Why Racing Point chose Hulk over Gutierrez

Jon Wilde
Nico Hulkenberg British Grand Prix

Nico Hulkenberg in action for Racing Point at the British Grand Prix

Nico Hulkenberg was chosen over Esteban Gutierrez as the stand-in for Sergio Perez at the British Grand Prix because Racing Point wanted “someone who could score points for us”.

Those were the words of team boss Otmar Szafnauer as he reflected upon a dramatic Thursday at Silverstone during which Perez initially had an ‘inconclusive’ test for COVID-19 and then a positive one, ruling him out of this weekend’s race.

The scramble then began to find a replacement for the Mexican, with Gutierrez and Stoffel Vandoorne being the initial names in the frame. Vandoorne, however, was discarded from the reckoning due to Formula E commitments.

But then Hulkenberg, who drove for Force India in 2011-12 and 2014-16 before their Racing Point rebrand, entered the equation and on Friday morning came confirmation, with the German taking part in FP1 and finishing a highly respectable P9 – 1.17sec off the pace.

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Quoted by RaceFans.net, Szafnauer explained in Friday’s FIA press conference: “I started thinking about this when Checo’s first test was inconclusive, hoping the next test was negative but you’ve got to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

“So we started that planning and did it in parallel with Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez at the same time.

“Our engineering team, after we discussed, thought Nico would be more appropriate for our team because he knows us really well, he knows all the engineers, he knows our systems, our processes, he’s driven our simulator, it would be easy for him to get in the simulator again.

“And also he has relevant experience from having driven in Formula 1 last year (for Renault). We just needed someone that could score points for us, so we thought Nico would be the best guy for us.”

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After receiving a call from Szafnauer on Thursday, Hulkenberg hotfooted it from Germany where he had been due to make an appearance at the Nurburgring.

“He had just landed in Germany,” said Szafnauer. “I think he was due to do some kind of sports car test or something, I don’t know what category of racing.

“He said ‘I just landed here, I’m going to do a test’. And I said ‘well, maybe you should jump in a Formula 1 car’. So he said ‘yeah, absolutely’.

“I think he spent an hour on the ground in Cologne to grab his boots and a helmet. I think the helmet he grabbed isn’t to spec anyway. Then he flew to Birmingham, so he landed here about 7.00, 7.30 last night.”

Hulkenberg then required a negative COVID-19 test before he could enter the F1 paddock – which was only confirmed by F1 test supplier Eurofins 15 minutes before FP1 began.

Szafnauer said Hulkenberg began the session five minutes late as a result, adding: “We got the ‘go’ from Eurofins at 10.45 saying his test came back negative. So then we had to quickly get him in the car.

“But he quickly came up to speed and his feedback was as it always is. So there’s more improvement in the car, there’s things he doesn’t like, things he does like. So we will make those improvements between now and FP2 and see how we go, but I think he was ninth and pretty comfortable.”

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