Nico Hülkenberg’s crazy Silverstone experience continued on Saturday, with the German securing an excellent third place on the grid for the BWT Racing Point Formula One Team as he continues to stand in for the absent Sergio Pérez.
Hülkenberg only drove the RP20 for the first time a week ago after Pérez tested positive for coronavirus, and after learning more about the car ahead of this weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, he came into the event with more confidence.
The confidence showed in Qualifying as he put the car onto the second row of the grid, behind only the two Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team cars, despite a mistake in Q2 meaning he was under pressure to set a lap time good enough to advance into the top ten shootout.
“It’s been a crazy week and after the highs and lows of my comeback last week, P3 on the grid for tomorrow is a nice highlight!” admitted Hülkenberg. “Last week definitely helped me feel more prepared for this weekend, but qualifying was still a real challenge today.
“In Q2, I made life hard for myself a little bit and I thought I might have damaged the car. But once we got through to Q3, it was about getting my head down, giving it full beans, and giving my all for the lap time.”
After failing to start last weekend due to a technical issue, Hülkenberg feels me may still be a little rusty when it comes to race starts, but he is hopeful that he can convert his grid slot into a good haul of points on Sunday.
“I have a big smile on my face, but it’s only Saturday and it’s tomorrow that really matters,” said the German. “It’s going to be a challenge, because I haven’t been through the motions of a race start and going wheel-to-wheel for a while now, and I’m still learning the car.
“But I’ll give everything I’ve got to make sure we get a strong result. We’ll enjoy the qualifying result, but all focus is on the race now.”
“I didn’t quite get it all together today” – Lance Stroll
Team-mate Lance Stroll was unable to match the pace of Hülkenberg, ending up sixth fastest overall, the Canadian just over three-tenths of a second away from the German.
Stroll praised the job Hülkenberg was able to do with the RP20 and rued the instability and mistakes he made on his way to the third row of the grid. He says Hülkenberg’s pace showed just how much pace was in the car, so it was a shame he was not able to extract the same kind of pace himself.
“It’s a great day for the team to get both cars into Q3 and Nico did an outstanding job to qualify in P3,” said Stroll. “He’s been solid all weekend so far and the team’s done a great job to get him comfortable and to have both cars showing pace.
“For myself, I didn’t quite get it all together today. We were working on some things during qualifying and I wasn’t quite able to find the right balance – I had a little instability at the rear of the car. I wasn’t quite able to get a clean lap in either, which didn’t help.
“It’s small margins and it’s a shame not to be starting higher up the grid, but it’s a good starting point, and it’s all to play for tomorrow. We know there are areas where we can make improvements, but Nico’s shown just how much pace the car has, so that’s a big positive.
“The strategy could play a key part in the race tomorrow, so we’ll go away and make sure we’re ready to maximise everything tomorrow for a strong result.”
Hülkenberg’s Q3 Effort ‘A Special Lap’ – Otmar Szafnauer
Otmar Szafnauer, the Team Principal and CEO of Racing Point, was pleased that both drivers were able to get into the top six during Qualifying, with the American putting extra praise on Hülkenberg for doing such a superb job despite having limited running in the RP20.
Hülkenberg only came into the team for the British Grand Prix last weekend at the eleventh hour after Pérez was ruled out, and Szafnauer feels he has performed admirably in both outings with them so far.
“Nico and Lance did a great job today to get both cars into Q3,” said Szafnauer. “It gives us a real platform to fight for good points in tomorrow’s race.
“We’ve made a decent step in performance through Friday and into qualifying, so all credit to the team and our drivers. Nico was able to find a few more tenths to get P3, and it was small margins that meant Lance took P6.
“Nico’s performance is impressive considering he had been out of a Formula 1 car for over eight months until last weekend, and his Q3 effort was a special lap.”
Szafnauer feels Racing Point are in with a great chance of securing good points this weekend following their impressive display in Qualifying, but he knows there are a few teams within a few tenths of a second, which he feels will make for a challenging race.
“Both our drivers have underlined the potential of the car this weekend,” said Szafnauer.
“The margins are very small between several teams, so it will be a challenge tomorrow, but if we manage the race well, we’re in with a chance of a great result.”