SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND – Nico Hulkenberg made an unexpected return to Formula 1 on Friday, joining Racing Point after Sergio Perez tested positive for coronavirus before the British Grand Prix on Sunday.
Hulkenberg, 32, lost his place at Renault this season, so he was available when Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer made the call.
The German returned to action for the first time since November, driving in Friday’s first practice session at Silverstone, where no fans attended due to restrictions on the pandemic.
“I was on my way to the Nurburgring for another racing project when Otmar’s call came in,” said Hulkenberg. “That was less than 24 hours ago, so it seems a little surreal now, but I like a good challenge and this is certainly one.
“Obviously, it is a difficult situation for Racing Point and Checo. He is a friend of mine, a former teammate and I wish him a speedy recovery. I will intervene and try to do my best for the team.”
It will be the 178th Hulkenberg Grand Prix.
“Having to find a replacement for Sergio in the short term is not an easy task,” said Szafnauer, “but in Nico we have a fantastic supersub that the team knows very well. He is certainly being played in the background, but he is a quick learner and I’m sure it will update quickly “.
Perez believes he caught the virus on a trip to Mexico between the Hungarian and British races to visit his mother after she had an accident.
He tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and has to isolate himself, which should also keep him from the next weekend’s additional race at Silverstone.
“I am extremely sad – definitely one of the saddest days of my career,” said Perez. “The amount of preparation we put in this weekend to be 100% ready, I knew I had a great car under me, that the team had done a fantastic job.”
Not reporting symptoms of the virus, Perez said it was a reminder of how vulnerable everyone is to being infected.
“After Hungary, I took a private plane to Mexico to see my mother for two days, because she had a major accident. As soon as she left the hospital, I was able to see her,” he said. “So I went back to Europe, in the same way, with all the protocols in place. And I just got it, I don’t know from where.”