After its number one driver Sergio Perez returned Formula 1’s first positive test for COVID-19, Racing Point found itself needing a driver with a race weekend less than a day out. Despite speculation that it’d call on Perez’s countryman and Mercedes-AMG reserve Esteban Gutierrez, Racing Point instead called in a favor from one of its old flames: displaced F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg.
Hülkenberg previously raced for the outfit in 2012 and from 2014 through 2016, when it went by Force India and contributed to the team’s then-best constructors’ championship result of fourth. He then migrated to Renault Sport but found himself replaced after the 2019 season by up-and-comer Esteban Ocon. This put his lengthy F1 career—notable for being the longest without a podium finish—on pause, though Hulk’s timely return to Racing Point at its most competitive in history could, at last, put the ugly streak in the dirt.
With less than 21 hours between Perez’s positive test and the start of Free Practice on Friday morning, Hülkenberg’s hasty return to F1 had to be arranged quick as lightning. The process, however, was expedited by the German’s familiarity with the outfit, which at its core remains the same as the team he left years ago.
“It was key to get someone who understands the team, 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’s going to be key to getting up to speed,” commented team principal Otmar Szafnauer in a post on F1’s official blog. “It was a lot to do in a little bit of time. We had the definitive result at 2:20 pm yesterday. So from that point on, we had to find A), Hulkenberg, B), get him to agree to do this—which wasn’t that difficult. I think he was keen.”
“[We] had to get him to England, go through the process of making sure he didn’t have the virus, getting a super license form—and that’s not all that easy, you have to go to the contract recognition board, and then a super license—and on top of that, in parallel, he needs to understand the car a little bit, he needs to understand the steering wheel.”
“He did a session this morning for 45 minutes for example,” concluded Szafnauer. “Let’s see what he can do.”
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