Outside of sports in 2020, and with hopes of driving in 2021 looking slim, after Renault decided to sign Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg’s hopes of returning to F1 in the near future seemed bleak. And yet this weekend, after the positive result of Sergio Perez Covid-19, he found himself back in the net, driving perhaps the most competitive car he ever had. Here is the remarkable story of how the German returned to action with Racing Point in Silverstone …
When did Racing Point approach Hulkenberg?
On Thursday, the number of Racing Point Team director Otmar Szafnauer popped up on Hulkenberg’s phone. The German called, and in the next few minutes his heart began to beat faster.
He was ready to go to Germany to work on a show on RTL. He then had to make a test run in a GT4 entertainment car at the Nurburgring this weekend.
But outside, Hulkenberg ̵
READ MORE: Perez rules out British grandmaster after testing positive for Covid-19
All F1 employees are required to pass a PCR Covid-19 test before entering the paddock, a procedure that has been in place since the beginning of the season. Perez did his thing, as usual, only this time, the result of his test was unconvincing.
As required, he isolated himself – as did the small number of team members he had come in contact with – and awaited the results of the retest. Meanwhile, his Racing Point team had to develop a backup plan.
Why Hulkenberg and not the Mercedes reserve?
Before the season, Racing Point reached an agreement with Mercedes, with whom they have a close relationship by using their engine plus several other components, including their gearbox and suspension, to occupy one of their reserve drivers in the Perez case or teammate Lance Stroll could not. to participate in a competition.
As Stofel Vandorn is not available due to Formula E commitments, Schfanauer called the other reserve – Esteban Gutierrez – as well as Hulkenberg, with whom he already has a good relationship to check their availability.
According to the team, Hulkenberg makes the most sense for many reasons.
Not only does he know most of the staff very well, having previously competed for the team when they ran under the banner of Force India, but he remains a very fast and competitive option. And he is the best driver available in terms of recent experience in F1, which competed for Renault last year, along with Daniel Ricardo.
READ MORE: What happens after the positive test of Sergio Perez Covid-19
Hulkenberg did not leave F1 by choice and still feels he has much more to offer in F1. He insists on returning for 2021, first with Renault – before going for Fernando Alonso – and then trusting Alfa Romeo, competing for the team when they were Sauber, while their team boss Fred Wasseur praises him.
So when Schaffnauer called on Thursday, Hulkenberg did not hesitate. He packed his bag and was on the plane for hours. On landing in the United Kingdom, he tested the Covid-19 and then headed to the Racing Point factory, opposite Silverstone, to fit on the spot.
UK 2020: Nico Hulkenberg returns to first practice
Meanwhile, the team began arranging overalls. Fortunately, he fit – perhaps a little tightly – into a pair of Strolls.
Did Gutierrez ever have an option?
At the same time as Hulkenberg was traveling, Gutierrez was heading for Silverstone with his helmet – the Mexican is a resident of London – and rushed into the paddock on Thursday night. The 28-year-old has driven thousands of kilometers in a Mercedes simulator, but is a little rusty on the front track, most recently competing in the 2016 season ending at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
However, Racing Point’s Plan A was Hulkenberg.
“Nico knows the team much better than Esteban and for this short period of time, between which we learned that Checo can’t drive and someone can drive. We had one day, it was crucial to find someone who understood the team,” said Szafnauer.
“Niko has been with us for a long time, so he knows the engineers. He’s been in our simulator before, he knows how we work and it will be crucial to get up to speed.”
He added: “We had to take him to England, go through the process to make sure he didn’t have the virus, get a super license form – and it’s not all that easy – you have to go to the contract recognition board and then a super license. “
Nico Hulkenberg: “It’s not like the end”
How prepared was Hulkenberg to power the RP20?
The German was expected to arrive at the chain at 8 a.m., three hours before FP1. But there had to be another twist, as Hulkenberg was nowhere to be seen at the time.
It turned out that he did another test that morning and was waiting for the results. Without him, he was not allowed to enter the chain, let alone the paddock, according to Covid-19 protocols.
Break a few hours of waiting, which gave the team time to complete the relevant documents to allow Hulkenberg to drive, and allowed German time to follow protocols, such as spending 45 minutes studying the steering wheel.
And when the test center delivered the piece of paper, confirming that it was negative, the German rushed to the padlock, grabbed his overalls and made a bee line for the garage.
READ MORE: Why Hulkenberg doesn’t regret saying goodbye to F1
Is Hulkenberg facing a challenge?
This is a huge opportunity for Hulkenberg and the kind that very few drivers are ever lucky enough to get, especially when with a team that has the second best car on the net and is in dispute for the podium this weekend.
This is also a big question. Silverstone is a high-speed and demanding chain. Hulkenberg maintains a good level of fitness, but it will be a huge physical challenge this weekend, after so much time getting out of the F1 car. Just ask Lando Norris, who suffered bruises in Austria after missing a recent F1 run.
But Hulkenberg will handle it as it comes. He knows he now has this weekend – and almost certainly the next – in Silverstone to achieve his two ambitions: Put a girl’s podium after the weekends at the 179 Grands Prix as a racetrack and prove to those who matter in the paddock that he deserves it. full-time headquarters in 2021