Fresh from another two-race stint as Aston Martin super-sub. Nico Hulkenberg admitted that his recall to active Formula 1 duty would inevitably have consequences for the man he temporarily replaced on the grid.
Sebastian Vettel returned a positive coronavirus test just days before the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first race of the 2022 world championship. He was still not back to full health in time to take part in the Saudi Arabian race a week later.
Vettel has now returned a negative COVID test and will be back in action for the third race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, meaning that Hulkenberg will return to reserve status for the team.
With no prior experience of racing the AMR22 - and with this year's cars substantially changed under new rules and regulations introduced over the winter - Hulkenberg scored no points in his two outings, finishing 17th in Bahrain..
He did finish ahead of team mate Lance Stroll in Jeddah in 12th place, but that was after the Canadian had a late collision with the Williams of Alex Albon. He admitted afterwards that the new car had taken some getting used to.
He pointed out this week that having missed out on the experience of the first two races, Vettel would now inevitably be behind Aston's rivals and playing catch-up over the next few outings.
“Obviously he’s lacking those two races so he will start a little bit on the back foot,” said Hulkenberg. "But I think, you know, he’s very skilled [and] very talented.
“I think he’s capable of catching up," he added. "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 is one of only two teams not to have scored points so far in 2022, along with Williams. Both squads appear to have fallen back over the winter, in common with their Mercedes-powered team mates.
As well as Vettel's COVID crisis, Aston has also been set back by major changes to the team's structure at the start of the year with the exit of team principal Otmar Szafnauer.
Prior to his resignation, Szafnauer had guided the team's rise through its various incarnations as Force India and Racing Point. He has since been replaced by Mike Krack reporting to team owner Lawrence Stroll, father of driver Lance.