Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg concedes that he likely would not have returned to the grid this season had it not been for his appearances with Aston Martin last year.
Hulkenberg lost his Renault seat to Esteban Ocon ahead of the 2020 season, but returned to Racing Point – whom he raced for in its Force India days – as a reserve.
In the covid-hit campaign, he subbed in three times for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, before filling in for Sebastian Vettel in the opening two rounds of last season when his compatriot also fell ill.
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After Mick Schumacher lost his drive at Haas at the end of last year, team principal Guenther Steiner turned to Hulkenberg, who impressed in his outings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia last term.
Without reminding the grid what he was capable of, Hulkenberg admits things would have been “very different” in 2023.
“I think they were the key and the door opener for me sitting here now,” he told Formula1.com.
“I highly doubt that without the two races at the beginning of last year I would have gotten the seat. It put me on the map again with Guenther, with the team here. They saw, ‘Okay, this guy still knows where the throttle pedal is!'”
27-year-old Nyck de Vries won the Formula 2 title in 2019 – Hulkenberg’s previous full season in F1 – and would go on to become Formula E champion two years later.
The Dutchman ended up in a similar situation to Hulkenberg in that he too was called up last year at the Italian Grand Prix when Williams’ Alex Albon came down with appendicitis.
“Another example is Nyck de Vries,” added Hulkenberg.
“Without his Monza performance, that opportunity last year [as a replacement for the ill Alex Albon at Williams], I’m not sure he would have had a seat – so I think they were hugely important.”
Hulkenberg made his Haas debut at last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, impressing in qualifying as he stuck the car in the top 10.
After contact on the opening lap, however, he finished 15th.