The German was called up as a last-minute replacement for the unwell Lance Stroll, who was taken ill on Friday night and could not compete.
Hulkenberg, who had been having a coffee with friends in Germany on Saturday morning when he got a phone call from Racing Point, had to dash to the circuit and only got to drive for the first time in qualifying.
The lack of running left him qualifying last, but he drove strongly in the race to stay out of trouble, move up the order and came home in an impressive eighth place.
Speaking afterwards, he said his only mistake was in not putting the car in the right mode for the start of the race.
Asked about some frantic changes being made on his steering wheel off the line, and whether it was normal, Hulkenberg told Sky: "No, that's not normal. I was in the wrong engine mode.
"Usually, after the burnouts, you go into the run position, but it's two positions [on the dial]. And after the burnouts I just did one, so I was in a kind of no energy mode.
"I noticed and I had to flip it quickly. It didn't cost me anything, but it was just not a great start, not a great drive out!"
Despite that initial error, Hulkenberg drove with great maturity to avoid trouble and pull off some good overtaking moves on his push up the order.
"It was all very busy with people locking up wheels," he explained. "We said before the race that I want to stay well out of trouble and just stay away.
"Obviously you don't want the race to end on lap one, before it has even started, because we knew we have a decent race car underneath us and I was very cautious along the way."
While Hulkenberg's appearance was his third call-up by Racing Point this year, after Sergio Perez was sidelined by coronavirus at Silverstone, the German is unsure about what his next steps with the team will be.
"I don't know what happens from here on," he said. "I guess you just have to be ready in a way. It will be nice if we have some preparation time and take part in the weekend from an earlier stage."
Asked if it would make sense for him to turn up at each race just in case there was a chance he was needed, Hulkenberg said: "Not sure, if there's no real racing going on, maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe we need to think it through a bit more. Let's see."