Formula 1’s super sub Nico Hulkenberg rightly grabbed the headlines for his stunning qualifying display as he claimed a surprise third place for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. 

Hulkenberg’s starring qualifying performance at Silverstone was a timely-reminder of his abilities and one that will have certainly boosted his prospects of fulfilling his target of returning to the F1 grid on a full-time basis for 2021. 

It’s been a remarkable week or so for Hulkenberg, who, having been replaced at Renault by Esteban Ocon for 2020 and failing to secure a seat elsewhere on the grid, was sitting at home with no F1 drive just 10 days ago. 

That was before he received an unexpected call from Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer when it was confirmed that Sergio Perez had become the first F1 driver to have contracted COVID-19, opening an unlikely last-minute door for the 32-year-old German to make a comeback.

With Perez ruled out of the British Grand Prix, and still not clear of the virus in time to return for this weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix - also at Silverstone - Hulkenberg was drafted in to substitute for the Mexican. 

A technical issue before last weekend’s British Grand Prix robbed Hulkenberg of the chance to make his first F1 start since the 2019 season finale in Abu Dhabi

But Hulkenberg bounced back from the disappointment in resounding style, and with a near-full weekend’s preparation behind him, was able to take a brilliant P3 on the grid - something he conceded he “didn’t expect” after surviving a wide moment at Chapel during Q2. 

Hulkenberg now finds himself in a strong position to potentially claim a long-awaited maiden podium finish in F1, something that was an unimaginable prospect a matter of days ago. 

After being considered the best driver never to finish on the F1 rostrum, Hulkenberg has a golden opportunity to complete a fairytale storyline and alter his legacy in the sport. 

Whether a podium continues to evade Hulkenberg or not, he has strengthened his prospects of potentially securing a drive for next season. 

Asked if he feels he has boosted his chances of landing a seat for next year, Hulkenberg replied: “Well it's only Saturday, there's always Sunday which obviously that matters most.

"It's definitely one of those nice little highlights, but it's no time to cheer yet, because tomorrow is the big day.”

A lack of remaining seats on the 2021 grid may prove to be Hulkenberg’s biggest hurdle, though he revealed on Thursday that he has already started talks with a number of teams in the paddock.

The most likely landing spots appear to be at Alfa Romeo and Haas, while Alex Albon’s struggles could potentially open a door at Red Bull, though in all reality such a move would be incredibly left-field given the team’s stance on promoting from within. 

Perhaps one option for Hulkenberg could end up being the team he currently finds himself at when it rebrands to Aston Martin for next year. 

Hulkenberg knows the team well from his days at Force India and has convincingly out-performed regular Lance Stroll so far this weekend.

Might he have just made it a four-way tussle for two seats along with Sebastian Vettel and the two drivers Racing Point already has under contract? 

Delivering Racing Point’s first podium of the season on Sunday might just thrust him into contention for a return to Silverstone…

Bottas fights back in style 

After seeing his title hopes take a huge blow when he haemorrhaged 25 points to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton after his tyre failed while running a comfortable second at the British Grand Prix, Bottas admitted he would now need to maximise every opportunity if he was to have any chance of beating Hamilton to the 2020 crown. 

Coming into the second consecutive race at Silverstone, Bottas has put himself in prime position to do just that at the first attempt by beating Hamilton to pole position for F1’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. 

Small margins could make the difference in an unpredictable year that has already been massively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the dominant Mercedes drivers were separated by just 0.063 in qualifying, this time in Bottas’ favour. 

Bottas has somewhat stalled Hamilton’s recent momentum by ending the Briton’s streak of three straight F1 poles, and he can go further with a first victory since the season-opener in Austria on Sunday. 

"It feels good,” Bottas concluded after scoring the 13th pole of his career. “We made good steps on the set-up from last weekend, that's why the qualifying performance was better. Amazing car to drive. It's so quick. 

"Of course mentally when you are starting from pole, you can only aim to win. The pace is there. First job is to get off the line, and the mentality is to try to win it. That's it."

Ricciardo and Gasly also impress 

Hulkenberg was not the only star of qualifying, as Daniel Ricciardo put in an equally impressive performance to take fifth on Medium tyres, highlighting Renault’s recent improvements after upgrades were introduced to the car last weekend. 

The Australian was just a tenth shy of outpacing former Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, while he got the better of Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, both Ferraris and the second Red Bull of Alex Albon. 

Meanwhile, Pierre Gasly continued his strong recent form to place his AlphaTauri in seventh, ahead of both Ferraris and the under-pressure Albon, the man who replaced the Frenchman at Red Bull last year. 

Gasly was a full 1.4s faster than teammate Daniil Kvyat, who was knocked out in Q1 after seeing his best lap time deleted for track limits.

 

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