Guenther Steiner backs returning Nico Hulkenberg to be ‘straight on it’ at Haas

Thomas Maher
Nico Hulkenberg checks out the rear of the Haas VF-22. Abu Dhabi November 2022

2023 returnee Nico Hulkenberg checks out the rear of the Haas VF-22. Abu Dhabi November 2022

Haas team boss Guenther Steiner believes there will no re-acclimatisation period necessary for Nico Hulkenberg in 2023.

Hulkenberg returns to full-time Formula 1 action next season, having secured a comeback with Haas as a replacement for the departing Mick Schumacher.

Hulkenberg has been without a full-time drive since the end of 2019, although drove in five Grand Prix weekends in the three seasons since – three with Racing Point in 2020 as substitute for the ill Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, as well as in the two season-opening races in 2022 at Aston Martin as a sub for Sebastian Vettel.

Despite his lack of racing in the past three years, his new team boss Guenther Steiner believes the veteran driver will find his feet in no time as he re-adjusts to life as a full-time member of the grid.

Guenther Steiner expects Nico Hulkenberg to be ‘on the ball’

Speaking to media, including, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Steiner was asked about whether he had any concerns about Hulkenberg’s ‘match fitness’.

“We looked at that one,” he said.

“But, when he came in, when he replaced drivers in the last years, he was pretty on the ball straight away.

“He will be straight on it, obviously. Physically, these F1 cars, they’re quite demanding – it will take him some time to get used to it, because the only way you train your muscles is driving the cars.

“We’ll cross that bridge next year, but he’s pretty fit. I think we had that question as well: is he straight on the ball when he comes back after being out?

“But then you look at the results he did, when he just jumped in the last minute – he was pretty good!”

Hulkenberg had his chance to make his Haas debut at the post-season test, jumping into Schumacher’s vacated car for the one-day Pirelli outing, where he completed the day admitting to feeling some ‘human degradation’ due to the physical demands of so many laps.

Having secured his F1 return with the American-based squad, Hulkenberg being the prime candidate for Haas was something of a surprise after so long away from the cockpit – Steiner explaining that Hulkenberg’s qualities as an experienced racer eventually won out against Schumacher.

“Obviously, you start off considering more people in the beginning, and then it narrows down,” he said.

“Then it came out, after speaking with people who worked with him and things like this, that Nico is the choice we want to have for the team, to move on with the team to take us forward.”

As for what specific strengths Hulkenberg brings with him to Haas, Steiner said: “Experience. He was in F1 for a long time, he was with teams in the midfield for a long time so he knows how they work, how to make them better.

“Wherever he was, the team always made progress, and that’s our aim – to do that as well here and that’s why we came up with that choice.”

Nico Hulkenberg sees Haas potential after rebuilding season

Hulkenberg, who returns to F1 at the age of 35, is still to secure a maiden podium in the sport – he is the holder of the unwanted record for the most races without a podium finish.

Jumping into the Haas for 2023, the German driver spoke of his excitement at getting started again.

“I think it’s a team, obviously, with potential,” he said.

“Last year was very tough for them, ’21 I mean, they bounced back this year to eighth, and I think there’s still room for improvement. I think there are things we can do better as a team. I’m here, because I want to extract that – I’m here for my own career, too.”

As for why he believes Haas chose him over their driver of two years, Mick Schumacher, Hulkenberg smiled.

“That’s a question for Guenther, I guess!” he said.

“The teams ultimately make the decisions, who they want in their cars, and they usually choose what they think is best for them to have the best results, to be the most competitive.

“I guess they’ve looked at my career, at my statistics, at the current COVID races. And, in the discussions, I guess I convinced them that I’m the good choice.”

Read More: Nico Hulkenberg: Getting comfortable with Haas car cannot be rushed