Nico Hulkenberg said he had to deal with a flood of information and emotions on his Formula 1 return in Bahrain.
The German has become F1’s ‘super sub’ since the pandemic took a grip and is now making his fourth stand-in appearance on a race weekend.
The previous three came in 2020 – at back-to-back Silverstone grands prix for Sergio Perez and later that year at the Nurburgring for Lance Stroll.
Those were for the Racing Point team, which is now Aston Martin, and Hulkenberg remains their reserve driver – so when Sebastian Vettel tested positive for COVID-19 in the build-up to the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, it was Hulkenberg who got the call.
The first time he had driven the AMR22 on track was in Friday practice and the 34-year-old ended the two sessions 14th and 17th respectively – on the latter occasion only a tenth of a second down on his team-mate Stroll.
It's not every day you get called up to drive the #AMR22. 💚
— Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team (@AstonMartinF1) March 18, 2022
“I started from plain zero this morning and got settled in quite okay,” said Hulkenberg, quoted by Motorsport.com. “Obviously there’s always room for improvement and we will learn and process everything overnight.
“Today was just an overload of information – of data, of everything – a lot of emotions as well, obviously.
“But it was fun being back in an F1 car, having the speed sensation and the G-force back. So I enjoyed that certainly, and look forward to the rest now.”
This was also The Hulk’s first experience of a new-style F1 car following this year’s big changes to the regulations.
“I was surprised how different it is, the feel of the tyres especially. So that took some time to get used to, and it will still do,” he said.
“Obviously, driving the car is kind of always the same. But if you go into details, that’s where the differences are.
“And I think for me, probably the biggest thing is the tyres, the feel of the tyres, the small sidewalls. It’s just the first time I’ve had the sensation of them, and I think that’s quite different.”
The initial target for Hulkenberg on Saturday will be reaching Q2 and anything else would probably represent a bonus.
“I’m quite happy with, I think, the feeling and then how I could build today, run after run, and then get a better harmony in the car,” he added.
“I think given where we started, and given the amount of time, I think that was a pretty okay day. And that was what I was looking for, just to build some confidence in the car and kind of get comfortable as much as I can. And I think I’ve achieved that.
“But Friday obviously is practice – you just drive around on your own, you’ve got reasonably fresh tyres. So in that respect it’s probably the easiest day of the weekend.”
Vettel out of Bahrain GP, Hulk steps in
Nico Hulkenberg will be replacing Sebastian Vettel at the Bahrain GP after Vettel tested positive for Covid.