Nico Hulkenberg sat over a coffee with a friend in Cologne on Saturday morning when Otmar Szafnauer’s name flashed up on his phone screen.
The German driver, who was left without a seat for the 2020 season, was due to travel to Nurburgring later that day to do some punditry work for the Eiffel Grand Prix.
His weekend would be turned upside down, though, as the Racing Point team principal called him four hours before qualifying to ask him to fill in for an unwell Lance Stroll.
It was the third time Hulkenberg has stepped in for Racing Point at short notice this campaign, serving as a temporary replacement for Sergio Perez at both Silverstone races in August.
But with no practice at a circuit he last raced on seven years ago, and the car upgraded since his last outing two months ago, qualifying was always going to be difficult.
Qualifying 20th and last was hardly surprising, given the former Renault man only managed to clock four laps during Q1, finishing 0.9 seconds off Perez.
Nevertheless, he put any disappointment about his lowly starting position behind him on race day to move up four places and maintain a steady pace early on.
The 33-year-old continued to maximise his opportunities, one particular highlight being his pass on compatriot Sebastian Vettel on the pits straight, en route to finishing eighth.
He was deservedly named Driver of the Day for his stunning efforts, finishing just 1.782 seconds behind Charles Leclerc who started in fourth.
Combined with Perez placing fourth, Racing Point collected 16 points in Germany to move into third in the constructors’ championship.
Of course, Hulkenberg had a strong car and five drivers retired during the race, but going 60 laps with no practice at a challenging circuit like Nurburgring is impressive.
That sizzling result further raises questions about his whether he will have a seat in F1 for next year.
A veteran of 179 Grand Prix since his debut back in 2010, Hulkenberg’s consistency and experience speaks for itself, and is surely worthy of a spot on the grid for 2021.
He was seen chatting pre-race chat with Haas boss Guenther Steiner, a team that presents the best option for either himself or Perez next season.
Imagine both drivers at Haas – talented, solid performers and consistent point scorers. It would inject fresh energy into a struggling team.
Alfa-Romeo could be another possibility but it is likely that Mick Schumacher will secure one of their seats on the back of his displays in this year’s F2 Championship.
Some believe Red Bull should sign Hulkenberg in place of Alex Albon. The Thai driver is still their priority, but needs to improve drastically to ensure his seat is safe.
Nevertheless, F1 is a gruelling sport and with only 20 seats to go around, some quality drivers are inevitably left disappointed when contracts are not renewed.
Performances like Sunday will only increase speculation about a potential return for Hulkenberg. Every team is in need of a reliable and consistent driver, and his laidback-yet-driven nature fits the brief for any ambitious midfield side.
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