Nico Hulkenberg ‘highly doubted’ F1 comeback without 2022 sub appearances
Nico Hulkenberg has admitted that a full-time comeback in Formula 1 would have been unlikely without his stand-in performances at the start of last season.
The German deputised for Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin in the opening two rounds of 2022 after the four-time World Champion tested positive for COVID-19, with P17 and P12 finishes his return from two respectable outings in a then-uncompetitive AMR22.
Having been without a full-time drive in Formula 1 since 2019, Hulkenberg was hired to replace Mick Schumacher at Haas for this year after his young compatriot suffered a couple of significant, and expensive, accidents last season, with team principal Guenther Steiner opting for experience instead.
Hulkenberg admitted that there were times when he had not missed the grind of the world of Formula 1 in his initial time away from the cockpit after losing his seat at Renault, but that hunger slowly came back as time went on – culminating last year.
“Yeah, there were certainly… that feeling is a bit in waves; some weeks it was more, some weeks it was less,” Hulkenberg said in an interview with Formula1.com when discussing the feelings he had of missing the track action in his early time off the grid.
“Right at the beginning, in 2020, it was kind of… I wanted some time away, I needed some time away, so at that point I was pretty relaxed. Then suddenly, in 2021, there were weeks when it was harder to stand on the sidelines and watch drivers go out of the garage.
“In 2022, so let’s say more or less 12 months ago, 10 months ago, that feeling of wanting to be in the driving seat again came back very strong. Then I had a clear intention, a clear plan that I wanted to pursue the opportunity of having a race seat again.”
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Having made his way back onto the grid on a full-time basis this year, Hulkenberg used Nyck de Vries as another example of a driver to have received an opportunity to impress, when he scored points on his debut at Monza as a late replacement for the unwell Alex Albon.
Without the chances he had, the former Williams and Renault driver doubts he would be on the grid again in 2023.
“I think very different – very. I think they were the key and the door opener for me sitting here now,” Hulkenberg admitted when asked how circumstances would be without his subsitute appearances.
“I highly doubt that without the two races at the beginning of last year I would have gotten the seat. It put me on the map again with Guenther, with the team here. They saw, ‘Okay, this guy still knows where the throttle pedal is!’
“Another example is Nyck de Vries. Without his Monza performance, that opportunity last year, I’m not sure he would have had a seat [for 2023] – so I think they were hugely important.”