From the sport in 2020 and with the hope of driving in 2021, which looked slim when Renault decided to sign Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg’s hopes for the return of F1 in the near future looked bleak. And yet this weekend, after a positive result by Covida-19 Sergio Perez, he finds himself back on the starting grid and probably drives the most competitive car he has ever had. Here is a remarkable story of how Germany returned to Racing Point in Silverstone …
When did Racing Point approach Hulkenberg?
The number of Racing Point team director Otmar Szafnauer appeared on Hulkenberg’s phone on Thursday. The German answered the call, and in the next few minutes his heart began to beat faster.
He was ready to go to Germany to do punditry for the RTL television channel. Then this weekend he had to take a test drive in a GT4 car for fun at the Nurburgring.
But out of nowhere was Hulkenberg ̵1; who spent locked in Mallorca – an unfortunate trip back to F1, ironically his former Force India teammate Sergio Perez.
READ MORE: Perez eliminates British Grand Prix after positive testing on Covid-19
All F1 staff must pass the Covid-19 PCR test before entering the paddock, a procedure used to start the season. Perez did, as usual, only this time, his result was inconclusive.
He isolated himself as needed – as did the small number of team members he came in contact with – and awaited the results of a retest. Meanwhile, his Racing Point team had to come up with a backup plan.
Why Hulkenberg and not the Mercedes reserve?
Before the season, Racing Point agreed with Mercedes, with whom it has a close relationship with the engine and several other components, including the transmission and chassis, to borrow one of its spare drivers in the case of Perez, or teammate Lance Stroll could not take part in the race.
As Stoffel Vandoorne is not available, Szfanauer, due to his commitments regarding Formula E, called another reserve – Esteban Gutierrez – and Hulkenberg, with whom he already has a good relationship, to check their availability.
Hulkenberg had a lot of sense on the team in a mind, for several reasons.
Not only does a lot of staff know very well when he previously raced on a platoon when he ran under the name Force India, but he remains a very fast and competitive option. And he’s the best driver available in terms of recent F1 experience competing for Renault last year, along with Daniel Ricciard.
READ MORE: What happens after Sergio Perez passes the Covid-19 positive test
Hulkenberg did not leave F1 by choice and still feels he has something to offer in F1. He sought a comeback in 2021, first with Renault – before being crammed into Fernando Alonso – and then believed Alfa Romeo, who raced for the team when they were Sauber, while his teammate Fred Vasseur praised him highly.
So when Szafnauer called on Thursday, Hulkenberg didn’t hesitate. He packed his luggage and was on the plane in a few hours. After landing in the UK, he passed the Covid-19 test and then went to the Racing Point factory, opposite Silverstone, for a seat.
United Kingdom 2020: Nico Hulkenberg returns in first practice
Meanwhile, the team began to adjust the overalls. Fortunately, he fit – perhaps a little comfortably – into a pair of Strollers.
Has Gutierrez ever been a choice?
At the same time as Hulkenberg was traveling, Gutierrez with his helmet – a Mexican living in London – got to Silverstone and went to the paddock on Thursday night. The 28-year-old completed thousands of kilometers in a Mercedes simulator, but he is a bit rusty on the track, the last one to race in the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season.
Plan A race point was Hulkenberg.
“Nico knows the team much more than Esteban and in the short time we had between learning that Checo couldn’t lead and riding someone we had one day, it was crucial to get someone who understood the team,” he said. Szafnauer.
“Nico has been with us for a long time, so he knows the engineers, he was in our simulator before, he knows how we work, and that will be the key to speeding.”
He added: “We had to get him to England, go through the process of making sure he doesn’t have the virus, get a super license form – and it’s not all that easy – you have to go to the contract recognition committee and then the super license. ‘ “
Nico Hulkenberg: ‘He doesn’t feel the end’
How was Hulkenberg prepared to drive the RP20?
The German was to arrive at the circuit at 8:00, three hours before FP1. However, there must be another reversal, because Hulkenberg was nowhere to be seen at that time.
It turned out that he did another test in the morning and waited for these results. Without it, he would not be allowed to enter the circuit, not to mention the paddock, according to the Covid-19 protocols.
Cue a few hours of waiting, which gave the team time to fill in the relevant documents to allow Hulkenberg to drive, and let German time go through the protocols, such as spending 45 minutes learning the wheel.
And when the test center delivered a piece of paper, confirming that it was negative, the German ran into the paddock, grabbed his coveralls, and made a bee line for the garage.
READ MORE: Why Hulkenberg doesn’t regret offering ‘goodbye for now’ to F1
Is Hulkenberg a challenge?
It’s a huge opportunity for Hulkenberg and the kind that very few drivers have ever gotten, especially when it’s with the team that has the second best car on the net and is in a podium this weekend.
It is also a big question. Silverstone is a high-speed and demanding circuit. Hulkenberg has maintained a good level of physical fitness, but this weekend it will be a huge physical challenge, after a time that is out of F1 time. Just ask Land Norris, who has suffered bruises in Austria and who has not had the last F1 mileage.
However, Hulkenberg will deal with it as it comes. He knows he has this weekend – and almost certainly the next one – at Silverstone to achieve his two ambitions: After 179 Grands Prix weekends, take first place as a race driver and prove to everyone who cares about the paddock that he deserves a full time job. registered office in 2021.