Why Hulkenberg says his latest return is unlike previous ‘Hulkenbacks’

2023 F1 season

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Nico Hulkenberg has revealed the last two months have been “very intense” for him as he has prepared for his full-time Formula 1 return.

The new Haas driver’s last full season of racing came in 2019. Since then he’s been called up as a substitute on five occasions, each time with the team now known as Aston Martin. Hulkenberg entered three grands prix for Racing Point in 2020 and another two for Aston Martin at the start of last year.

When Hulkenberg joined Haas for post-season testing at the end of 2022 he admitted feeling “a bit of human degradation” from the physical challenge of being back in an F1 car.

He described his return to the cockpit last week as “good fun” after his first day in the Haas VF-23 in Bahrain. “Doing 51 laps was quality work, I would say. A bit less than we wanted to do, but like I said: quality laps. It’s about starting somewhere and then learn as you go, learn about the car, doing changes, see how the car reacts.”

Hulkenberg made two appearances for Aston Martin last year
While during his years of part-time action he had to remain race-ready as a reserve driver, Hulkenberg had a tight timeframe to get in shape this year due to participating in pre-season testing, and so did not get the extra month of training that he was afforded in 2022.

“I’ve spent two months pretty much in the gym entirely, and then running and everything. I’ve obviously had time to prep for this this time, so different compared to other ‘Hulkenbacks’. It’s a different nature. I feel good.”

“I’ve had two very intense months in terms of preparation,” explained the 35-year-old. “I’ve invested a lot of time, energy and sweat into this. But I felt today that it was worth it, I’m ready, my body’s strong, and that is exactly what I need and wanted.”

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After winning the GP2 (now Formula 2) title as a rookie in 2009, Hulkenberg impressed on his first season with Williams, claiming a memorable pole position at a damp Interlagos. But he already knew by that point in his debut season he would not still be racing for the team next year, as the well-heeled Pastor Maldonado took his seat.

Start, Silverstone, 2020
‘Super-sub’ Silverstone 2020 return saw him start third
Hulkenberg returned in 2012, but after eight years in F1 it seemed his full-time career was over when Renault dispensed with his services. It’s clear the desire to get back to racing still burns strongly ahead of a season in which he should record his 200th career start.

“I’m happy that I’ve used the winter time very well, and now happy that it’s finally starting,” said Hulkenberg. “The theory can stop, and the practical part takes over and it’s nice to drive out there again. Leave the garage, release the pit limiter and feel the F1 acceleration and forces again. That was very enjoyable and fun.”

In addition to being in “first-class physical shape” in the Haas VF-23 thanks to his off-season work, Hulkenberg said he also quickly built up a level of comfort with the handling demands of the car.

“As a driver, you’re looking for that good and healthy connection with the car and find a good harmony. And that’s what we started.”

He described himself as “pretty pleased” with his first impression of the VF-23. “More than anything, for me personally how I feel in the car [is positive]. The feeling and the harmony I get already at this early stage with the car.

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Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Hulkenberg feels like he’s clicked with new Haas VF-23
“So that’s worth a lot for me because that’s the foundation that I build on for the rest of the season going from here. So far, so good.”

While this weekend will provide the first real indication of how well Hulkenberg has adapted to his new team, the early signs are encouraging, as Haas team principal Guenther Steiner acknowledged.

“What impressed me, how he got in the car yesterday morning and was very comfortable with it very quick,” he said of Hulkenberg.

“He got straight on to it, did his job, it seemed to be like he was here already since a year. I’m not exaggerating – I was quite impressed by that.”

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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  • 10 comments on “Why Hulkenberg says his latest return is unlike previous ‘Hulkenbacks’”

    1. Coventry Climax
      2nd March 2023, 10:48

      ‘Why Hulkenberg says this year is different’ and ‘Why this year is different according to Hulkenberg’ are two different questions. The second one is answered in the article, the first one isn’t.
      Obviously, anyone would say it’s different this time, and equally obvious, that it’s better this time.

      Why do I bother? Because communication is key to understanding, not just in motorsports but in every aspect of life. And I feel that’s exactly where things go very wrong these days.

      Otherwise, nice to hear from him in this article. Quite down to earth, I’d say.

      1. Agreed. And the part about him having to remain in race ready shape as a reserve driver, but somehow having a smaller timeframe than other drivers to get in shape for this season is an oxymoron.

    2. Nothing against the man, I think he is one of the more enjoyable characters, but what a state F1 is in with regard to suitable, eligible and exciting drivers, that they have to keep dragging this person back. But maybe Susie is going to make the difference now with the F1 academy? I hope it is not just about women because that would be a slap in the face of all inclusion efforts. I hope it is about given youngster a chance in Motorsports indifferent to their own personal financial situation. Otherwise we will keep on bringing the mediocre drivers back instead of having 20 Hamiltons (which should be the goal).

      1. Coventry Climax
        2nd March 2023, 11:40

        So what you say is that the current state of F1 is the reason why Hulkenberg is suitable and eligible and exciting for Haas.
        Sort of agree with you there. It used to be teams with no money, like Minardi, that frequently brought in talented youngsters, but now, apparently, the cost of damage and lack of experience is by far outweighing the advantage of a new, cheaper and eager driver, when again apparently, the money they bring is more or less equal. In part I feel, it has also to do with the FIA’s licensing system. We’ve had to miss out on some promising (and some american) guys recently, for example.

        I sincerely doubt the F1 Academy will bring women to F1 soon. For that to happen would take much more effort as well as in much different directions, like promoting girls to have a go at motorsports from an early age on. Even financing them, maybe, although that would mean positive discrimination.
        The FIA now hopes that creating role models for girls will do the trick, which I think is pretty short sighted, but likely the cheapest way to go about it.

        One thing I utterly disagree with is a goal of having 20 Hamiltons on the grid. First, I’d like to see more than 20 drivers again, and secondly, I like having different characters and qualities compete. Makes everything much more interesting, and gives the opportunity to see people’s strong points and abilities under, e.g., different circumstances. It just doesn’t match with the whole ‘diversity’ idea if they’d all be the same. All of them of better overall quality, yes, that I agree to.

        1. Coventry Climax
          2nd March 2023, 11:51

          1) Under the current licensing system, we would never have had a Raikonen or a Verstappen debut when they did. That proves the FIA wrong, I’d say.
          2) 20 Hamiltons would also mean 20 males, which is against the diversity goal as well. Although, given his fashion sense and constant whining, you could argue about his true gender. Now that, in itself, could be a diversity goal ;-), but I’d prefer seeing it spread out over different people.

        2. The 20 Hamiltons is a metaphor for people (in the broadest sense of the word) at his skill level (and I wouldn’t mind if 30 or 40 people competed). My point being that there are way too much mediocre drivers in the current line-up. I feel as an audience we are not getting the level of driving we are paying for or what you should/could expect from a sport that is the pinnacle of motorsport.

        3. The real question here is: Do we want diversity, that is based on discriminating people based on the characteristics/features they were born with, by promoting undeserving individuals simply because they are born with the hip-and-trending characteristics/features of the season…. or do we want diversity in a more natural subtle way.

          I would argue having 20 white straight men ( going to hell for this one:) ) as drivers can result in a more diverse group of people. Each would do their best to try and stand out and represent themselves and their team better than the next guy. And they would have to be more inventive about it, since they do not have the crutch of skin color, gender, or any other trendy stat they’ve had since the character creation screen.

    3. Although, given his fashion sense and constant whining, you could argue about his true gender.

      Ohhhh wow – you could have just lit the fuse on one hell of a firecracker there :)

      I’m going to grab some popcorn and get comfy in case this kicks off ;P

      1. Coventry Climax
        2nd March 2023, 12:50

        There’s no reason to be afraid of death:
        While you’re there, death is not around
        Then when death is there, you’re no longer around. ;-)

        Anyway, I won’t be taking part in the fireworks nor watch it:
        Essentially I said, in jest, that it was -maybe- something to argue about.
        I’ll leave picking it up as serious to others, with the bottomline obviously what Hamilton himself says about it. And whatever he says, there’s no reason for fuss or fight. We can all be who we like to be and love who we’d love to love, without being judged; isn’t that the whole diversity idea?

    4. I’ve heard a rumour that according to Netflix it was KMAG that suggested HULK for the vacant seat to Steiner. Do any of you knowledgable racefans know if this has any merit? That would throw a pole through the whole “S..k my b..ls, Mate” alleged hostility between the two if in fact true, but I don’t have the stomach to sit through an entire season…

    Comments are closed.