Tom McCullough has heaped praise on Nico Hülkenberg following his departure from the Aston Martin Aramco Cognziant Formula 1 Team, feeling the German is a ‘very talented’ driver and a ‘class act’ behind the steering wheel.
For the first time since 2019, Hülkenberg will return to full-time racing in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship after being picked up by the MoneyGram Haas F1 Team to replace Mick Schumacher.
Since 2020, he has been a reserve driver for both the Racing Point Formula 1 Team and then Aston Martin, with Hülkenberg having been required to jump into race weekends on five occasions due to drivers coming down with COVID-19.
He competed in three races in 2020 for Racing Point, replacing Sergio Pérez for the British and 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone and then Lance Stroll for the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, and two races for Aston Martin in 2022, racing Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
McCullough, the Performance Director at Aston Martin, says Hülkenberg’s ability to just jump into a car that he had next to no experience of driving and perform strongly is a great attribute, and he has been an asset to the team because of this ability.
“He was thrown right in at the deep end at a time that we were scratching our heads a bit with a car,” McCullough is quoted as saying by RacingNews365.com. “He obviously turned up in Bahrain, just straight into FP3, I think. [There was] 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, [and] he’s pretty good at doing that, whatever he drives and has driven over the years.
“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.”
McCullough says Hülkenberg has always had ‘natural car control’, and he has always been a driver who has wanted to drive fast, something he wasn’t able to do early on as he adapted to Pirelli tyres.
“One thing he’s always been able to do is drive very quickly right to the peak of a rear slip angle. [He has] really natural car control,” added McCullough. “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 tyres, he had to get on top of that.”
McCullough says that Hülkenberg learned how to handle race weekends well, and when he was called upon last minute, as he was back at Silverstone in 2020, he was able to perform straight out of the box and put the car towards the front of the field.
“With experience, he learned how to handle race weekends well,” he said. “When he stepped back in our car, in particular in 2020, having never driven [it] and you put him at somewhere like Silverstone, which has got low-, medium-, high-speed corners and he qualifies up at the front…
“He’s just a class act and a really solid driver.”