Sebastian Vettel will “need to dig a little bit deeper” to make up for lost time this season says his Aston Martin stand-in, Nico Hulkenberg.
The four-time former World Champion has missed the first two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia after testing positive for Covid-19.
In Vettel’s absence, his fellow 34-year-old German – and junior by 47 days – Hulkenberg has deputised, finishing 17th and 12th respectively.
Although he described himself after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as “the old rusty guy”, The Hulk’s results were more down to the car’s lack of competitiveness than his own driving.
Aston Martin remain one of two teams, the other being Williams, yet to have scored a point this year, with Lance Stroll not having fared appreciably better than Hulkenberg.
The team have confirmed Vettel will be back in the car for the next race, the Australian Grand Prix, and Hulkenberg thinks his compatriot has his work cut out with an AMR22 that needs plenty of improvement in order to achieve significantly better results.
“Obviously he’s lacking those two races so he will start a little bit on the back foot,” said Hulkenberg, quoted by Motorsport Week. “But I think, you know, he’s very skilled, very talented.
“I think he’s capable of catching up, but for sure he has a bit more work to do and he needs to dig a little bit deeper to try and make up for it.”
Aston Martin revealed that although Vettel had not returned a negative Covid-19 test result in time to travel to Jeddah, he had still been “virtually present” in trying to help the team.
“He was virtually present at all meetings and gave us advice,” said team principal Mike Krack, who succeeded Otmar Szafnauer during the winter with his predecessor now occupying the same role at Alpine.
“We hoped until the end he might be able to drive after all. But there comes a point when you run out of time. We had to make a decision.
“And since Sebastian wasn’t ready, we chose Nico.”
While Aston Martin had not shared any information regarding Vettel’s health other than to say he had tested positive, Hulkenberg says his compatriot had been ill with the virus.
“We were in constant contact,” he said. “He was pretty battered.”
Vettel appeared twice on the podium during his first season with Aston Martin, but had his second-placed finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix taken away after the race as insufficient of a fuel sample could be extracted from his car.
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