Nico Hulkenberg admits his last-minute call-up to replace Sebastian Vettel at the Bahrain Grand Prix will see him face “an overload of information” and a tough test physically.
The Aston Martin reserve driver was called up to replace Vettel on Thursday after the four-time world champion tested positive for COVID-19, ruling him out of the season opener. It’s Hulkenberg’s first outing in a 2022 Formula 1 car and his first drive in a top-level single-seater since an IndyCar test in late October, and he admits he faces a big challenge given how little driving he’s done.
“It’s just the last 24 (hours) — got a call out of bed yesterday morning, got the news, packed up, got going,” Hulkenberg said. “I think it’s a bit of an interesting situation again; I’m just going to take it lap by lap, session by session. I haven’t been in a car for five or six days, so it will probably take a few laps to get some of the rust off me. I’ll just take it easy and take my time to get used to it again.
“I think to really get the feeling again, to get a good harmony with the car, to find the limit (will be the biggest challenge). Physically, for sure, the driving fitness is not there. There’s going to be many challenges — there’s going to be an overload of information today. For me, it’s just about getting into the car, getting up to speed with and get a good feel.
“Simulator stuff, the Aston sim… That’s the only thing I drove. Real life racing — zero.”
Hulkenberg says one positive about the late call-up is the fact he has had to do similar with Aston Martin before, having filled in twice when the team was known as Racing Point in 2020.
“The only thing is I’ve done it before, I know what to expect. I know how it is to walk into the garage and step into the car — I have that experience, for sure that’ll help me. But the time away, it’s been quite some days and these cars, they’re completely new.
“The last time I came back, I knew what those generation of cars were like and what I was going to get, more or less. But this is totally a blank piece of paper now — I’m just about to find out and hit the ground running. I just need to feel it, drive it and learn as fast as possible. But not an easy situation.”