Nico Hulkenberg is back for another Formula 1 return after he was called up by Racing Point to replace the unwell Lance Stroll.
As improved weather conditions finally allowed the drivers to head out onto the Nurburgring for the first time this race weekend on Saturday, there was a notable absentee in Stroll.
The Canadian’s RP20 remained firmly in the garage with no sign of Stroll. Racing Point released a statement to reveal why:
‘Lance Stroll is not feeling 100% this morning and will therefore not participate in FP3,’ the team confirmed.
‘His condition will be assessed after the session to evaluate whether he is fit to drive, at which point the team will confirm plans for quali.’
It then quickly emerged that Hulkenberg has been drafted in to be on standby should Stroll not be well enough to participate in qualifying and perhaps even the Eifel Grand Prix itself on Sunday.
With 15 minutes of FP3 remaining at the Nurburgring, Hulkenberg revealed on Instagram that he had arrived at the track.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) October 10, 2020
After getting his paddock pass and returning a negative test for COVID-19, Hulkenberg was soon suited and booted, ready to hop into the RP20 car again.
Hulkenberg ya con el mono de @RacingPointF1.
— Albert Fabrega (@AlbertFabrega) October 10, 2020
Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer revealed on Sky Sports F1 that a stroke of good fortune had led to Hulkenberg getting the nod ahead of the team’s official reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne.
“Nico was driving here anyway to do some work for RTL [TV],” said Szafnauer. “That made the decision a bit easier.
“Stoffel was here but Nico has driven the car before and that goes a long way.
“We briefed him beforehand and he made it here in good time. The boys got the car ready for him but it’s worth remembering he hasn’t driven the car on this track.”
Ahead of qualifying, Racing Point confirmed that Hulkenberg was cleared to deputise for Stroll for the remainder of the race weekend.
A statement read: ‘Nico Hülkenberg will drive for the BWT Racing Point F1 Team in this weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix after Lance Stroll was taken unwell.
‘Lance did not feel 100% this morning and the team took the decision not to run him for the rest of the event.
‘Nico, who previously deputised for Sergio Perez at the Silverstone events, is familiar with the car and team already, and fortunately was in nearby Cologne.’
— BWT Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) October 10, 2020
Of course, this would not be the first time Hulkenberg has stepped in to deputise for Racing Point. Ahead of the British Grand Prix, the ex-Renault driver was called up to replace Sergio Perez after he became the first driver to test positive for COVID-19.
Sadly, an issue with the RP20 ensured Hulkenberg wasn’t able to start the British Grand Prix, but he did get another opportunity to race in Formula 1 again as he continued to cover for Perez at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
He would show that class is indeed permanent after he qualified in the lofty heights of P3 on the grid for the race, earning widespread praise from up and down the paddock for his achievement after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
He went on to finish the race P6, with Perez fit enough to return to action for the next race at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Hulkenberg has remained on Racing Point’s standby list ever since and, ahead of what is his home race at the Eifel Grand Prix, was called up just in case Stroll is unable to participate in any further sessions this weekend.
While there is no room at the inn at Racing Point for Hulkenberg for a full-time drive again in 2021, he is looking for a way back onto the grid after Renault opted to replace him with Esteban Ocon at the end of the 2019 campaign.