Nico Hulkenberg made an unexpected return to Formula One on Friday, stepping in at Racing Point after Sergio Perez tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of the British Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 32-year-old Hulkenberg lost his seat at Renault for this season so was available when Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer made the call.
The German was immediately back in action for the first time since November, driving in first practice on Friday at Silverstone, where no fans are attending due to the pandemic restrictions.
“I was on my way to the Nürburgring for another racing project when the call from Otmar came,” Hulkenberg said. “That was less than 24 hours ago, so it feels a bit surreal for me right now, but I like a good challenge and this is certainly one.
“It’s obviously a difficult situation for Racing Point and Checo. He’s a buddy of mine, an old teammate and I wish him a speedy recovery. I’ll step in and try do the best I can for the team."
It will be Hulkenberg's 178th Grand Prix.
“Having to find a replacement for Sergio at short notice is no easy task," Szafnauer said, "but in Nico we’ve got a fantastic supersub who the team knows very well. He’s certainly being thrown in at the deep end, but he’s a fast learner and I’m sure he will get up to speed quickly.”
Perez believes he picked up the virus on a trip home to Mexico between the Hungarian and British races to visit his mother after she had an accident.
He tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and has to go into isolation which should also rule him out of the following weekend's additional race at Silverstone.
“I’m extremely sad — definitely one of the saddest days in my career," Perez said. “The amount of preparation we put into this weekend to be 100% ready, I knew I had a great car underneath me, that the team had done a fantastic job."
Reporting no symptoms of the virus, Perez said it was a reminder how vulnerable everyone is to becoming infected.
“After Hungary I took a private plane to Mexico to see my mum for two days because she had a big accident. So as soon as she left hospital I was able to see her," he said. “Then I came back to Europe, same way, with all the protocols in place. And I just got it, I don’t know from where."