Heading into his first race weekend as a full-time Formula 1 driver since 2019, Nico Hulkenberg was showing no signs of any rust or cobwebs as he confidently made his way through to the final round of qualifying in Bahrain on Saturday.
The 35-year-old German driver was in the top ten in all three rounds of the evening session, delivering on the promise of his fifth place at the end of Friday's practice sessions.
"I think Nico did a fantastic job on his comeback," said Haas F1 Team principal Guenther Steiner after the end of qualifying.
Hulkenberg will start from tenth place on the grid on Sunday, after his one flying lap in the final top ten pole shoot-out round was deleted for exceeding track limits. Up to then it had been the sixth fastest time of Q3.
However by the end of the session, the deleted time of 1:31.055s was slower than the time set by Alpine's Esteban Ocon who will start just ahead of Hulkenberg in P9.
"It was not perfect in Q3 unfortunately," Hulkenberg said. "But I’m not going to let that ruin my day and my mood. I think that was pretty decent.
“What do you think? What do you say? I think it’s alright," he joked with the media. "Pretty happy with how I was able to produce and deliver the laps."
Asked what he thought he would be able to do from P10 when the race gets underway tomorrow, Hulkenberg said: “I think we saw already yesterday that over one lap we’re in a pretty decent spot and quite competitive.
"But the real test will come tomorrow," he pointed out. "So, yeah, big focus and emphasis on tomorrow. I expect a really tough battle, tough race. I’m excited, looking forward to it.”
Hulkenberg's success on his maiden outing for Haas was balanced by disappointment on the other side of the garage for team mate Kevin Magnussen, who failed to make the cut at the end of Q1.
"We got traffic on the last corner on the second run," reported the Dane, who will start Sunday's race from 17th place on the grid. "It was so close, the whole field was bunched up.
"You lose a little bit and it’s game over," he sighed. "A little bit unfortunate, but the race is tomorrow so we’ll try and do better there."
“It’s okay. There’s still stuff to work on, but it’s the first race so it’s only natural. Tomorrow we’ll see how we do in the race."
"Today was not his day but he knows what he can do and he’s upbeat about what the car is doing," commented Steiner when asked about Magnussen's early exit from qualifying. "Tomorrow is another day for him to score points.
"[Overall] the whole team did a fantastic job and all the work that was put in last year and over winter to make and develop this car has come to fruition, so well done to everybody.”