How Nico Hulkenberg Is Silencing His Critics in Formula 1

Nico Hulkenberg's signing to Haas for the 2023 Formula 1 season polarized people perhaps more than it should have. The German was replacing Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time F1 World Champion Michael. And many thought this was a mistake. But the 35-year-old is silencing his critics with some stunning performances and is outpacing highly acclaimed teammate Kevin Magnussen in qualifying. Hulkenberg has scored the Haas team's best result of the year so far, finishing seventh in Australia.
Nico Hulkenberg Haas 2023 14 photos
Photo: Haas
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The German is now firmly silencing those who thought he shouldn't make a full-time F1 return, vindicating why Haas brought him back in the first place: to score as many points as possible and be a reliable pair of hands for the team.

Why Haas signed Nico Hulkenberg for 2023

While Schumacher was showing some promise in 2022, there were some major problems. Chief of which were the accidents he was involved in. Team boss Guenther Steiner claimed that Schumacher cost the team some $2 million at least in repair bills during 2022. The biggest of those accidents were in Saudi Arabia and Monaco, the former causing Schumacher to miss the Grand Prix itself. Haas felt they needed someone who was a safer pair of hands than Schumacher, like Magnussen, who was rarely involved in major accidents. This was despite Schumacher showing good turns of speed.

Hulkenberg was signed up in the second half of 2022, and while many were upset at his return, others were happy to see him back. His axing from the Renault lineup in 2019 always felt unnecessary, even if Esteban Ocon, his replacement, was worthy of an F1 seat. Hulkenberg had put in stunning performances at Racing Point as a COVID stand-in at Silverstone and the Nurburgring during 2020. And his stand-ins for Sebastian Vettel at the start of 2022 were respectable, given he had no pre-season testing in the Aston Martin car. Clearly, 'The Hulk' still had what it took to perform in F1. And he is now showing it in spades.

Hulkenberg's 2023 F1 season in detail

Nico Hulkenberg Haas VF\-23 F1 2023
Photo: Haas
While the first two races yielded no points, Hulkenberg still impressed upon his return. He out-qualified Magnussen at the season opener in Bahrain to take a fantastic 10th on the grid, which could have been more as he set no time in Q3. He outqualified Magnussen again in Saudi Arabia, lining up 11th, with Magnussen 13th. The Dane, though, would score a point for tenth in the race. But Australia was an even stronger performance for Hulkenberg. The German qualified 10th again and finished 8th before being elevated to 7th, thanks to a penalty for Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari.

Magnussen, meanwhile, had a lackluster weekend again. He only managed 14th in qualifying before crashing out of the Grand Prix late on in a bizarre incident. Despite being out of F1 full-time for three seasons, Hulkenberg was showing he was still race sharp. His stand-ins for Racing Point and Aston Martin are clearly enough to keep him in that racing frame of mind. Magnussen will surely rectify the problems that he is facing right now. But his performances so far have been incredibly underwhelming compared to what Hulkenberg was able to put in.

What else can we expect from Hulkenberg?

If Hulkenberg keeps up these performances, he will likely remain at Haas for a while. He is the safe pair of hands the team has always needed, and he is already delivering on the points promise. Once Magnussen is on the money again, Haas will have one of the strongest driver lineups in F1's midfield. What happens next, though, depends on how strong the development curve is for Haas with their 2023 car. The team wasn't able to keep up with many of its rivals for 2022, so that must change this year.

The feeling is that 2022 was more of a rebuilding year after 2021, and that 2023 is more "normal" for Haas, according to Guenther Steiner. So hopefully, we will see Haas keep pace as the year goes on.

Hulkenberg deserves his F1 comeback

Nico Hulkenberg Haas VF\-23 F1 2023
Photo: Haas
Despite the reservations many had, Hulkenberg is showing he deserves his chance to make a full-time return to the sport. His pace is still there, and he seems to be thriving in the Haas environment and enjoying every minute of his comeback. The years out of F1 made him realize how much he missed it. The determination to return was on show with how often he badgered Steiner during 2022 about the race seat. It is great to see 'The Hulk' back on the grid. Performances like the one in Australia should keep him in that car for quite some time, and we will no doubt see Hulkenberg put on the types of show we were used to seeing from him at Force India and Renault years ago.
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About the author: Henry Kelsall
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Hailing from the UK, Henry's love of cars started out with motorsport, in particular Formula 1 and IndyCar. he also has a love of all things related to aviation, and regularly visists airshows and museums. The Honda NSX (first generation of course) is Henry's dream car.
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