Nico Hülkenberg is convinced F1's new era this season will deliver "pretty damn fast" racing with cars unlikely to be as slow as initially forecast.
Hülkenberg has not driven in F1 on a full-time basis since 2019 after being dropped by Renault, although competed in two grands prix with Racing Point in 2020, while last year served as reserve with Aston Martin.
The latter role allowed the German driver a taster of what to expect this season via simulator runs of the 2022 cars that have been heavily modified aerodynamically in a bid to hopefully provide closer racing.
The suggestion so far is the cars will be a few seconds slower initially but Hülkenberg believes their pace may prove surprising, with "the drivers' skills and talent...to gain more importance again".
Focusing on the lack of 'dirty air' for one car following another, via a column on LinkedIn entitled the 'Hulk Report', he said: "They [F1] aimed [for the car] to be a bit slower, more challenging to drive, to have more focus on drivers that can make a difference rather than car performance and aerodynamics dominate.
"From my initial experience, however, the new cars are pretty damn fast and not necessarily slower than the last generation. The driving experience hasn't changed that much either, at least in the simulator.
"It will be very interesting to see whether these cars can really follow the car in front better.
"In the simulator, the cornering speeds are extremely high, so the risk of 'dirty air' is still given and it´s difficult for me to imagine that following another car comfortably at these speeds will be easy.
"Anyhow, I hope we will [be] positively surprised. Once pre-season testing starts, drivers and teams will find out how the cars really behave on track."
Hülkenberg is not expecting too much change to the pecking order despite teams at the rear of the grid expressing hope that with a clean sheet of paper there will be shifts across the field.
"I'm also looking forward to seeing which team and driver get off to the best start," added Hülkenberg.
"This is where the wheat will be separated from the chaff, and it's the guys who learn quickly, adapt quickly and adjust well to new conditions who will be right at the front initially.
"Later in the year, things can change because it will be a huge learning curve for everybody involved. The development race teams are in will move the order in such a long season.
"It`s too early for predictions although I would be very surprised if the top teams from previous years will not be near the front."
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