September 8th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Nico Hulkenberg has long been considered a star of the future in F1, and at Monza this weekend he showed why. In a Sauber - one of the least competitive cars in the field - Hulkenberg qualified third on Saturday afternoon, and then followed up with an impressive drive to fifth place, ahead of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and less than a second behind Felipe Massa's Ferrari.
Hulkenberg lost two places on the opening lap - to Felipe Massa off the start line and then to Fernando Alonso on the exit of the first corner - but then held position until the end of the race. No-one would have bet on that before the race started, even after Hulkenberg's impressive qualifying performance.
The young German was quick and consistent and, crucially, kept his cool under pressure from Nico Rosberg, who was on his tail for most of the race. It was a mature drive that showed Hulkenberg is ready to move to a top team.
Ferrari have not yet announced their 2014 driver line-up, but they are expected to do so in the next few days. Hulkenberg is one of the candidates to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari next season. The other strong candidate is Kimi Raikkonen, who won the championship with Ferrari in 2007 but now drives for Lotus. In the event that Raikkonen gets the Ferrari drive (as is strongly rumoured in the F1 media at present), Hulkenberg has been linked with a drive at Lotus, which would certainly be a step up from Sauber.
Unfortunately for Hulkenberg, this weekend is likely to be the high point of his 2013 season, as the Sauber car is simply not quick enough around most of the circuits on the calendar. It was competitive at Monza due to the Ferrari engine that powers it, but when aerodynamics become more important again at the next race in Singapore, Hulkenberg is likely to move back into the midfield and fight for the lower points positions rather than the podium.
But for now, Hulkenberg can enjoy his strongest result of the season and Sauber's best result since Kamui Kobayashi stood on the podium in Japan last year.