Racing Point’s Nico Hulkenberg admits he “didn’t expect” to qualify third for Formula 1’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix in just his second race outing since making an unlikely return to the grid.

Hulkenberg - who is once again deputising for Sergio Perez after the Mexican tested positive for COVID-19 and has been forced to miss both races at Silverstone - starred in qualifying to outpace Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and seal third place on the grid.

The German survived a wide moment in Q2 when he ran wide at Chapel on his first flying lap of the session to progress into the top-10 shootout, before turning in a stunning performance in Q3.

“A crazy last seven eight days or whatever it is now," Hulkenberg said.

“Last week the high to come back, and then the low on Sunday, so very extreme. This weekend I felt much better obviously, in the car, much more prepared.

“I was trying to squeeze everything out of the car, the tyres, myself – which is also a challenge this weekend! And yeah, quite happy to be here.

“Quali was still tricky. In Q2 I made life hard for myself a bit and was scared I damaged the car. And then Q3 it was head down, full beans, whatever I had. A bit surprised to be honest to stand here but obviously a big smile on my face.

“We had always good one lap pace this weekend,” he added. “I was pretty confident we could make it into the top 10. But to be third, I didn't really expect that.

“And also, I couldn’t really think too much about it to be honest. So of course a bit of a surprise, but for today, a nice one to take.”

But the 32-year-old fears race rustiness could hamper his chances of claiming a long-awaited maiden F1 podium after he was unable to take the start at last weekend’s British Grand Prix, meaning that his last grand prix outing remains the 2019 season finale in Abu Dhabi.

“That’s definitely going to hurt tomorrow, not having last week’s experience and not having gone through the motions there with the start and everything,” he explained. “Because it’s still new with this car. We’ll do what we can, I’ll try to learn fast and to keep the car where it deserves to be.

“It’s very challenging and difficult circumstances. But I know I have a fast car beneath me. So it’s just trying to make sure to do everything right.

“The start and lap one, it’s going to be also new for me, but I’ll just try to get it right with all the experience that I have. And then we’ll race.

“I’m a couple of races behind the other guys but I still remember what it feels like. I’ll just trying not to think too much, just keep my head down and have a good race tomorrow.”

 

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