A ‘difficult situation’ awaits Nico Hulkenberg but former driver backs him to ‘still’ be quick

Nico Hulkenberg at the post-season test. Abu Dhabi November 2022. Credit: Alamy
Nico Hulkenberg at the post-season test. Abu Dhabi November 2022. Credit: Alamy

Nico Hulkenberg cannot underestimate the “difficult situation” he faces returning to the grid this season, but Timo Glock has backed his compatriot to “still drive very quickly”.

Just months after reportedly telling his former team-mate Jolyon Palmer his hopes of making a comeback were over, Haas handed Hulkenberg a lifeline.

With the team disappointed with Mick Schumacher’s performances, the driver managing just two top-ten results in 43 starts, Guenther Steiner began looking at his options for 2023.

Hulkenberg, despite not having had a full-time ride since 2019, found his name on the list with the 35-year-old announced as a Haas driver on the eve of the Abu Dhabi finale.

But while the German is relishing the prospect, a lot has changed in Formula 1 since his days with Renault, most notably F1 has a new generation of ground effect aerodynamic cars.

Hulkenberg did a few outings in the all-new car last season, replacing Sebastian Vettel at the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian races when the Aston Martin driver contracted Covid. Hulkenberg recorded a best result of P12 in Jeddah.

“Of course, this is also a difficult situation for Nico,” Glock told Motorsport-Total.com, “even if he has shown again and again during the time of Corona that he was very fast.”

But of course Hulkenberg’s results are not entirely in his own hands.

“The question is how good is the package? How well does the car suit his driving style?” Glock continued.

“That’s the subject that you have to wait and see a bit.

“In Kevin Magnussen he has a tough team-mate to beat. But I think he still has the potential. Now we have to give him the time to get used to it.

“I do believe that he can still drive very quickly. But we’ll have to wait and see how the first races go.”

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Haas ‘want to drill into’ Hulkenberg’s experience

Team boss Steiner is convinced Hulkenberg is the right man for the job, even if he hasn’t had a full-time seat for several years.

According to the Italian, history has shown that the 35-year-old has the experience and the know-how to help his team can a “step forward”.

And that’s what Haas need.

Steiner told Speedcafe: “When you look at Nico Hulkenberg’s career, he was always in the midfield teams and they always made a step forward because I think he knows exactly what needs to be done to make the team better.

“That experience we want to drill into, we want to use that experience to make our team better so we are in the midfield, but on top of the midfield is our next main.

“Once you’re on top of the midfield then you can try to make the next step to go on to the podium all the time so we need to do step by step but I think having Nico Hulkenberg on board with Kevin, it will help us to achieve this position faster.”

Haas have to give Hulkenberg time to find form

Although Steiner is hoping Hulkenberg will push the team forward from day one, he needs to accept that his new signing hasn’t been a regular race driver since 2019. That’s a long three-year break.

The team needs to give the 35-year-old time to find his feet, not only with regards to the new cars but also his own fitness.

Although his team-mate Kevin Magnussen made his comeback last season, the Dane did so after just one year away from Formula 1.

And that was a year in which he competed in several other series, Hulkenberg hasn’t done that, focusing largely on his test and reserve role with Aston Martin.

While he has been hard at work preparing for his return, there is nothing like race fitness – both in terms of the muscles and sharpness.

Haas cannot push pressure on the driver if it takes him a race or four to get there, and that number will most likely be closer to four than then first.

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