With a completely white helmet on his head, Nico Hulkenberg had his first official day of service with Haas on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi – the team for which he will be a regular driver in the 2023 Formula 1 season.
On the Yas Marina Circuit, Hülkenberg completed 110 laps during the Pirelli tire test. And that despite the fact that he had lost some track time in the morning due to a defect in the Ferrari drive unit.
Hülkenberg was not concerned with lap times in his Haas debut. He doesn’t pay any attention to his 19th place in the time table with 24 drivers. For the Formula 1 returnee, after a three-month break, other things were in the foreground, such as getting used to the new car for him, the VF-22, but also to the Haas team as a whole.
In the interview, Hülkenberg talks about what he noticed on his first day in the Haas cockpit, to what extent it was a change coming from Aston Martin, and what he is going to do in the coming weeks and months up to the 2023 season opener.
Nico, how would you summarize the day?
Nico Hulkenberg: It was a good day with lots of work and lots of laps. We collected a lot of impressions and a lot of data. That was the goal and we have completed this program successfully. The next few weeks will be all about analyzing everything together with the team. All in all, I’m happy with the day.”
What surprised you today and what less?
Nothing surprised me at all.
After a break of several months, you did a lot of laps straight away. How was it for you physically?
You can feel it naturally, not only in the neck but in the 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 was better than I thought. That’s good, but I still have three months of hardcore preparation ahead of me.
Do you already know what you have to do specifically in these three months to be top fit for the season opener?
Of course it’s good to have been reminded again how intensively these cars are to be driven. On top of that there are the races, the competition, and that’s a completely different story. But I have a plan and I know what I have to do.
Compared to a race weekend, how much can you learn on a test day like this?
My last test day before this was in August. That’s three months ago. But the format is of course different [als am Rennwochenende]. You drive a lot more laps at a time. Today it was also largely about getting to know the tires for 2023 and their characteristics. So the approach is of course different. Basically, you just have a lot more opportunities to try things out on test days. There’s not much you can do in an hour-long FT1 session.
How difficult was the transition from the Aston Martin to the Haas?
Not really. I think I adjusted to it quite quickly and felt comfortable from an early stage. You can tell that it’s a different car as soon as you start the engine. Every drive unit is different, but I quickly got used to it.
Have you already identified any weak points in the car? And can you already say what you want from the car?
The team has of course worked with this car for a whole year and therefore knows it very well. Drivers get used to a car very quickly, sometimes in a single day. Of course it’s good to hear new impressions and new opinions. For me it was about getting a first impression. I wanted to feel the car and give it a few laps. Of course, all the standard processes are also important. 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 obscure because firstly you drove a new car and secondly it was months ago that you sat in a Formula 1 car at all?
Feedback on the new tires today? Well, of course I give what I feel as feedback. The tires are what they are. And with the car we had today, we recognized certain things. That can be good or bad. Basically, it’s all about the details. It’s not like we [bezüglich der 2023er-Reifen] would speak of another world.
After a full day’s work with the team, do you already feel a little more like you’ll be a full-time rider again next year?
Yes. I felt the same way yesterday when we had the seat adjustments, all the preparation in general, then the meetings with the engineers, the media appointments and so on. So this feeling came up yesterday. But I like it, it’s great.
Can you already make statements about detailed changes to the car that specifically affect you?
First and foremost, it was all about the basics. Once you’ve determined that, you can start. You can initiate the next steps for the next year, so that you don’t waste any more time and can focus directly on the performance.
What exactly needs to be adjusted for you?
I’m a tall guy. So everything has to be adjusted for me.
Does that also include things like the display on the steering wheel or the steering wheel in general?
Here and there for sure. Of course, if you’ve worked for several teams, you have some experience of what works well in certain situations and what might not. You have certain preferences and of course you want to have them transferred, if this is technically possible. So there are of course 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 also feel that on the track 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 the operational area is concerned, they are all on a comparable level. So you don’t feel any difference there.
Do you think that you can also use your experience from other teams in areas off the track, such as in the meetings with the engineers?
Well, obviously I haven’t spent a lot of time off the track with this team. I think after just one day it’s too early to judge such things. The processes for meetings are more or less similar for all teams. From what I’ve heard so far, I can’t see any problem or lack of anything.
The regular Haas drivers have repeatedly emphasized the good balance of the car this year. Could you already feel them?
Apart from the first two hours it was very hot today. By that I mean above all the track temperature. Of course, that makes it much more difficult for a car and also for the tires from the outset. I haven’t found the absolute sweet spot yet. I’ve pushed my limits here and there, but to be honest, that wasn’t a surprise.
Lap times were certainly not your priority today, were they?
It wasn’t about lap times today, but about the basics. The main thing today was that I feel 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 in order to become faster. Next year’s car will of course be redesigned from the ground up. That’s why it’s all the more important that the basis is right.”