Returning to the Formula 1 grid after three seasons without a full-time drive, Nico Hulkenberg says scrubbing his unwanted record from his name is not something he’s thinking about.
Hulkenberg was dropped by Renault at the end of the 2019 championship, the German sitting on 177 race starts without a top-three result to his name.
He had come close several times only to be undone by punctures, bad luck and also a few crashes on his side.
He subsequently added another four race starts to his tally, extending that to 181 as he filled in at Aston Martin in 2020 and again in 2022, but a P7 at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone was his best result.
This year he’ll have at least 23 more chances to turn his most race starts without a podium into most race starts before a first podium. But, he insists, he’s not thinking about that record.
“I do not even think about it,” he said in an interview with RTL. “It’s not really in my head who’s holding it.”
As to whether he’ll have the opportunity to fight for the podium, that will depend largely on the car Haas give him and his team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
“Despite all the euphoria and joy, you have to remain realistic,” Hulkenberg conceded. “You are dependent on the car.”
The German has stepped up his training ahead of his Formula 1 comeback, Hulkenberg often posting videos on social media of his fitness regime.
He is, according to RTL, targeting a weight of 75 kilograms.
“The preparation is going well. It feels good to bump into it again,” he said.
“The volume and intensity in training have been increased again, the last few years have been more relaxed. It feels good to get up in the morning, to feel your body.”
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There are not many in the paddock who would begrudge Hulkenberg a first Formula 1 podium, but it’s safe to say there aren’t any who would move over to make it happen. He’s going to have to fight for it and whether or not he can do that, as he points out, will depend on Haas’ VF-23.
The team made a flying start in 2022, seemingly on top of the all-new ground effect aerodynamic cars, only to lose their way after the opening rounds.
Haas opted not to bring small updates but rather focus on one huge mid-season upgrade, but it was one that failed them.
Between that and a Ferrari engine that didn’t always go the distance, the team’s P3 in the standings after the opening round was a distant memory when all was said and done, Haas down in eighth place.
This year Ferrari are said to have improved their engine, both in terms of power and reliability, but only time will tell whether Haas have learned lessons – and potentially backtracked – from their 2022 upgrades.
Steiner firmly believes Hulkenberg can help Haas take a “step forward” this season, but the German would greatly appreciate the team having already done their bit over the winter.
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