Nico Hulkenberg was preparing for a sports car race in Germany when he got the call from Racing Point asking him to fill in for Sergio Perez at the British Grand Prix.
Perez will miss the Silverstone race after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Hulkenberg, who was Perez’s teammate between 2014 and 2016 when Racing Point was called Force India, will race in his place.
It is yet to be confirmed whether he will do so again when F1 races at Silverstone for a second time next week.
Hulkenberg was planning to race GT cars this weekend at the Nuburgring. Racing Point F1 boss Otmar Szafnauer said Hulkenberg did not need much convincing to change plans.
“He had just landed in Germany, I think he was flying there to do a sportscar test or something,” Szafnauer said of his call. “He said yeah, I just landed here, I’m going to do a test’, ‘well maybe you should jump in an F1 car’, so he said ‘yeah absolutely’.
“I think he spent an hour on the ground in Cologne to grab his boots and a helmet then he flew in to Birmingham 7/7.30 last night.”
Racing Point also had access to Mercedes reserve drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez. With Vandoorne unavailable due to Formula E commitments, Racing Point felt Hulkenberg’s previous experience with the team and recent stint in F1 made him the best candidate.
When Hulkenberg returned to the UK a busy few hours followed at Racing Point’s factory, just down the road from the Silverstone circuit, to ensure he was ready for driving duties. He arrived at the track on Friday morning just 10 minutes before the start of FP1.
“The last 24 hours have been a bit special, crazy and wild,” Hulkenberg told Sky Sports after Friday practice. “4.30pm yesterday afternoon I got the call and took the plane here, seat fitted at 2am and got into the simulator at 8am this morning for an hour to do some track work.
“So it was a short night but all worthwhile. A great effort by the team, I want to thank all the night shift guys for doing an amazing job to get me into the car quite comfortably.
“Also want to thank the FIA for turning it around so fast on the superlicence. It’s been very special.”
Hulkenberg finished ninth in FP1 and seventh in FP2, where Racing Point teammate Lance Stroll went fastest. It was the German driver’s first session in an F1 car since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last December, where he drove for Renault.
Speaking about his limited time in the simulator, he said: “I think I got to grip pretty quickly with things. It’s just a little bit getting used to the steering wheel and some of the functions.
“We didn’t have heaps of time because I had to be tested as well. The real deal today, we got the programme and many laps in, which I feel. I’ve really been thrown into the cold water here. I think my body will go through that tomorrow and the day after. It’s obviously a challenge but I’m not shy of that one.”
Hulkenberg, who holds the unenviable record for the most race starts without a podium finish, is excited by the car at his disposal this weekend.
“You can see there’s huge potential. I didn’t exploit the soft tyre as well and I need to use that tyre better. That’s what we are going to work on through the night and try and get up to speed in the best possible way.”