Nico Hulkenberg Return: Here is how Hulkenberg made a sensational return to Racing Point replacing his old teammate Sergio Perez.
German Nico Hulkenberg made his F1 debut in 2010, and since then had driven in all seasons, barring 2011. But shockingly, he was not to find a seat in the ongoing 2020 season. This happened after he was not offered a driver by his 2019 team, Renault.
For anyone who has been following F1 in the 21st century, he was a glaring miss to Formula One. The incredibly quick and reliable driver has zero podium finishes for his decade-long career in F1.
But, that hardly speaks for the talent Hulkenberg is, who has raced for Williams, Force India and Renault.
How did the sensational move to Racing Point happen?
Before I start, a reminder that this is a story you might never forget. The story of how Hulkenberg went from holding a mic to holding the steering wheels in a few hours.
After Sergio Perez’s COVID-19 test turned out to be inconclusive, Racing Point swung into immediate action. Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer was preparing for the worst and started shortlisting Perez’s replacement options.
The two obvious names on the shortlist were Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez. Both drivers are the official reserve drivers of both Mercedes and their ‘customer’ Racing Point.
But, of course, like any good story, a twist in the tale. Vandoorne was unavailable as he was occupied with this Formula E commitments. But Esteban was available, so why was he not given preference by Otmar and co.?
It was discovered that the Gutierrez’s super license had been expired long back as he last raced in F1 back in 2016 and under such short notice it wasn’t possible to renew it leaving Racing Point out of options.
But Nico Hulkenberg being an old cog in the Force India/ Racing Point wheel. Racing Point is the new avatar of Force India, having taken it over from Vijay Mallya and Subrata Roy.
Nico had raced for the Force India outfit for a period of five years and is aware of the team’s essence. This turned out to be deal-clincher for Otmar, who candidly points out why he was chosen over Gutierrez.
“Nico knows the team a lot more than Esteban does and in that short period of time that we had between learning Checo couldn’t drive and someone driving, we had one day, 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.”
Last-minute hurdles for Nico Roberberg Return
This story deserved a climax to talk about for years to come, and it did. It all started when Hulkenberg got a surprise call from Otmar. Hulkenberg was due to travel to Germany from Majorca, for a punditry assignment for media house RTL. Following this, he had a test run due in a GT4 car at Nurburgring, for fun.
He knew what the call was all about, and as per Formula One’s Lawrence Barretto, Nico “packed a bag and was on a plane within hours”.
— Moni Maldonado (@Moni_Maldonado) July 31, 2020
After arriving at the United Kingdom, he got his COVID-test done and heading straight for the Racing Point factory near Silverstone. Now time to reach the circuit, by 8 AM local time, there hours before he sat on a Racing Point seat for FP1. But destiny was in a mood to play the fool with the German.
It so happened that Nico had undergone another test which would have given him access to the Silverstone circuit. Racing Point sprung into action, yet again.
They raced against time to get his paperwork done and go through FIA protocols such as spending 45 minutes on the steering wheel. It all ended on a ‘positive’ note after his second test also turned out to be COVID-19 negative, and he was cleared to make a magnificent return to Formula One. Otmar had this to say on the last-minute roller-coaster of a ride Racing Point and Hulkenberg experienced.
“We had to get him to England, go through the process of making sure he didn’t have the virus, getting a super licence form – and that’s not all that easy – you have to go to the contract recognition board, and then a super licence.”
Back to where he belongs!
Nico Hulkenberg is living a dream at the moment. From holding a mic for RTL, he is now holding the steering wheel for Racing Point. It is a major task for the German, having been away from Formula One for a good 8-9 months. And Silverstone’s high-speed, challenging circuit is the best challenge he could have possibly taken on his comeback to F1.
But, Nico is up for the challenge, as he strives for his first F1 podium after an impressive 179 Grands Prix. If he does it, it would be no surprise if he gets a permanent seat for the 2021 Formula One – where he belongs.