Outside of the sport in 2020, and with his hopes of driving in 2021 with a thin look after Renault chose to sign Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg’s hopes of a return to F1 in the near future have appeared discouraging. And still this weekend, after the positive result of Sergio Perez Covid-19, he finds himself back on the grid, undoubtedly driving the most competitive car he has ever had. Here’s the remarkable story of how Germany’s return to action with Racing Point in Silverstone took place …
When did the Racing Point approach Hulkenberg?
On Thursday, Race Point Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer appeared on Hulkenberg’s phone. The German took the phone call and in the next few minutes, his heart started beating faster.
He was set up to go to Germany to do punditry for the RTL TV station. Then it was time to do a run test in a GT4 car for fun at the Nurburgring this weekend.
But out of the blue, Hulkenberg ̵1; who spent the lock in Morca – had been thrown in the event of an unexpected route back to F1, ironically by his former Force India partner Sergio Perez.
READ MORE: Perez excluded from English Grand Prix after positive test for Covid-19
All F1 personnel are required to have a Covid-19 PCR test before entering the paddock, a procedure that has been in place since the resumption of the season. Perez did, as usual, only this time, the result of his test was inconclusive.
As needed, he self-isolated – as did the small number of team members he had come in contact with – and waited for the test results again. Meanwhile, his Racing Point team needed a back-up plan.
Why Hulkenberg and not a reserve for Mercedes?
Before the season, Racing Point came to an arrangement with Mercedes, which they have a close relationship with through the use of their engine along with many other components, including their gearbox and suspension, to borrow one. by their reserve drivers in the case of Perez or teammate Lance Stroll cannot take part in a race.
With Stoffel Vandoorne unavailable, due to his Formula E commitments, Szfanauer called the other reserve – Esteban Gutierrez – as well as Hulkenberg, with whom he already has a good relationship, to check on their availability.
In the team’s mind, Hulkenberg made the most sense for multiple reasons.
Not only does he know most of the staff very well, for he had happened to the squad when he was leading under the flag of Force India, but he remains a fast and very competitive choice. And he is the best driver available regarding the recent F1 experience after competing for Renault last year, alongside Daniel Ricciardo.
READ MORE: What happens next after Sergio Perez’s positive test on Covid-19
Hulkenberg didn’t let F1 through the selection, and still feels he has a lot more to offer in F1. He has been pushing for a return to 2021, first with Renault – before they managed to make Fernando Alonso – and then he is believed to be with Alfa Romeo, having rushed to the team when they were Sauber while their team boss Fred Vasseur his rate.
So when Szafnauer called on Thursday, Hulkenberg did not hesitate. He packed a bag and was on a plane in a few hours. The landing in the UK, he had a Covid-19 test and then moved to the Racing Point factory, opposite Silverstone, to get his seat.
Great Britain 2020: Nico Hulkenberg returns to first practice
Meanwhile, the team began arranging overalls. Luckily, he stuck – maybe a little lightly – in a pair of Stroll’s.
Has Gutierrez ever been a choice?
At the same time that Hulkenberg was traveling, Gutierrez had made his way to Silverstone with his helmet – the Mexican is a resident of London – and walked into the paddock on Thursday evening. The 28-year-old completed thousands of miles in the Mercedes simulator, but is a little annoyed on the front on track, after running a run in the 2016 Grand Prix season in Abu Dhabi 2016.
However, Racing Point’s Plan A was Hulkenberg.
“Nico knows the team a lot better than Esteban does and in that short period of time we had between learning Checo couldn’t drive and someone driving, we had one day, it was important to get someone to understand the team, ”Szafnauer said.
“Nico has been with us a long time, so he knows the engineers, he’s been in our simulator before, he knows how we operate, and that will be the key to speeding up.”
He added: “We had to get it to England, go through a process to make sure it didn’t have the virus, have a super license form – and not so easy – you have to go to the contract recognition board, and then super license. “
Nico Hulkenberg: “He doesn’t feel the end”
How prepared was Hulkenberg to drive the RP20?
The German was expected to arrive at the circuit at 8 am, three hours before FP1. But there had to be another twist, as Hulkenberg was nowhere to be seen at the time.
It turned out he did another test that morning and was waiting for those results. Without it, he would not be allowed to enter the circuit, let alone the paddock, according to Covid-19 protocols.
Cue several hours of waiting, which gave the team time to fill in the relevant paperwork to allow Hulkenberg to drive, and allowed the Germans to go through protocols such as spending 45 minutes to learn steering.
And when the test center handed over the paper towel, which it confirmed was negative, the German ran into the paddock, grabbed his overalls and made a bee line to the garage.
READ MORE: Why Hulkenberg has no regrets as he offers “goodbye for the time being” to F1
Is Hulkenberg still up to the challenge?
It’s a huge opportunity for Hulkenberg, and the kind that few drivers ever have the fortune to receive, particularly when he’s with a team that has the second-best car on the grid and is on the podium this weekend. .
It is also a great request. Silverstone is a high-speed and demanding circuit. Hulkenberg has maintained a good level of health, but physically it will be a huge challenge, this weekend, after so much time out of an F1 car. Ask Lando Norris, who suffered a bruise in Austria, after not having the recent F1 milestone.
But Hulkenberg will deal with what is to come. He knows he now has this weekend – and almost certainly next – at Silverstone to achieve his two ambitions: Score a maiden podium after 179 Grands Prix weekends as a race driver and prove to those who count in the a paddock that deserves a full-time chair in 2021.