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Shirin Sadikot in Bengaluru 17 April 2012 - 04:34pm IST

Love the IPL atmosphere: Hulkenberg

Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg talks about cricket and F1

Twenty20 cricket is all about pace. In a sport where every moment can be gamechanging, you need to stay one step ahead of the opposition at all times. No surprise, then, that the shortest form of cricket has left a Formula One driver excited.

Sahara Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg had his first brush with cricket last year, when he came to India to watch an IPL match in Bengaluru; he went back home with a fondness for the sport. The German race car driver is back here to watch the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the team owned by his F1 boss, Vijay Mallya.

Hulkenberg, who fell in love with fast cars at the age of seven, joined the Indian based F1 team in 2011 as a test and reserve driver. Since then, he’s made several trips to India; he hopes to explore the cricket-mad country on this visit.

As RCB prepare to take on the Pune Warriors India at the Chinnaswamy, Hulkenberg spoke to
iplt20.com about the new sport in his life and gave an insight into motor racing.

So is this just your second time at a cricket match?

I was here exactly the same time last year to watch an RCB match. In Germany, cricket is quite unknown. It’s all about football, F1 and those sports back home. [Last year] was an introduction to cricket for me. There were around 30,000 people in the stadium cheering for their team, there was loud music and I was really impressed with the atmosphere there.

In cricket, and most other sports, there is a lot of crowd involvement which pumps energy into the game. An F1 driver is practically on his own in his car. Do you think F1 misses out on that aspect of sports?

It’s two different pairs of shoes. In cricket, football, tennis or as an athlete, you see everything around you, the crowd, the atmosphere and everything. You hear the noise, see some reactions. For us, we get into the car and put our helmet on. The engine is very noisy and it is a bit different. But every now and then we also get a little bit of a look at the grandstand, especially when the race is finished, and see whether it is full or empty. So, yes, it is very different in that regard.

What are the main skills required to be a successful race car driver?

The most important thing is to have talent and natural speed. If you don’t have these things in your system, you cannot get this far. Formula One also depends a lot on how good your car and your team is. It’s much more material driven unlike cricket or tennis where it comes down to the player himself. Even we are athletes but our performance depends on other factors [too].

How physically challenging is car racing as a sport?

You lose a lot of body fluids depending on the temperature. People sitting on their couch think it’s just a bit of car driving but it’s not like that; it takes a lot more than that. It’s quite physical, especially battling with other cars in the race. It’s all about having the capacity to more than just drive the car – to think about your strategy, your tyres, etc. We need a certain amount of fitness, especially in the neck area.

What is your training regime like?

You definitely need some training. But I think the beauty for us is that like a tennis player or a swimmer, we don’t have to train every day, or play our sport every day to be prepared for it. We can combine quite a lot of things. I’m a runner; I love running in the forest. Another huge hobby of mine is tennis. I combine it with some biking, weight sessions in the gym, some rowing and much more. Swimming too is good exercise.

How do all these exercises help you in your sport?

It’s just about the fitness. If you have very good fitness levels, you build a higher capacity to look at a lot of the other stuff. If you’re just fit enough to drive the car, you won’t be able to concentrate on the other things required to win. So fitness is very important overall.

Who’s your favourite sportsperson outside of F1?

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

You’ve been to India quite a few times now. How has the experience been?

After joining Sahara Force India I’ve been here around six or seven times. Each time I come here there’s a lot going on – meeting the media, fan interaction, etc. We don’t get to see so much of the cities and the countryside and that’s a bit of shame. But the people here are very friendly and welcoming so it’s always nice to stay.

What do you think of the Indian F1 track – the Buddh International Circuit?

I haven’t driven there myself yet in the F1 car because I wasn’t the race driver last year. But just by taking a look at the circuit, it looks quite challenging. The facilities are amazing, big grand stands. Listening to the other drivers who raced there last year, it seems to be a really cool track.

How old were you when you started racing?

I discovered racing when I was seven years old. It was through some friends of dad whose sons did carting as a hobby. One Sunday we decided to go to a racing event and I was impressed with it. I told my dad I wanted to try that as well. Luckily he’s a big motorsport fan and supported me right from the beginning.

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