Why Magnussen’s Haas comeback has been microcosm of F1 career

Why Magnussen’s Haas comeback has been microcosm of F1 career


Kevin Magnussen is not the first, and won’t be the last driver to firmly miss the Formula 1 bug after his unexpected comeback ahead of the 2022 season.

Having lost his seat at the end of a difficult 2020 season for the team where he scored just one point in Hungary, Magnussen had agreed a deal to race in the World Endurance Championship with Peugeot – and was gearing up for this in February 2022.

But then Russia invaded Ukraine and the position of Haas’s Nikita Mazepin with his Russian money that had links to President Vladimir Putin, quickly became untenable: he was let go and the sponsorship was cancelled.

This placed then-boss Guenther Steiner in a pickle as he needed an experienced, capable set of hands at short notice – and decided upon Magnussen who extracted himself from his WEC deal for a third shot at F1.

Remarkably, he finished fifth on his return in Bahrain, although this was helped by the two late retirements of the Red Bulls and became a consistent midfield points scorer, racking up nine hauls across the year for a respectable 25 points.

This provided Haas with a crumb of respectability after it effectively wrote off 2020 and 2021 to prepare for ground effects, and who could never forget the celebrations in Sao Paulo as the Dane posted his Q3 lap time just before a red flag and downpour to secure pole position?

Statisticians will forever argue that Magnussen did not take pole for the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix, as although he won qualifying, under the Sprint format in use at the time, this P1 on the grid was only for the Sprint race.

He would start the actual race eighth with George Russell at the front but the records books will forever mark Magnussen as the pole-sitter.

That final boost provided a stable platform for Haas to kick on in 2023, but it never happened and Magnussen cut a frustrated figure at times, so, has his comeback with Haas been a failure?

Where has it gone wrong?

Two major conditions played against Magnussen in 2023, one of which was not his fault, with the former McLaren and Renault racer being joined by fellow midfield expert Nico Hulkenberg as Mick Schumacher was jettisoned.

Completely outside of Magnussen’s control was the tendency for the Haas VF-23 to lunch through its Pirelli tyres at an alarming rate, something the team could not fully get on top of throughout the year.

In qualifying the ability to fire up the tyres immediately worked well with some strong results for both Magnussen and Hulkenberg such as fourth in Miami for the former and second on the road, in the wet, in Canada for Hulkenberg, or in the wet Austrian Sprint when Hulkenberg was able to make a lightning start before the car was hamstrung by its lack of tyres.

The team did hope that the huge United States upgrade package would be enough to turn its fortunes around, but laying a new aerodynamic package on top of a flawed mechanical base proved too big a challenge, with both drivers growing frustrated and even running split packages across the final two races, with Magnussen taking the newer-spec.

This also feeds into the big problem Magnussen himself had which was the fact that the car just did not respond to his driving style and he wasn’t able to find a style that worked.

There are two distinct ways of taking a corner – the so-called U or V methods, with Magnussen firmly a believer in carrying the minimum speed through the corner which places great demands on the car’s ability to sustain rotation and braking at the same time.

Whereas, the V-style method that Hulkenberg prefers calls for a driver to brake heavily in a straight line, then sharply turn into the corner before flooring the throttle on the way out, was best-suited to the Haas’s characteristics.

Has it been a failure for Magnussen?

Magnussen has realised that whilst being a perfectly respectable midfield Grand Prix driver, he does not quite have the ability to make it to the elite.

He is a known quality and for a team in the midfield like Haas, he is the perfect driver – it is what made him such a perfect yardstick for Schumacher in 2022.

He has also matured and realised that just being in F1 is in itself a reward and seems content with that fact, as does Hulkenberg which makes the pair such a good partnership on paper.

Certainly after the bright start to 2022, Magnussen would have been hoping for a step forward in 2023 rather than the regression shown, and there have been flashes of brilliance.

Take the Bahrain 2022 performance, that Sao Paulo pole or his P10 finish in last season’s Singapore GP to go with his P2 finish on his debut for McLaren back in 2014.

But then there have been major lows and disappointments as the equipment is not quite there for him to deliver.

In the end, Magnussen’s comeback hasn’t been a failure, it’s a microcosm of his F1 career as a whole.


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