Nico Hulkenberg on replacing Mick: ‘If it hadn’t been me, it might have been someone else’

Michelle Foster
Nico Hulkenberg at the post-season test. Abu Dhabi November 2022.

Nico Hulkenberg talking to a Haas engineer at the post-season test. Abu Dhabi November 2022.

Returning to the Formula 1 grid at the expense of Mick Schumacher, Nico Hulkenberg rightly says if he hadn’t been the one signed by Haas to replace his compatriot, it “might have been someone else”.

After 42 races with only two top-ten results, Haas informed Schumacher ahead of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that the Yas Marina race would be his last with the Formula 1 team.

He finished well outside the points in 16th place after a late clash with Nicholas Latifi, the race a summary of Schumacher’s Formula 1 trials.

The 23-year-old has joined Mercedes as their official reserve driver, his Haas seat going to the experienced Hulkenberg who’ll be the only German on the 2023 grid.

He revealed he hasn’t spoken with Schumacher since the announcements were made, but that’s not a surprise as the two never had a friendship like Schumacher’s with Sebastian Vettel.

“We haven’t spoken to each other since,” he said in an interview with RTL. “We never really exchanged ideas before that either.

“Mick is also a different generation. We never had a real relationship, something like he has with Sebastian.

“The story is what it is. If it hadn’t been me, it might have been someone else.”

The 35-year-old, who holds the record for the most race starts without a podium, concedes in Formula 1 either you produce the results or you’re out.

He knows what’s that like, dropped by Renault after the 2019 season and unable to find a full-time ride leaving him to join Aston Martin as a reserve driver.

“F1 is about performance,” he added. “If you convince and perform, you have a job, you’re a hot stock.

“If there is no performance, then it’s over very quickly.”

Can Hulkenberg shrug off his unwanted record?

At 35 years of age the chances of Hulkenberg having longevity in his Formula 1 return aren’t in his favour. But the big question is can he finally break that podium duck?

He’ll line up on the Bahrain Grand Prix in March for the 182nd time in F1, that’s 181 starts so far without a top three.

Whether he can turn that most starts without a podium into most starts before a first one will depend largely on the car Haas give him to race.

The team dropped the ball with last year’s upgrades, opting for one big one mid-season than went in the wrong direction. It meant that Haas’ bright start to the all-new era was negated in the final half of the season.

The team also paid a price for an unreliable Ferrari engine although Guenther Steiner has high hopes for this year’s PU, saying it will go “like a rocket” and hopefully also be more reliable.

If Haas can give Hulkenberg the car, the German should be able to put in the results after the rest of three years without full-time racing has been scrubbed off.

Will it be enough for a podium finish? Time will tell but 181 starts without a top three hints at no.

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