How Hulkenberg returned to F1 in 24 hours

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15:54 – 24 hours before the start of the first training session at Silverstone, Nico Hülkenberg did not yet know that he would make his comeback in Formula 1 during the British Grand Prix. A reconstruction of the return of Hülkenberg, which was actually in a GT3 car on Friday the Nürburgring should have driven.

It is 2.20 pm local time on Thursday afternoon when team boss Szafnauer is informed that his driver Sergio Perez is infected with the corona virus. During the press conference it emerges that the result of the test is ‘not unambiguous’, but in reality it is already clear that it is wrong for Perez. From that moment on, the wheels start turning at Szafnauer, who realistically has two options to replace his leader.

Racing Point has reached an agreement with Mercedes that reserve drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Stoffel Vandoorne would also be available to the customer team in case of a positive test with one of its own drivers. Vandoorne starts the Formula E final in Berlin next week and was therefore unable to come to England, Gutierrez remained. Still, Racing Point prefers another driver: Nico Hülkenberg, who had raced for the race for five seasons in the past when the Force India name was stuck at the Silverstone factory. A phone call is being made.

“We hoped Checo’s second second test would be negative, but we also had to take into account the worst case scenario and adjusted our plans accordingly,” said Szafnauer. “We started making plans and we did that simultaneously with Hulkenberg and Gutierrez. We also had Vandoorne on hand, but he couldn’t be here this weekend. So Esteban and Nico were left.” In fact, an unprecedented luxury that an F1 team has something to choose so shortly before the race weekend. Hülkenberg is ultimately preferred: “Within our team of engineers it became clear after a conversation that Nico fits better with our team, he knows us very well. He knows the engineers, he knows the systems and the processes. He was in our simulator and it was easy to put it back in there. ” The fact that Gutierrez has no relevant F1 experience also plays a role: “[Nico] raced in Formula 1 last year and we need someone who can score points for us. He is the best choice for us. “

Hülkenberg, living in Monaco, is on his way to the Nürburgring on Thursday afternoon when the phone rings. He would test a GT3 car on the track in the Eifel, next month he is scheduled to return to competitive racing. However, the phone call from Szafnauer provides a welcome interlude for the German. Szafnauer: “He had just landed in Germany, he was going to test there with a sports car. He said, ‘I just landed here, I’m going to take a test.’ I responded, ‘You know, maybe you just have to go in a Formula 1 car stepping in. “He was enthusiastic and responded with” Yes, of course. “Nico flew to Cologne to get his racing shoes and helmet, the helmet he was carrying did not meet the specifications. Then he went to Birmingham flown and he arrived there between 19.00 and 19.30. ”

After arriving in England, the team works hard to get permission for Hülkenberg. A contract has to be drawn up and approved, an application for a super license has to be sent out and above all there is a corona test on the program for the former Renault driver. “It was not easy,” Szafnauer told Sky Sports. “In addition to all those things, we also had to ‘train’ him. He has to understand the car and what buttons are on the steering wheel.” The fact that they will be riding at Silverstone this weekend is a factor that has helped Racing Point a lot. The racing stable is literally a stone’s throw from the circuit where the British GP will be held this weekend. It is therefore possible that Hülkenberg can do a 45-minute session in the simulator on Friday morning. A new seat must also be fitted, this is done in a chassis that is not used during the race weekend. A racing suit is not yet available at that time, Hülkenberg steps into the overalls of teammate Lance Stroll in the bare monocoque to form his new racing seat.

As far as possible, the preparations went optimally. At that moment we only have to wait for the negative corona test of Hülkenberg. Racing Point’s communication people keep the fans on social media busy with witty tweets, but meanwhile time is running out. It is up to the folks at Eurofins, the company that runs the Formula 1 tests to slap Hülkenberg’s participation. The German will not be allowed access to the paddock without a negative corona test. At 10.45 a.m. local time, fifteen minutes before the start of VT1, all signals are finally green. The press release with the official confirmation will plop in the digital mailbox of the journal. The driver – now dressed in a Racing Point polo – finds his way to the dressing room, a brightened up container. Fifteen minutes later he arrives in the pit box and swings his leg over the halo of the RP20, the return is a fact.

“It all had to go pretty quickly to get him into the car,” said Szafnauer. “He thought his speed was pretty smooth and his feedback was as it always has been. There is certainly more to it. There are things that he was happy with, he was less pleased with other things. Hopefully we can do those things between the first and adjust the second workout. It was quite comfortable. ” Sergio Perez, the man who started it all, is watching from a motorhome near the track. The Mexican sees his stand-in ninth fastest in the first practice. He is half a second slower than teammate Lance Stroll, but more importantly, Hulkenberg is back in Formula 1.

Door: Mark Bremer

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