Nico Hulkenberg says there’s no way to “force” being comfortable with his new team and car at this early point of their relationship.
The veteran German racer makes his full-time racing return with Haas in 2023, having worked as a ‘super-sub’ for the Racing Point/Aston Martin team between 2020 and ’22.
Hulkenberg previously raced in F1 between 2010 and 2019, sitting out the 2011 season after being dropped by Williams, but finally got his chance to make his return with Haas as the American-based squad weighed up their options to replace Mick Schumacher.
Confirmed in the seat during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, Hulkenberg made his Haas debut at the post-season tyre test on the Tuesday following the race.
Completing 110 laps on the day, Hulkenberg finished 19th of the 24 runners, and spoke afterwards of feeling some ‘human degradation’ during the test as he came to terms with the physical demands of an F1 car after his last appearance as a sub at Aston Martin at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
With his working relationship with Haas kicked off before the winter shutdown over Christmas, Hulkenberg reflected on his day at the wheel of his new F1 car.
“Obviously the team has worked with this car all year long, so they know the car pretty well,” he mused to media, including PlanetF1.com, when asked about whether he had identified any weaknesses on the car.
“But, sometimes, to hear it from someone that comes in because drivers get used to a car – even during one day, you can get used to things pretty easily.
“So sometimes it’s good to have someone new come in and have a new opinion and maybe a different perspective.
“But, for me, obviously, it was about getting the first taste of it. Experience the car, get the mileage, and a lot of standard basic procedures as well, which are important. Because the preseason is very limited.”
Nico Hulkenberg: You can’t force being comfortable
Having had his chance to drive the new ground-effect cars when he filled in for Sebastian Vettel at the first two races of the 2022 season, Hulkenberg said there will be a period of time needed for settling himself in for the entirely different demands of the cars compared to the old technical regulations.
“I had a taste of these cars at the beginning of the year with the two races that I did. So it’s not totally white page. But then, this is a different car, different team,” he explained.
“So, naturally, we see that every time when a driver changes team, there’s like a getting-to-know period until you reach your real optimum, for sure, you know, a couple of race weekends that will take.”
Asked how long it could take to get comfortable, Hulkenberg said it’s a process that can’t be rushed.
“That feeling of being comfortable, you can’t force it,” he said.
“It’s a feeling that you have to get to work for, and that you can only achieve and get when you’re in the car and when you’re actually working. The testing time is limited for everyone.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a bit harder for guys that come into a new team or an unknown car, but that’s all part of the challenge. We’ve all been there and done that so we just have to work with it and learn fast.”
Nico Hulkenberg ready for the challenge of 2023
Having admitted to feeling some physical constraints on his side after the test, Hulkenberg explained that the one day of track time had been very important for him in order to wake himself up to the demands of a full-time race calendar next season.
“Obviously it’s good. It does remind you, it does show you again the intensity these cars have,” he said after completing his near-two race distance at Yas Marina.
“Add the race to it and the competition, it’s another story again, but I have a plan and I know what I have to do.”
Asked whether he felt the limitations of the car, or whether it had proven well-balanced to him, Hulkenberg paused for thought.
“It was very hot,” he replied.
“The morning, the first two hours were OK, and then the track temperature rose a lot. It makes it a lot harder for the car and the tyres. So I probably haven’t seen that sweet spot. So it was work and I felt limitations, which wasn’t unexpected.”