Nico Hülkenberg has already delighted his German regulars’ table in the Principality of Monaco with his Formula 1 comeback. “They are all very happy and happy about it,” Hulkenberg told the German Press Agency before his first Grand Prix after 343 days and the recapture of a regular cockpit.

AS Monaco’s soccer goalkeeper Alexander Nübel belongs to this group, as does tennis player Alexander Zverev and reality star Robert Geiss. The regulars’ table time is likely to be tight for Hülkenberg this season. Because the Rhinelander has a regular place in Formula 1 again – of all things with the US team Haas, which dumped Mick Schumacher for him.

Formula 1 “like riding a bike”

Hülkenberg, who only worked as a substitute driver after leaving Renault at the end of 2019, had hoped for this opportunity for so long. “It’s like cycling, you won’t forget it either. It’s the same principle,” said Hulkenberg, who, however, has to tame cars at well over 300 km/h. “It’s about getting the feeling for the car back. The better it gets, the more powerful you become.”

Hulkenberg wasn’t that far from Formula 1 recently. At the start of last season alone, he completed the races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as a temporary help for Sebastian Vettel, who was suffering from corona and has since retired. In the end, he finished 17th and 12th in the weak Aston Martin.

Steiner ambitious

But now Hülkenberg has one of the coveted cockpits all to himself again. “It will really tingle, it’s such an intense moment,” said the now 35-year-old before the red lights went out this Sunday (4 p.m. / CET / Sky) in Sakhir. “It’s a high that’s hard to describe.”

The goals of the US racing team this season are easy to name. “We want to fight for sixth place,” said team manager Günther Steiner. Haas would be something like “Best of the Rest” in the field, which brings in many millions in bonuses.

Last season, the driver pairing Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen only managed eighth place in the constructors’ championship. The Dane contributed 25 points and the German twelve. Not enough for Haas that Schumacher always kept the two total losses in Saudi Arabia and Monaco and finally retired him.

The racing fire burns again

A veteran like Hülkenberg, who is now the last German regular driver in Formula 1, should neither scrap the VF-23 nor leave chances of scoring. “Nico challenges the engineers because he bombards them with information and questions, they weren’t used to that anymore,” said Steiner, very impressed by Hülkenberg. The South Tyrolean, who does not shy away from criticism, demands performance despite the warm words. Immediately and constantly.

The test kilometers of the German, whom Mrs. Egle and daughter Noemi Sky should accompany as often as possible on the world tour, were promising in Bahrain. It is more than questionable whether it will be enough for Hulkenberg to pulverize his inglorious record of 181 races without a podium finish.

Pretty much best friends

Ironically, Haas now has a driver pairing that is biased. In 2017 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hülkenberg and Magnussen first clashed on the track and then verbally. The Dane was “once again the most unsportsmanlike driver in the field,” said the then Renault driver during a TV interview about the Haas driver. Magnussen responded with an insult below the belt.

After that, there was a long radio silence between the two drivers, who, according to their own statements, never had any real problems with each other and have also matured through their father roles. Then came the drivers’ parade ahead of the 2022 Bahrain race. Hülkenberg felt it was time to break the ice, approaching Magnussen and greeting him with those under-the-belt words the Dane had chosen years earlier. “I thought that would be quite funny,” Hulkenberg said with a grin. Magnussen “liked it quite a bit.”