Hülkenberg after Haas Formula 1 debut admits: “It was tough” – With an all-white helmet on his head, Nico Hülkenberg had his first official day of service with Haas, the team for which he will be a regular driver in the 2023 Formula 1 season, in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
On the Yas Marina Circuit, Hülkenberg completed 110 laps on the occasion of the Pirelli tyre test. And he did this even though he had lost quite a bit of track time in the morning due to a defect in the Ferrari drive unit.
Lap times were not the issue for Hülkenberg on his Haas debut. He paid no attention to his 19th place in the 24-driver timesheet. For the Formula 1 returnee, after a three-month break from driving, other things were in the foreground, such as getting used to his new car, the VF-22, but also to the Haas team as a whole.
In the interview, Hülkenberg talks about what struck him on his first day in the Haas cockpit, to what extent it was a change coming from Aston Martin, and what he is concerned about in the coming weeks and months until the 2023 season opener.
Nico, how would you sum up the day?
Nico Hülkenberg: “It was a good day with lots of work and lots of laps. We gathered a lot of impressions and a lot of data. That was the goal and we successfully completed this programme. The next weeks will be dedicated to analysing everything together with the team. All in all, I am satisfied with the day.”
What surprised you today and what not so much?
Nothing surprised me at all.
After a break of several months you did a lot of laps. How did you feel physically?
Of course you feel it, not only in your neck, but in your whole body. It was tough. I have to admit that towards the end of the working day I also felt a bit of physical wear and tear. But that was to be expected. To be honest, I felt better than I thought I would. That’s good, but I still have three months of hardcore preparation ahead of me.
Do you already know what you have to do in these three months to be in top shape for the start of the season?
Of course, it’s good to be reminded again how intensively these cars have to be driven. On top of that, there are the races, the competition, and it’s a whole other ball game. But I have a plan and I know what I have to do.
Compared to a race weekend: How much can you learn on such a test day?
My last test day before this one was in August. That was three months ago. But of course the format is different [from race weekend]. You do a lot more laps in a row. Today was also largely about getting to know the tyres for 2023 and their characteristics. So of course the approach is different. Basically, you have a lot more opportunities to try things out on test days. You can’t do much in a one-hour FT1 session.
How difficult was it for you to switch from the Aston Martin to the Haas?
Not really. I think I adjusted quite quickly and felt comfortable early on. You notice that it’s a different car as soon as the engine starts. Every drive unit is different, but I quickly got used to it.
Have you been able to identify any weak points of the car? And can you already say what you want from the car?
Of course, the team has been working with this car for a whole year, so they know it very well. Drivers get used to a car very quickly, sometimes in just one day. So it’s good to get new impressions and opinions. For myself, it was about getting a first impression. I wanted to feel the car and put some laps on it. Of course, all the standard procedures are important too. We all know that winter testing is very limited these days.
Were you able to give any feedback at all on the new tyres? Or was that hidden because, firstly, you were driving a new car and, secondly, the last time you sat in a Formula 1 car was months ago?
Yes, I already felt that way yesterday when we had the seat adjustment, the whole preparation, then the meetings with the engineers, the media appointments and so on. So this feeling already came up yesterday. But I like it, it’s great.
Can you already say something about the details of the changes to the car that affect you in particular?
First of all, it was about the basics. Once you have determined those, you can start. You can initiate the next steps for next year, so that you don’t lose any more time and can concentrate directly on performance.
What exactly needs to be adjusted to you?
I am a tall guy. So everything has to be adapted for me.
Does that include things like the display on the steering wheel or the steering wheel in general?
Here and there, for sure. When you’ve worked for several teams, you have a certain experience of what works well in certain situations and what might not. You have certain preferences and naturally want to have them transferred, as far as that is technically possible. So of course there are a lot of individual adjustments, especially in the area of the steering wheel.
You have a lot of experience from midfield teams. Haas is a smaller team. Do you feel that on the track as well or only in the factory?
On the track, all teams are more or less the same. Sure, Aston Martin has a lot more marketing people. But as far as the number of people in operations is concerned, they are all on a comparable level. So you don’t feel any difference there.
Do you think you can use your experience from other teams in areas off the track, such as meetings with the engineers?
Well, obviously I haven’t spent much time off the track with this team. I think after just one day, it’s too early to judge on those things. But the procedures for meetings are more or less similar for all teams. From what I’ve seen so far, I can’t see a problem or a lack of anything.
The Haas drivers have repeatedly emphasised the good balance of the car this year. Have you been able to feel that?
Apart from the first two hours, it was very hot today. By that I mean the track temperature in particular. That makes it much more difficult for a car and also for the tyres. I don’t think I’ve found the absolute sweet spot yet. I reached my limits here and there, but to be honest that wasn’t a surprise.
Lap times were certainly not the main focus for you today, were they?
It wasn’t about lap times today, but about the basics. The main thing today was that I felt comfortable in the car. Based on that, the most important thing is of course to find the areas where we can still improve. It’s about showing the engineers exactly where we can still find performance to become faster. Of course, next year’s car will be designed from scratch. So it’s all the more important that the basis is right.”