Tom McCullough talks about Nico Hulkenberg being part of Aston Martin family and how he has developed over the years at Williams.
Following his signing by Haas to replace Mick Schumacher, Hulkenberg will
make a full-time return to the F1 grid in 2023. The German driver has not competed frequently in the sport since getting dropped by Renault over the past three
He has occasionally filled in for injured Racing Point/Aston Martin drivers having joined as the team’s reserve driver. McCullough, the director of British team car development,
appreciated how well Hulkenberg managed to do his work despite limited time in the car. Even in 2022, he was rushed to replace Sebastian Vettel in the first two races.
“He was thrown right in at the deep end at a time that we were scratching our heads a bit with a car,” recalled McCullough regarding Hulkenberg stepping in late. “He obviously turned up in Bahrain, you have to remind me now, just straight into FP3, I think. And not a lot of time, seat fit, compromises, straight in there. He’s a very talented, naturally gifted driver.
“You put him in a qualifying or a race situation and ask him to go extract the most out of the car, he’s pretty good at doing that, whatever he drives and has driven over the years. So yeah, I’m sure he’ll tell you himself, his neck was a bit sore at the end. I think going to Jeddah was an interesting track when you’ve never driven at it before, especially at that time, when we were still struggling a bit with the porpoising thing and you’ve got some grip-limited corners at 280 kilometres an hour with a wall either side of you.
“I think his eyes were on springs a bit. But he is a class act. He’s very talented. He’s got solid experience. And that helps him jump in a car and drive quickly,” summed up Aston Martin technical chief. Hulkenberg has competed in 181 F1 races and has never finished on the podium, but he does have a pole position and two fastest laps in midfield cars.
Additionally, he was part of the Porsche team that won the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. His relation with McCullough is not new as the two did work together back at Williams especially when Hulkenberg was racing as a junior driver in the feeder series. The Brit knew the quick driver he has been from then till now.
“Back in the Williams days, when he was actually racing in Formula 3 and I
was a test engineer and working on the young driver development programme,” said McCullough. “I followed him through Formula 2 and then through Formula 2, and then all his testing and ultimately race engineered him at Williams, as well.
“Our paths have crossed several times over the years. One thing he’s always been able to do is drive very quickly right to the peak of a rear slip angle, really natural car control, whether it’s in the wet, low grip, he straightaway can go to where the grip is. Over the years, he learned how to get on top of the Pirelli tires, which I think frustrated him a bit at the start. He’s a driver who just wants to drive fast.
“You spend half your time trying to slow him down. In the earlier, higher degradation era of the Pirelli tires he had to get on top of that. I think working alongside Checo, the two of them helped each other I think with strengths and weaknesses. And, yeah, with experience, he learned how to handle race weekends well, you know.
“When he stepped back in our Aston Martin car, in particular in 2020, having never driven and you put him at somewhere like Silverstone, which has got low-, medium-, high-speed corners and he qualifies up at the front. You know, he’s just a class act and a really solid driver,” summed up McCullough.
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The story was co-written by Utsav Choudhary