Nico Hulkenberg says he was sitting drinking coffee in Cologne just four hours before he ended up driving in qualifying for the Eifel Grand Prix after a mad dash to the Nurburgring.
Lance Stroll reported feeling unwell on Saturday morning and Racing Point called Hulkenberg an hour before FP3 to inform him that his services as a substitute driver may be needed again. Having already performed the role at Silverstone when Sergio Perez tested positive for COVID-19, Hulkenberg got into the paddock just one hour before qualifying started and ended up slowest but only 0.2s off Kimi Raikkonen in 19th and within a second of Perez.
“It was even crazier and wilder than last time!” Hulkenberg explained. “I was in Cologne, about an hour from here. I was due to come here this afternoon anyway (as) I was going to do some TV stuff with RTL tomorrow.
“I sat with a friend at 11 a.m. for a coffee when I saw that Otmar (Szafnauer) is ringing me. He says, ‘Hulkenberg, hurry, we need you here.’ I stepped in the car, came here and the rest is history. We saw what happened now: 2.0 return in the moment of a heartbeat.
“You have to expect the unexpected and it’s just what happened again today.”
Stroll did not take part in FP3 and Hulkenberg had to wait for a rapid COVID-19 test before he could enter the paddock, meaning he had limited time to prepare before his first laps in qualifying. After just four timed laps, he says he had to adapt to the car and conditions as best he could, having not driven since Silverstone in early August. He wound up last, a halg
“It felt quite different to Silverstone, completely different circuit, the car has moved on too. There’s a couple of technical bits that are very different that give the driver different sensations, so I had to adjust around that a bit and just find my feet again. Obviously in four laps, that’s not so easy. All in all, even though I’m last I’m quite pleased with the laps we produced just now.
“Still means that tomorrow is going to be very difficult and a hell of a challenge. We’ll do what we can. Obviously I have the experience, the four laps in the pocket now. They’ll sink in, so tomorrow we’ll just go racing and see what we get.”