until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The F1 team that's no longer a 2025 last resort

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

Just a handful of months ago, there was a very strong case to be made that Haas had in its possession the least desirable driver vacancies in Formula 1. In fact, there was arguably no case for it being any other team but Haas - not Sauber, with its Audi reinforcements; not RB, with its dangled carrot of a dream Red Bull promotion; not Williams, with its apparent upward mobility under James Vowles.

Haas had none of those things, but instead only a five-years-and-counting streak of finishing no higher than eighth in the constructors' standings, a 2023 car that was making its drivers look bad on Sundays, and serious question marks over whether the owner was investing enough for the team to actually accomplish things in F1.

It was telling, after all, that the team's two most recent driver acquisitions were two F1 veterans who had been out of the championship entirely. It was in keeping with Haas's driver policy, yes, but also a demonstration that the team wasn't really able to attract talent already on the grid - as it had done by poaching Romain Grosjean from Lotus/Renault/Enstone at the start of its F1 journey.

Now, a few races into the new F1 season, there are still obvious limits to Haas's appeal - but it is also clearly wider. However much of the credit for the much improved 2024 car is split between Guenther Steiner's previous regime and Ayao Komatsu's current one, an upturn in performance simultaneous to Komatsu's breath-of-fresh-air impact will help drivers buy into Haas as a tangible option.

Kevin Magnussen's current under-pressure position serves as indirect evidence of that. Under last year's status quo, the departure of Nico Hulkenberg felt like something that would make Magnussen's seat off-limits - yet as of the Miami Grand Prix this is clearly not the case.

The Hulkenberg-shaped hole brought on by his impending Audi/Sauber switch is widely expected to be filled by Ferrari protege Ollie Bearman, which means Haas would be prudent to seek experience on the other side of the garage - and would almost certainly mandate it.

But the team that failed in its pursuit of the out-of-a-job Daniel Ricciardo for 2023 may now have more to offer to drivers in his kind of position (or even more credible on recent form).

That case was actually made quite well by none other than Hulkenberg, despite his decision to leave. When asked by The Race in Miami whether Haas never had a real chance in competing for his services against Sauber given the weight of Audi's backing, Hulkenberg gave an elaborate answer: "As you say, the comparison is maybe not the best one direct - but it's one of the 10 teams on the grid. For sure I was thinking about that too.

"I was speaking to Ayao, weeks and weeks ago, and telling him, 'Look, there's quite a lot of movement on the driver market, but one scenario is also I could imagine to stay'. There were also talks here in parallel, for sure.

"For me, it's having been here now a year and this one quarter of a season, I feel very happy here. And they [Haas] were also the team that gave me the chance of a comeback, that obviously also carries some importance. [There's] appreciation from my side towards the team.

"Like in the Force India days here as well, you're in a small team, the underdog team, but it's quite cool to set those highlights, to have good results. It's a different feeling compared to works teams, like Renault. Here, they celebrate those little moments much more, and it's kind of a nice, cool environment. A happy, good environment.

"We're always pushing for more - but it's a bit different. But that's why. It was parallel discussions but then ultimately decided to turn left instead of right."

You may be sceptical towards what Hulkenberg is saying, but it is corroborated by what The Race had heard from elsewhere in the paddock - despite the might of Audi, despite what is thought to be a financial gap between the offers, it is believed Hulkenberg really did substantially entertain the idea of sticking around.

And, even in leaving, he is now a shining example of the Haas opportunity giving a driver whose F1 career looked done and dusted not just one more hurrah, but a springboard to a gig that so many in the paddock will be jealous of.

Haas didn't really have that before. If you look at its driver history, there is no example of a driver having found much of an F1 life after Haas. Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez, Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher were all left with no real F1 alternatives when their Haas tenures ran out. So was Magnussen the first time around.

Instead, what's on offer now is a chance for an established F1 driver to effectively steer the whole thing, likely paired with a developmental project in Bearman, who is bound to be quick and a real thorn but who would be, above everything else, a loanee.

All of that coalesces into an option that can make some sense for a lot of drivers. Valtteri Bottas, whose time at Sauber seems to be closing in on a fairly grumpy end, could obviously be a logical fit here, as could his well-backed team-mate Zhou Guanyu.

But should either of the Alpine drivers be tempted, too, given their team's dysfunction has arguably well overtaken Haas's all of a sudden? And what about whoever misses out at RB if Helmut Marko and co go ahead with their plan of ensuring Liam Lawson is in one of the cars by 2025?

Sure, all of those drivers will have contemplated Haas anyway, even if it was sat at zero points right now - because options on the F1 grid are extremely scarce. And it's still a hard sell as anyone's first-choice destination unless they're a rookie.

But Haas is now giving drivers much more of a reason to view it as more than a last resort. So don't be surprised if the team suddenly makes its presence known in F1's frantic silly season.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks