Nico Hulkenberg says he cut through his tires like a “knife through butter” after his Haas Formula 1 car suffered front wing damage at the start of the Bahrain GP.
Hulkenberg was fast throughout practice on his full-time return, finishing FP2 in an encouraging fifth place.
After reaching Q3, he finally qualified 10th.
However, he dropped to 14th on the first lap after contact with Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, signaling to the team: “Possible contact at the front, but I’m not sure.”
As engineers checked the data, he added: “There was a bit of a knock, but it’s fine now.”
The team opted not to replace the nose during Hulkenberg’s first pit stop. However, with his handling deteriorating and his tires suffering, he did so on his second pit stop on lap 26.
This gave the German a more competitive car for the final 30 laps, but by then he was out of contention for the points.
He finished an unrepresentative 15th, having also picked up two track limit penalties which added 15 seconds to his race time but did not impact his position.
“A tricky race, especially the first half,” said Hulkenberg. “Apparently I had contact with someone in turn 1 or turn 2 on the first lap, which I didn’t even really notice.
“I was trying, I was a bit stuck in turn 1, I was trying to avoid everyone, but apparently there was contact and therefore some damage which was very compromising for my race because I I lost a lot of downforce. It’s like going into battle but without weapons!
“So it’s a bit frustrating and I think I was missing a lot of stuff on the front wing and I lost a lot of load with that, and grip of course.
“It made the first half of the race very, very tough. I was going through my tires like a hot knife through butter.
“I think halfway through the race we decided there was no point in continuing like this, so I went with a new front wing. Vicious cycle then, lots of blue flags, it just rolled back to from there.”
Nico Hulkenberg, Haas F1 Team, on the grid
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Hulkenberg pointed out that the damage compromised any lessons he could have learned by covering race distance with the car.
“Hard to say because the first half is so blurry for me now,” he said of all he learned. “It was just survival, to be honest, and then very difficult.
“I was racing with a damaged car, which had a lot less downforce than it should have had with a healthy car.
“I was very relieved when we tested it for the new front wing, and the car suddenly went back to normal. But by then I had already lost so much ground that it was hard to recover.
“So the first half doesn’t have much to learn because it wasn’t the real car. The second half of the race for sure I take my lessons from there. Which is for me , my feeling, my discoveries and my emotions about it, and I will process them and regroup in two weeks.
Asked what it was like to be back on the grid, he said: “I’m very happy to be honest. It’s a known feeling. It’s exciting. It’s the start of a long year. , of a long season.
“Obviously Saturday was very good, Sunday it was not too good. But we take discoveries and learnings.
“And I expected not everything to be great from the start. It’s always a steep learning curve, and learn as you go.
“Of course in detail there are differences, but at the end of the day a grand prix is still 300kms, the cars are always fast, always starting with 110kgs. So it’s different, but it’s not is not so different either.”