Nico Hulkenberg made a dramatic return to Formula One on Friday to replace Racing Point’s Sergio Perez who tested positive for Covid-19.
The experienced German, who raced for the Silverstone-based Racing Point team in two spells, underwent tests after flying in from Monaco for a seat fitting at the team factory.
He was seen at the circuit on Friday morning and, wearing a team racing suit, ran to the pits ahead of opening free practice to familiarise himself with the controversial ‘pink Mercedes’ car before taking to the track.
Hulkenberg won the Le Mans-24 Hours race at the first attempt in 2015 and enjoyed a solid 177-race F1 career before he was ousted from Renault by Esteban Ocon this year. He raced twice for the Silverstone-based Racing Point team in their Force India years and was known in the paddock as one of the finest drivers never to claim a podium finish.
Racing Point have produced great pace in the opening three races with their 2020 cars modelled on the championship winning 2019 Mercedes, but Renault have protested the integrity of the design following the last two races.
Perez, who described his enforced absence from the British race as “one of the saddest days of my career”, said he must have caught the virus when he had returned to Mexico for two days to visit his mother following the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Perez is the first driver to test positive for Covid-19 and will miss not only this weekend’s British event, but also the 70th Anniversary race at Silverstone the following weekend.
“I’m really sad that this has happened, but it just shows how vulnerable we all are to this virus. I followed all the instructions from the FIA and from my team after Hungary,” said Perez.
“I took a private plane to go to Mexico to see my mother for two days because she had a big accident. So as soon as she left hospital, I was able to see her. And then I came back to Europe the same way, with all the protocols in place. I just got it from I don’t know where. I have no symptoms at all so it just shows how vulnerable we all are to this.”
Perez had initially returned an ‘inconclusive’ test result before taking a second test that was positive and condemned him to stay in isolation in his personal motor home at the Silverstone circuit.
In a statement, the sport’s ruling body, the FIA, said: “The procedures set out by the FIA and Formula 1 have provided for swift containment of an incident that will have no wider impact on this weekend’s event.”
Racing Point said their lead driver was “’physically well” and they intended to race two cars on Sunday.
The team’s reserve drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez were considered for a call-up, but overlooked as the team turned to Hulkenberg, who raced for them, in their Force India days, in 2012 and from 2014 to 2016. He was replaced at Renault this season after three years with the French outfit.
Vandoorne is in Berlin preparing for the resumption of the Formula E season in which he is a title contender. Gutierrez is at Silverstone, but has not raced in F1 since 2016.
Perez is the first F1 driver to test positive since the delayed 2020 season began in Austria in early July under strict health protocols.