Aston Martin have signed Nico Hülkenberg to be their official reserve and development driver, raising the possibility that he might finally get his podium.
The move brings him closer into the team than his previous role as a dual Mercedes and Aston Martin reserve, which had been announced at the end of March.
The 33-year old made three appearances for the Silverstone-based team last season and impressed each time, with the high point being qualifying for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix where he managed third.
Hülkenberg said: “Obviously, I’m hoping that Sebastian and Lance enjoy uninterrupted seasons this year, but the team knows it can rely on me to step in and do an excellent job, and I’m fully prepared to take on that challenge.”
“it’s great to get this deal signed up with plenty of notice – last year, I didn’t have quite as much time to prepare before jumping in the car! I’m really pleased to once again work with this team – with whom I have driven many times during my career.”
He’ll now work with the team to improve the AMR21 – which looks to have plenty of areas to work on after a disappointing Grand Prix weekend and testing at Bahrain – and be ready to step in on race weekends if Lance Stroll or Sebastian Vettel can’t compete.
After he’d been left without a drive for 2020, the Hulk’s F1 career seemed to be over but he was recalled when Sergio Pérez tested positive with COVID-19 for the Silverstone double-header.
Hulkenberg made Q2 in the British Grand Prix but was unable to start thanks to a power unit problem pre-race, and though he qualified well for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix and was running in the top five for much of the race, a bizarre call to pit late-on dropped him to a seventh-placed finish.
He was again called upon for the Eifel Grand Prix – this time on the morning before qualifying in place of Lance Stroll – and put in an even more impressive performance to finish eighth after starting last.
Despite these strong showings he again missed out on a seat for the 2021 season – he was a contender for the Red Bull second seat that ultimately went to Pérez – but now has the chance at more racing with this Aston Martin role.
The German has developed a cult status in F1 fandom thanks to his record of 179 race starts without a podium, and his super sub appearances have only added to that.
Despite that, when it was announced that he wouldn’t be renewed for the 2020 season then there wasn’t a massive uproar from fans.
He’ll certainly have his work cut out though as the AMR21 seems a step below where it was last year, Sebastian Vettel in particular had a tricky weekend as he was denied a second run in Q1 thanks to Nikita Mazepin’s spin and was eliminated.
However, he had no one else to blame in the race as he struggled for pace and then rear-ended Esteban Ocon.
Otmar Szafnauer, CEO and Team Principal of the team, said: “We’re delighted to be able to welcome Nico back to the team in an official capacity, in these difficult times, the requirement for a capable and experienced reserve driver is especially important.”
“Nico proved last year that he could jump in the car and perform superbly at a moment’s notice; now, with additional scope for preparation and integration, we know that we can rely on Nico to do an excellent job.”