Niko Hulkenberg unexpectedly returned to the wheel of Formula 1 at the Nurburgring, replacing the ill Lance Stroll at Racing Point. In an interview, Niko spoke in detail about the past weekend.
Q: How much more difficult was it to get behind the wheel at the Nurburgring compared to Silverstone?
Nico Hulkenberg: More difficult! I had the experience of playing with this team and the car at Silverstone, but since then the car and the track have changed. Getting behind the wheel without training right away in qualification is like jumping into an ice bath! It was immediately clear that I would not rise above the twentieth place. Any other result can be considered a miracle.
Q: If the first part of the qualification lasted five minutes longer and you had an extra set of tires, would you go to the second part?
Nico Hulkenberg: I think under such conditions there would have been a chance.
Q: Has the Racing Point car changed a lot from Silverstone?
Nico Hulkenberg: Yes, the main changes are related to the steering. It felt different, I had to adapt. It took a few laps to get used to.
Question: What did you do on Saturday before the team called you?
Nico Hulkenberg: I was with a colleague in Cologne. On Friday night he invited me to go to rest, and I almost agreed, but still decided not to go, so on Saturday morning I was in shape. We were sitting and drinking coffee when the phone rang. Before that, I received a Whatsapp message from Otmar Safnauer. He wanted to know where I was and if I had a helmet. I thought he was writing there? Then he called and said that I should come as soon as possible.
At first I thought it was a joke. History cannot be repeated. Otmar said that Lance is fine, but most likely he will not be able to perform, so they are waiting for me.
In the afternoon, I was going to the circuit anyway, as I had several other meetings scheduled. So I just went early and a little faster.
Question: Have you set a new speed record between Cologne and Nürburgring?
Nico Hulkenberg: Let’s call this record unofficial! (laughs) Time? No idea. In the end, part of the route went along a secondary road that had quite a lot of traffic.
Question: Did you have a helmet with you?
Nico Hulkenberg: He was on the track. I asked the guys from Schuberth to deliver it. If you paid attention to the colors, then you realized that this is my helmet from last year. The pink helmet from Silverstone stayed at home. I didn’t expect to get back behind the wheel so quickly.
Question: What about a racing suit?
Nico Hulkenberg: Now the team constantly carries it with them, like my seat.
Question: Have you ever started in a race from the last place?
Nico Hulkenberg: In Formula 1? I do not think so.
Question: Why did you choose a conservative strategy and how did everyone start at Soft?
Nico Hulkenberg: The team did not have information about the work of the rubber due to the cancellation of Friday training. Sergio checked the Medium lineup in qualifying and didn’t like the way these tires get warm. The choice of rubber was a problem for the team, in the early laps grip remained very low. We realized that after the start it would take a few laps to warm up even Soft, and with Medium it would be even worse. That is why we have chosen the softest composition.
Question: When did you realize that there is a chance to earn points?
Nico Hulkenberg: After the first pit stop, when I returned to the track around 12th place. Some rivals changed tires much earlier, we expected that in the second segment they would have problems with tires. My tires were in good condition after 15-20 laps, and I got used to it. Once on an empty track, I found a good rhythm. On the harder tires, one had to attack anyway to keep the rubber warm.
Question: Do you rate your performance higher than at Silverstone?
Nico Hulkenberg: Yes, because the weekend was a real madness. I had no preparation.
Question: How do you assess the struggle for third place in the Constructors’ Cup?
Nico Hulkenberg: The teams are quite close, and who will be ahead on a particular weekend depends on the characteristics of the track. Renault is good at slow turns, Racing Point is good at fast, McLaren is somewhere in between. Each car has strengths and weaknesses.
AlphaTauri is also not far behind. Pierre Gasly rode very steadily on Medium, and closer to the finish line he completely pulled away from me.
Question: According to Helmut Marko, Alex Elbon’s first test for Covid-19 turned out to be ambiguous, so he contacted you. Could you get behind the wheel of Red Bull Racing?
Nico Hulkenberg: Yes, that’s right, Friday morning was hectic. At that moment, I had no idea that Lance Stroll was not feeling well either. This news came as a complete surprise.
Q: Are you now ready to drive any weekend?
Nico Hulkenberg: I am ready and I have no contract. It all depends on the team, but a scenario like the Nürburgring cannot be foreseen. What is the likelihood that the same team will need to be replaced twice a year?
If another team needed my services, then most likely I would not be able to help, since they did not have my seat. It is impossible to get behind the wheel and instantly get used to everything new.
Question So, with Red Bull nothing would have happened?
Nico Hulkenberg: For Dr. Marco, I would make an exception, but would have to make the seat on site. Most likely, it would have worked, since on Friday we did not work on the track – we would have had time. But if everything happened suddenly, then with Red Bull it would not have worked the way it did with Racing Point.
Question: Are you pleased to “save” teams?
Nico Hulkenberg: I take it as a compliment. There are not many riders who can immediately get behind the wheel and earn points. It’s worth something.
Q: How difficult was it to draw up a contract for one race in such a short time?
Nico Hulkenberg: We copied the contract that was signed at Silverstone. The documents were signed on Sunday morning before the race.
Question: How are things with the contract for 2021?
Nico Hulkenberg: After Silverstone, there was no progress, unfortunately. Perhaps in Formula 1 there are enough good drivers and my services are no longer needed.
Q: Sounds like you’re ready to retire …
Nico Hulkenberg: No, not at all, but the process has been going on for a long time. There are riders available in the market and teams are evaluating options. There are riders who are economically attractive to certain teams.
Q: But maybe there is a chance to go to Red Bull Racing?
Nico HulkenbergA: The chances are minimal, since they do not have high hopes for me. There was an exceptional situation in Germany. They couldn’t take someone from AlphaTauri because this team also needs riders.
Question: Are you ready for a reserve pilot contract?
Nico HulkenbergThe classic reserve rider option doesn’t particularly appeal to me. It is clear that the world has changed due to the coronavirus, and some teams have permanent reserve pilots, but no one can guarantee that their services will be needed. For me, the main pilot contract is a priority.
Q: Toto Wolff said that because of the coronavirus, riders must live in isolation to avoid infection. Is that how you live too?
Nico Hulkenberg: Yes, otherwise the games with fire begin. The rider must be careful with who and how he spends his time. This limits us greatly.
Q: In Mercedes, virtual briefings are held and the riders do not communicate with the engineers personally. Is Racing Point the same?
Nico Hulkenberg: No, we continue to communicate personally, but everyone has a mask and between people there are plastic screens.