What Magnussen needs to fix to retain his Haas F1 seat

Last year’s VF-23 was somewhat peculiar; although it showed great pace in qualifying in Nico Hulkenberg’s control, tyre management issues plagued it in the races. The drivers stated that, to make it to the end on conventional strategies, they had to stop racing the cars around Haas and effectively pin their hopes on the whims of fortune.

This year’s car is a different prospect. The team’s test programme in Bahrain eschewed performance running in a concerted effort to get a grasp of Pirelli’s range of tyre compounds, which has given the team much more presence in the fight over minor points placings.

Once again, however, it’s Hulkenberg who has earned the lion’s share of plaudits. The German has not only found a good balance in qualifying trim but has been able to convert that on occasion into points — vital, given the scarcity of scoring possibilities for the lower-ranked teams this year.

Magnussen, however, has struggled. The Dane has not been able to tap into the same vein of qualifying pace that Hulkenberg seems to find much more easily, and thus his races have been compromised.

His defensive efforts have either been worthy of praise or have tarnished his reputation, depending on who you ask, but it’s fair to say that they’d be a lot less necessary had his qualifying results been up to par.

Even compared to Haas’ leaner years in 2019 and 2023, Magnussen reckons that 2024’s opening third has been the «most frustrating» start to a year he’s ever experienced. When the cars have been poor, Magnussen could be depended upon to roll with the punches; now, even with competitive machinery, he has found it hard to unlock the performance available.

«That’s probably been the most frustrating start to a year I’ve ever had, it just seems like an uphill struggle all the time. It’s not clicking. Hopefully, we can turn things around. We have a strong package. So we’ve got to use it.»

Photo by: Erik Junius

His Monaco crash with Perez aside, Magnussen has also been employed as Hulkenberg’s rear-gunner more than he’d like. He accepted that role, not with particularly great gusto, but nonetheless has not done so with any half-measures.

Helping Hulkenberg build a pitstop window in Jeddah cemented his efficacy in that role, even if Yuki Tsunoda and Alex Albon had their noses put out of joint, and the literal over-the-line defence in Miami has also defined his opening eight races.

He at least has a point to show for his efforts, one scored in Australia as Haas secured its first double-points finish since Austria 2022, Furthermore, he’s outqualified Hulkenberg twice, particularly at the races when Haas didn’t seem to hold much of a candle over one lap.

Yet, he’s also been eliminated in Q1 four times and has yet to make it to the final stage once — something Hulkenberg has achieved on four occasions in 2024.

Magnussen refuses to put this down to luck. He is aware that there is something within himself halting progress, something for which he seeks an answer.

«I hate stating bad luck because it’s a lot of times you have something to say and even though things aren’t going your way and you feel like you’re not getting lucky, then you kind of have that as an excuse.

«We’ve just got to keep our heads cool, and stay positive about the strong package that we have — and try to have it click.»

If qualifying is the main issue, then let’s look at the differences between the two Haas drivers. China and Miami are the two glaring examples here, as both featured Hulkenberg bursting onto the Q3 scene and Magnussen toiling in a failed effort to get out of Q1.

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Up for scrutiny is their Q1 deltas, and there are small differences between their respective approaches. In China, Hulkenberg used lower gears to take the low-speed Turns 6 and 11 to get better acceleration out of the corner, and his throttle modulation through Turns 7 and 8 — both on the approach and in the corner transition — was a case of losing time in one section to gain more elsewhere. There seems to be a much bigger-picture approach from Hulkenberg over a single lap.

Magnussen is less consistent. He spent most of his Miami Q1 lap up on Hulkenberg’s delta, carrying more speed through Turns 6-7-8, although lost most of it through his upshifts. The slow-speed underpass section was neck-and-neck; Hulkenberg gained time, but this time his team-mate dropped down a gear to get a better exit from Turn 16. Instead, it was all lost in the final corners as Magnussen overcooked his braking point, losing him almost 0.3s in the process.

If Magnussen could put it all together, he’d be on Hulkenberg’s pace without question. He’s better at carrying more speed through corners, but that fearlessness comes back to bite him too often — and it is isolated errors that cost time rather than an outright lack of pace. Perhaps there’s a disconnect between driver and car, or perhaps it’s one pushing the other too far beyond its bounds.

The unsentimental nature of F1 means that, as Magnussen feels the pressure to find a solution, further pressure is placed upon him as a wild driver market ratchets up in intensity. It is known that Haas is considering Esteban Ocon for a seat in 2025, while Oliver Bearman is likely up for the other seat which will be vacated by Hulkenberg next year.

To ward off the threat of Ocon and demonstrate to Haas that he remains the right driver for the role, Magnussen needs to make a breakthrough. The best time for that, as ever, was yesterday; the upcoming Canadian Grand Prix is the next best opportunity. Trouble is, he’s only ever scored once at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: in 2014, when he finished ninth for McLaren.

Magnussen at least has continuity in his favour, something that Haas has largely valued in its F1 tenure. If he starts matching Hulkenberg in making Q3 appearances and consistently knocking on the door of the top 10, all while managing his racecraft to ensure he doesn’t risk a ban owing to the 10 points on his licence, he’ll put himself in a much better position.

It won’t be easy, but it’ll be the difference between racing in F1 in 2025 and looking elsewhere to continue his racing career.

Watch: Canadian GP Race Preview — Who Will Master Montreal?

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