Nico Hulkenberg has opened up for the first time on his feelings regarding the departure last month of Haas team principal Guenther Steiner, admitting the news left him very surprised.
Steiner, a key player in bringing Haas to F1 in 2016, stepped down after a challenging 2023 season where the team finished last in the Constructors' Championship for the second time in three years.
The Italian’s outspoken personality – a trait that especially came to light in F1’s popular Netflix docu-series Drive to Survive – made him a fan favorite.
But eponymous team owner Gene Haas ultimately considered that the US outfit’s mediocre results called for a significant change. He therefore opted not to renew Steiner's contract.
Hulkenberg, who returned full-time to Formula 1 in 2023 with Haas after a three-year hiatus, was informed of Steiner’s fate through a phone call with Gene Haas at the end of last year.
"I got a phone call from Gene between Christmas and New Year," Hulkenberg told Sky Sports Germany.
"He informed me of his decision, which was surprising, I didn't expect it and didn't see it coming at all.
"I have spoken to Guenther since several times, and talking to him is always fun. I have a good relationship with him, both professionally and personally - he was the one largely responsible for my comeback.
"He opened the door for me, and partly for that reason, I regret he is gone, but it is Gene Haas's decision, and we will just move on.”
Hulkenberg underscored how Steiner was such a big part of the Haas team’s identity, admitting that his absence has created a void that will need to be filled by his successor, new team principal Ayao Komatsu, albeit with a very different leadership style.
"[Guenther] made such a great contribution to the team commercially, and it is no secret that the Netflix series became such a huge success, partly to him,” added the Hulk.
"We are going to miss him, he built all of this, as Haas was his concept, his business plan and his departure will leave holes we will have to fill - but we have to start rebuilding. That is where our focus is now."
Earlier this month, Haas unveiled its new car, the VF-24, marking a visual departure from its predecessor. Whether this translates to on-track success remains to be seen.
On Sunday at Silverstone, Hulkenberg enjoyed a solid shakedown run onboard Haas' new contender according to the team.
The F1 veteran, partnering once again with Kevin Magnussen at Haas, will be eager to prove himself and contribute to the US outfit's resurgence under its new leadership. That effort will begin on February 21 when pre-season testing kicks off in Bahrain.