Team’s former driver given all-clear to replace Perez after frantic 24 hours; Perez asymptomatic and isolating after positive test
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 31/07/20 11:48am
Nico Hulkenberg has returned to Formula 1 and race for Racing Point at the British GP in place of Sergio Perez after the Mexican tested positive for coronavirus.
Hulkenberg returns to the team he raced for in 2012 and 2014-16 when they were known as Force India and partners Lance Stroll this weekend.
The 32-year-old German, who last raced in F1 as recently as December for Renault, was unattached and was able to enter in the paddock less than 10 minutes before the opening practice session began at Silverstone after his negative COVID-19 test was confirmed.
Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer told Sky F1: “There was a lot to do in a little bit of time. We had the definitive result yesterday at 2.20pm so from that point on we had to a) find Hulkenberg, b) get him agree to do this – which wasn’t that difficult, I think he was keen.
“But we had to get him to England and then go through the process of making sure he didn’t have the virus, that was number one, and then number two getting a superlicense. Then he needs to understand the car a little bit, understand the steering wheel. He did a sim session for 45 minutes this morning. So let’s see what he can do.”
Although he left Renault and F1 at the end of last year, Hulkenberg has only actually missed three grands prix after the start of the 2020 season was delayed.
British GP on Sky F1: Schedule and how to watch
Watch the British GP, the first of two consecutive races at the famous circuit, live on Sky Sports F1 from Friday.
The RP20, which qualified behind only the Mercedes cars in Hungary, will arguably be the most competitive car the German driver has driven in F1. Although long highly-rated and a multi-champion in his junior career, Hulkenberg has the unwanted record of competing in the most grands prix (177) without finishing on the podium.
“I was on my way to the Nurburgring for another racing project when the call from Otmar came. That was less than 24 hours ago, so it feels a bit surreal for me right now, but I like a good challenge and this is certainly one,” said Hulkenberg.
“It’s obviously a difficult situation for Racing Point and Checo. He’s a buddy of mine, an old team-mate and I wish him a speedy recovery. I’ll step in and try do the best I can for the team!”
Perez isolating and asymptomatic
Perez has entered a period of self-isolation after a retest for COVID-19 returned a positive result on Thursday evening. Racing Point have said the Mexican is “physically well and in good spirits” and following the isolation guidelines of the UK health authorities.
Perez was absent from the Silverstone circuit on Thursday after a previous test produced an inconclusive result.
In a video post on Twitter on Friday, Perez explained he had returned to Mexico for two days following the Hungarian GP after his mother was admitted to hospital, but flew on a private plane and followed all guidelines before and afterwards.
“I followed all the instructions from the FIA, from my team,” said Perez. “After Hungary I took a private plane to go to Mexico to see my mum for two days because she had a big accident.
“So as soon as she left hospital I was able to see her. Then I came back to Europe the same way with all the protocols in place and I just got it, I don’t know from where. I have no symptoms at all, so it just shows how vulnerable we are all.”
Perez, who last missed a race in 2011, added: “I’m extremely sad, definitely one of the saddest days of my career. The amount of preparation that we’ve put into this weekend to be 100 per cent ready for it. I knew I had a great car underneath me that the team have done a fantastic job.
“I’m really sad that this happened but it just shows how vulnerable we are all to this virus.”
Szafnauer said: “He’s well, he’s asymptomatic and he feels completely fine. We’re going to monitor his health and his situation how he feels daily, have a doctor go see him and make sure that he continues to be OK.
“He’s isolating now and hopefully with time the virus will dissipate out of his system.
“I think it’s either seven or 10 days [of isolation]. He’s moved from his motorhome to an apartment he will be isolating in.”