Kevin Magnussen produced his and the Haas team’s best qualifying performance of the Formula 1 season so far with fourth on the grid in Miami.
But while Haas showed top-10 pace throughout the weekend, partly thanks to its floor upgrade, Nico Hulkenberg should have also been up there with his team-mate.
As Magnussen admitted, “I got a bit lucky” given the red flag caused by Charles Leclerc’s crash prevented anyone from having a second run. It’s likely he would have been pushed down to seventh at best, which would have depended on him again outpacing the Alpine drivers and Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas on his second run.
Magnussen was the quickest of the five drivers who ran used softs on the first run in Q3, with his banker lap key to earning a place on the second row. It was what he described as a “pretty decent lap” that put him ahead of the potentially faster Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, Bottas, George Russell and also Leclerc and Max Verstappen, who both made errors on their first runs.
This was the third time Haas has had a car in Q3 in 2023 and a marked improvement from Baku last weekend where both cars were eliminated in Q1 in the main qualifying session.
Magnussen put this improved form down to the fact the car has worked well from the start of practice, along with the impact of the floor upgrade introduced this weekend. This is the first performance upgrade Haas has brought this season, although it did introduce a circuit-specific low-drag rear wing in Azerbaijan.
“This weekend, we’ve just been strong consistently,” Magnussen told Sky Sports F1. “And not only in terms of putting in laptimes – if you look at the results from each session, it’s so good – but just the feeling was there from the very beginning.
“We put the car on track and it worked. We haven’t really touched it, a little bit [of] tweaks and that’s been really good. And then we brought an upgrade that worked. So I’m happy with P4 tomorrow, and hopefully we can finish it off and score some points.”
The reason for half of the Haas garage being disappointed was that team-mate Nico Hulkenberg should also have been in Q3. He was a quarter of a second quicker than Magnussen on the first run in Q2, when both Haas drivers were on used softs. That put the duo sixth and seventh.
But while Magnussen improved by 0.480s on his second run on fresh softs, Hulkenberg’s lap was ruined by losing time with a lack of front tyre grip at Turn 1 that led to him getting nowhere near the exit. He aborted the lap on the run to Turn 11 when it was clear improving his time was impossible.
Hulkenberg blamed this on Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso passing him approaching Turn 17, saying over the radio on his slowdown lap: “Every time with Alonso, he had us over twice now.”
Hulkenberg had started his outlap ahead of Alonso, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon behind. He caught Max Verstappen by Turn 11 and held position behind him, but on the long run to Turn 17 he slowed when briefly backed up by Verstappen. Alonso then jumped him approaching what is effectively the final corner.
“I feel really, really frustrated and upset,” said Hulkenberg. “We need to review what happened on the outlap and how we got into that nasty situation with Fernando and Esteban, but I ended up losing out big-time for that.
“I kind of had to stop the car in the final corner to get a gap. As soon as you go slow there, there is something with this Tarmac. The tyre picks up a lot of s**t and then opening the lap I just found myself not having the grip that I needed.
“I was a second down in the first sector and aborted the lap. [There was] much more in it, Q3 should’ve been very straightforward. It is very frustrating.”
Hulkenberg said that the closing speed of Alonso and Ocon behind was significant enough potentially to have caused an accident had he attempted to defend. This was the consequence of Verstappen and Hulkenberg having picked up speed on the straight and then slowed.
“I was making a gap to Max and then Fernando and Esteban came with so much over-speed from the back.
“These mirrors, they’re better, they’re bigger, but you still see the car so late when they come and have a closing speed of 100km/h. You can’t do any more and obviously you can’t block them.
“Like, in a race, there would be a massive shunt.”
Hulkenberg will start the race 12th and, given the pace of the Haas so far this weekend, could have a shot at points from there. However, Magnussen is far better-placed.
Much will depend on how well the Haas treats its tyres in the race, but Magnussen is taking a realistic view of the race. There are quicker cars behind him who he has no chance of beating in a straight fight, for example Leclerc and Verstappen, but he’s confident of being able to settle into the car’s rightful place at or near the front of the midfield group and believes that a “top eight, top seven” might be possible with a well-executed race.
The Haas has also proved to be relatively good in the speed traps throughout the season, which should make holding position ahead of its more direct rivals from Mercedes, Alpine and Alfa Romeo possible. The Haas was the fourth-fastest car in the main speed trap in qualifying, behind only Red Bull, Williams and Alpine.
“I don’t think we’re fourth-fastest, but it’s nice to finish a little further up [than] you have the speed for,” said Magnussen.
“You can just nicely fall back into your natural position and finish it off like that.”
Magnussen’s fourth place on the grid is the highest a Haas has ever started a grand prix, although the Dane did take the official pole position accolade and start the sprint from the front at Interlagos last year.