Nico Hulkenberg will be returning to Formula 1 for the British Grand Prix this weekend. The German driver is filling in for Sergio Perez at Racing Point after the Mexican was confirmed to be infected by the COVID-19 virus. The team was said to be taking a call on the replacement driver after Perez tested positive on Thursday. The driver has previously worked with the team, then known as Force India, in 2012 and later between 2014 and 2016. Other drivers that were reportedly in contention for the seat were Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez. Hulkenberg has been confirmed to drive for Racing Point for the British GP this weekend and the next weekend's 70th Anniversary GP, both being held at the Silverstone Circuit in the UK.
Speaking about his return to F1 and Racing Point, Nico Hulkenberg said, "I was on my way to the Nurburgring for another racing project when the call from Otmar came. That was less than 24 hours ago, so it feels a bit surreal for me right now, but I like a good challenge and this is certainly one. It's obviously a difficult situation for Racing Point and Checo. He's a buddy of mine, an old team-mate and I wish him a speedy recovery. I'll step in and try do the best I can for the team!"
Otmar Szafnauer, Racing Point Team Principal, added, "Having to find a replacement for Sergio at short notice is no easy task, but in Nico we've got a fantastic supersub who the team knows very well. He's certainly being thrown in at the deep end, but he's a fast learner and I'm sure he will get up to speed quickly."
Hulkenberg also completed the practice sessions today with the crew working double-time to make the car ready for its new driver. The 32-year-old also had to have his coronavirus test done outside the circuit before the practice session began earlier today at 11 am (local time). The last time he was strapped in an F1 car was for the Abu Dhabi GP season finale last year.
Speaking to the media during the practice session, Szafnauer said, "Stoffel is racing in Germany so he couldn't be here and Nico knows the team a lot more than Esteban does. 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. It was a lot to do in a little bit of time. We had the definitive result at 2.20 pm (local time) 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."
After his stint with Racing Point, Hulkenberg joined Renault in 2017 and drove for the team till 2019. He left F1 at the end of last season after failing to secure a drive with other teams on the grid. That said, the driver always maintained that it wasn't the end of his F1 career. He was expected to return to F1 with Renault in 2021 but the factory team decided to bring former world champion Fernando Alonso instead.
Hulkenberg's surprising return to F1 also presents an opportunity for the driver to entice teams for a drive next season. The Racing Point car has shown potential, enough for a Hulkenberg to push it for a podium finish.