Nico Hulkenberg was enjoying a leisurely coffee in Cologne, Germany, on Saturday when Racing Point Formula One team principal Otmar Szafnauer called and turned the German driver’s weekend upside down.
Canadian Lance Stroll, the race regular and son of the team’s owner, had reported sick at the Nuerburgring and Szafnauer needed a quick replacement — literally.
Hulkenberg had stood in for Stroll’s teammate Sergio Perez on two occasions in August after the Mexican tested positive for COVID-19, and was familiar with the car and circuit.
Dropped by Renault last year, the 33-year-old had been due to drive to the Nuerburgring later anyway as part of his duties with broadcaster RTL.
“It was even wilder and crazier than last time,” he told Sky Sports television of his latest comeback — or #hulkenback as he tagged it on Twitter.
“I was sat with a friend having a coffee at 11am when I see that Otmar rings me and he says: ‘Hulkenberg hurry, we need you here,’” he said. “I stepped in the car and came here and the rest is history.”
The circuit is about an hour from Cologne by road and Hulkenberg also needed to take and pass a COVID-19 test once he had parked his Porsche.
Last time Hulkenberg was so unprepared he had to borrow a set of Stroll’s overalls. This time he used the Canadian’s car as well.
With no practice at a circuit he last raced on in 2013, and with the Racing Point upgraded since his last outing, qualifying was always going to be hard.
Szafnauer set a target of getting through the first phase, but even that proved a step too far.
“The car has moved on, there’s a couple of technical bits that are very different and give the driver a very different sensation, so I had to adjust around that a bit, just find my feet again,” Hulkenberg said.
“In four laps that’s not so easy. But all in all, even though we’re last, I’m quite pleased with the laps we produced just now,” he added.
Hulkenberg expected “a hell of a challenge” for yesterday, but remained hopeful.
“Obviously I have the experience, the four laps in the pocket now. Those will sink in and tomorrow we’ll just go racing and see what we get. You have to expect the unexpected and that’s just what happened again today,” he said.
Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas on Saturday produced a blistering track record on his final qualifying lap to edge Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and claim pole position for the Eifel Grand Prix.
Bottas clocked a best lap of one minute and 25.269 seconds to beat the championship leader by two-tenths of a second in cold conditions following only one practice session after Friday’s running was canceled due to fog.
Additional reporting by AFP
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