Why F1 racer Nico Hulkenberg's WEC debut was hard to judge

Formula 1 driver Nico Hulkenberg made what can be described as a solid sportscar debut with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship last weekend, but drawing any conclusions is impossible

The delays that restricted Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber to a distant sixth at Spa on Saturday make it unreasonable to pass judgement on his performance when compared to either his co-drivers or his team-mates in the other two LMP1 Porsches.

The #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid was behind the eight ball before the end of the first stint.

Tandy had a coming together with Kevin Estre in one of the factory GTE Pro class Porsches at the Fagnes right-hander that resulted in a three-minute trip into the garage to change the nose.

Most significantly, that loss of time turned the #19 car into a guinea pig: it was decided that Hulkenberg would double stint his tyres to help Porsche make a decision on what to do with the #18 car battling it out with Audi at the front.

Only Toyota and Audi's #9 car doubled their tyres earlier: at Toyota, the #1 car stayed on old rubber at its first pitstop; the #2 car was given only fresh Michelins on the right-hand side, while Audi's Marco Bonanomi did the final two thirds of a triple stint from the start on the same set.

Hulkenberg went into the second half of his double without fresh tyres more than an hour before Andre Lotterer did the same in the winning Audi R18 e-tron quattro and two hours before Marc Lieb in the #18 Porsche.

That meant he was on a track that was less rubbered-in and therefore less conducive to making the tyres last. (Sebastien Buemi's early attempt at a double in the #1 Toyota, it should be noted, wasn't a success at all.)

Hulkenberg had a decent rather than spectacular stint on the old rubber: he was regularly in the 2m00s and put in one 1m59s lap.

He stacked up well against Lieb and Jani, who were on shorter doubles, in the second-placed car, but it is not a like for like comparison.

Lieb hadn't done his tyres any good when he went off and clipped the gravel on the exit of Stavelot shortly before his mid-stint pitstop, while Jani did his short double on tyres that had been used in qualifying.

Comparing what Hulkenberg did in the #19 Porsche with the performance of his team-mates later in the race isn't just difficult, it is impossible.

The car suffered a broken damper, a repeat of the problem that afflicted the third-placed Porsche (#17) of Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber, probably some time after Hulkenberg climbed out of the car.

Porsche opted to replace the damper on the #17 car, but it decided that Bamber and then Tandy, who returned to the cockpit for the finish, would have to drive around the problem in the car they were sharing with Hulkenberg.

Hulkenberg was also given a qualifying shot: his best lap of 1m55.130s was eclipsed by a 1m54.920s from Tandy, who made a major mistake at La Source at the start of his quick lap.

The German ended up as the fourth fastest Porsche driver in qualifying but ahead of Jani and Lieb; they were the kings of qualifying in the German manufacturer's camp last season, but have yet to do the business this season.

The Spa WEC event was a decent start — as well as a vital learning experience — to Hulkenberg's LMP1 career as he gears up for the bigger challenge that lies ahead at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

But it is too early to say what kind of impact he is going to make on the big race next month.

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