At eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, Nico Hülkenberg had no clue what was about to unfold, but the German was attempting to Qualify for the Eifel Grand Prix just three hours later.
When Lance Stroll was unable to compete in Saturday morning’s free practice session at the Nürburgring, a call was made by the Otmar Szafnauer to Hülkenberg to drive for them again, having done so in the British and 70th Anniversary Grand Prix events at Silverstone in August.
Hülkenberg was able to qualify the car, albeit last on the grid, with his first track action coming when the green light came on at the start of Qualifying.
“Well, that was one for the storybooks!” said Hülkenberg. “It’s certainly been an interesting Formula 1 season. I got the call from Otmar at 11am: I was sitting with a friend having a coffee! I then ran to the car and got here as quickly as I could! “
“I did the required COVID testing and I probably had around forty minutes with the engineers before jumping into the car for qualifying. Obviously, the result wasn’t amazing, but I had fun and I learned a lot of useful information.
“I know the track, but it’s been a while since Formula 1 has raced here – and the RP20 has evolved a lot since I drove it at Silverstone too. I had to go out there and learn the car, feel the grip levels, and then find the limit as quickly as I could.
“To do all that in just a few laps is a big ask, but it’s good experience for the Grand Prix. We’ll let all of that sink in and come back tomorrow, go racing and give my best in this very unexpected home race!”
“I definitely think there was more on the table in qualifying” – Sergio Pérez
Team-mate Sergio Pérez, who Hülkenberg replaced for the two races at Silverstone earlier this season, enjoyed another strong Qualifying session, with the Mexican set to start Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix from ninth on the grid.
Pérez felt there was more pace in the car than eighth, but a lack of available soft tyres meant he was unable to go for another run in the closing stages of Q3, and he also felt the lack of a team-mate in final practice left Racing Point compromised compared to other teams.
“It was a tough day for the team,” said Pérez. “Not only did we have the Friday washout affecting all the teams, but we were without Lance and that limited what we could learn this morning in practice.
“I definitely think there was more on the table in qualifying because we didn’t have another set of softs for Q3 to make a second run. But the positive is that we secured a top ten starting position for the race tomorrow.
“It’s going to be a race of unknowns, so if we have some good luck at the start – we can still aim for a strong result. I also hope Lance feels better and we have him back in the team soon. Nico did an excellent job in jumping into the car without any practice and getting familiar with the car and team again in a short amount of time.”
“It’s been an incredibly busy and challenging day” – Otmar Szafnauer
Otmar Szafnauer, the Team Principal and CEO of Racing Point, admitted it was a challenging day for everyone at the Silverstone-based outfit, especially when Stroll was ruled out from running due to illness.
Stoffel Vandoorne is the official reserve driver for Racing Point and was in Germany ready to step in if needed, but Szafnauer Hülkenberg was the logical choice to replace Stroll having competed for the team in the two Silverstone events in August.
“It’s been an incredibly busy and challenging day,” said Szafnauer. “Lance was taken unwell this morning and we took the decision not to run him for the rest of the weekend.
“He’s under the weather, but not showing symptoms to suggest COVID-19, but it was sensible to give him time to recover to full health so he can be ready for the next double-header in Portugal and Imola.
“Fortunately, Nico was in nearby Cologne and was able to easily step in for Lance. He was the logical choice given that he drove for us at the Silverstone races. He was always going to face a mammoth task to progress beyond Q1 because his first laps back in the car were during qualifying.
“With Checo, we had a pretty routine session, progressing to Q3, and ended the session P9. With such limited running for all the teams, there is little data, and so it will be a bit of a step into the unknown tomorrow. I’m confident we can still score some good points.”