India

Nico Hulkenberg has emerged as a dark horse contender for this year's Formula One season thanks to Force India's adoption of the seemingly advantageous Mercedes engine.

Nico Hulkenberg earned Sauber 51 points last season, finishing 10th among drivers. He'll be racing with Force India this season. Srdjan Suki / EPA
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Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg has a modest ambition for this weekend’s Formula One season opener in Australia: finishing a lap.

Hulkenberg has failed to finish a single lap of the race in three previous visits to the Albert Park circuit – twice crashing out and once retiring with a technical problem.

If he does manage to make it around the circuit on Sunday, Hulkenberg can look forward to a strong finish as Force India had a largely trouble-free pres-eason while many of its rivals have experienced major issues with the new turbo hybrid engines.

Hulkenberg, who has returned to Force India after a frustrating season at Sauber in 2013, said his sequence of goals are “to complete a race lap, then to finish, and hopefully get some points.”

With points awarded to the top 10 finishers, just making it through the 58 scheduled laps may be enough to fulfill that goal with the many reliability problems that emerged over pre-season testing indicating that a lot of cars will not make it that far.

Of the three engine providers – along with Renault and Ferrari – it was the Mercedes-powered cars that appear to have best handled the difficult task of integrating the new V6 engines with reintroduced turbochargers and the expanded role of hybrid power.

Along with Force India, the other Mercedes-powered cars are the factory Mercedes team, which is the favourite to win on Sunday, plus McLaren and Williams.

The engine headaches, plus the cut in fuel allowance to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) per car – last year’s average was around 160 kilograms (353 pounds)– mean that cars will not be able to race at full throttle for much of Sunday’s race at Albert Park, which is a high fuel-consumption track.

Hulkenberg acknowledged that racing in preservation mode goes against the grain.

“Naturally a race driver wants to push every corner, every lap, so it goes against that instinct,” Hulkenberg said.

Another new regulation for 2014 is an increase in the total allowable weight of car and driver combined from 642 kilograms (1,415 pounds) to 691 kilograms (1,523 pounds). That has been bad news for a lot of drivers because the new engines and tyres combined have accounted for more than that extra 49 kilograms (108 pounds).

Hulkenberg was expected to be one of the drivers worst affected by the rule because he the tallest of the current drivers at 1.84 meters (six feet), with some saying that was one reason why he lost out on a drive at Ferrari in 2014, as the team was concerned about accommodating his weight.

However it has strangely worked out as a positive for him because he has long been stringent in his efforts to keep weight down, while some other drivers have only now been forced to severely cut their weight.

“I didn’t have to lose weight, because last year I was close to my limit,” Hulkenberg said. “Unlike other drivers I didn’t have to lose weight over winter.”

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