Damon Hill’s warning for ‘laid back’ Nico Hulkenberg: Can’t afford to let this one slip

Michelle Foster
Nico Hulkenberg with his hand to his face. Miami May 2022

Soon to be Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg with his hand to his face. Miami May 2022

Given a reprieve when it appeared as if his F1 career was over, Damon Hill has warned Nico Hulkenberg not to let “this one slip through your fingers”.

Haas announced on Thursday that Hulkenberg would race for their team next season, the German replacing his compatriot Mick Schumacher as Kevin Magnussen’s team-mate.

It is a fairytale story for Formula 1’s super sub who, according to Jolyon Palmer, thought back in the summer he was “done here”.

But while Haas team boss Guenther Steiner was quick to applaud Hulkenberg as a “solid, reliable racer”, Hill has a few concerns ahead of his comeback season.

“Very difficult to keep sharp,” the 1996 World Champion told Sky’s F1 Show, “because when you’re doing it all the time you keep that knife sharp.

“It’s like literally sharpening a knife. Every weekend you sharpen it, sometimes it goes a bit blunt and you can over-sharpen it perhaps.

“This guy has done some fantastic return drives and I’m sure he’s always hankered after getting back, but he seems so laid back to me.

“He’s one of these guys I want to sort of get up and go ‘now you cannot afford to let this one slip through your fingers, now you’ve really got to redouble your efforts’.”

Hulkenberg will also be up against Magnussen, the driver who infamously told him to “suck my balls” when Hulkenberg confronted him after their 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix clash.

The two have since buried the hatchet, but Hill says Steiner could find himself having to put out a few fires.

“And I was just wondering because he’s going to be with Kevin,” the Briton continued, “and I was just thinking, imagine Guenther Steiner having to control these two because there was no love lost in the past.

“They will obviously patch things up and work together for Haas.”

A comeback for one German, an exit for another

Hulkenberg will be taking Schumacher’s seat, the 23-year-old unlikely to now find a spot on the 2023 grid.

While the Williams seat is still available, it is expected to go to Formula 2 driver Logan Sargeant but is dependent on him scoring the required Super Licence points at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi finale.

Schumacher is tipped to join Mercedes as their reserve driver, that spot open after Daniel Ricciardo reportedly agreed to rejoin Red Bull.

Asked if he felt any sympathy for Schumacher, Hill replied: “I do a bit. I think he got off to a bit of a false start with the team-mate he had before Kevin.

“Kevin kind of made him have to work a bit harder and we had a few big shunts and stuff and it cost him…it probably cost him his drive, honestly, because it cost the team so much money.

“They want someone they can rely on and I think it’s a wise decision, but if Mick gets a reserve driver role somewhere he might learn a bit more about another team and might actually be ready to go again. He’s still very young.”

Read more: Kevin Magnussen believes ‘there is a way back to F1’ for Mick Schumacher