Hulkenberg is hulkenback to the F1 paddock this weekend, sitting in for Seb Vettel in the opening round of the season in Bahrain, who has tested positive for COVID-19. The Hulk has been in the Formula One paddock since joining Williams back in 2010, meaning this is his thirteenth season in the sport. After not racing at all in 2021, serving only as Aston Martin’s reserve driver, this could be the German’s toughest challenge yet. With a brand new car and practically no seat time to get up to speed, Nico is going to drive the car for the first time in FP1 on Friday morning.
During the 2020 season as Racing Point’s third driver, Hulkenberg raced three Grands Prix for the team when Sergio Perez couldn’t make the British rounds and Lance Stroll had to sit out the Eifel GP weekend. He served extremely well in that season, finishing 15th of 21 drivers, despite one of his outings ending in a DNS due to car failure. While the driver has 179 starts to his name, he’s rarely been in a car capable of seeing him on the podium, and has yet to score a top-three finish.
Vettel is now the ninth racer to test positive for COVID, and the second driver in the span of a week. Formula One has relaxed its protocols for testing for the virus ahead of the 2022 season, foregoing the previously mandatory daily PCR tests and strict bubble system that had been in place across 2020 and 2021.
Under normal circumstances, Vettel would also be barred from entering Saudi Arabia for the Grand Prix there next week. Saudi requires a seven-day quarantine period for travelers who test positive before entering the country. If Vettel manages to produce a negative test in the days after the Bahrain GP this weekend, however, the country will likely make an exception and give him an opportunity to race there for the second round of the championship.
Daniel Ricciardo, who had tested positive a week ago during the pre-season test, has reportedly made a swift recovery from the virus, and should be cleared to return to the race track in his McLaren for Friday’s free practice.
Perhaps with this outbreak among the paddock, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the series to reinstate its mandatory testing and bubble procedures, as they seemed to work pretty well over the last two seasons.