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Formula 1

How Magnussen earned a Haas best from the brink of disaster

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

In the final minutes of Formula 1 qualifying at Imola, Kevin Magnussen’s session swung from causing a red flag and almost crashing out to securing Haas’s best-ever qualifying result.

Magnussen will start Saturday’s sprint race at Imola from fourth on the grid after a dramatic qualifying session in which he caused one of five red flags.

His error came at the start of a damp Q3 when all drivers were on their first flying laps on intermediate tyres – Magnussen “ran out of talent” at Acque Minerale, getting caught out on the wet white line while trying to open up the corner, and spun through the gravel.

Magnussen thought his session was over as he had come to a halt millimetres from the barrier, with barely any room to get going again and his rear wheels partially in the gravel.

It caused an immediate red flag but some quick thinking mid-spin to save the car from going into anti-stall – “I didn’t know what direction I was pointing, I just knew I had to be back on throttle” – meant the engine was still running and Magnussen then performed a very neat multiple-point turn to escape.

“I touched the white line and then it was gone,” said Magnussen.

“I thought I was gonna hit the wall, then went into gravel and slowed down quite a lot.

“I realised, I saw the anti-stall, pulled the clutch while I was still backwards and then went on throttle just enough to get onto that escape road.

“Yeah, lucky!”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying Day Imola, Italy

Magnussen’s presence of mind to save the engine and recover the car without any coaching from his race engineer was a quick and calm bit of thinking that allowed him to get the car back unaided and rejoin for the rest of the session, a reprieve he used to great effect to punch in the fourth-fastest time.

The irony of Magnussen’s late drama is that he had been navigating a chaotic qualifying session with relative serenity.

He had shown strong pace in the wet practice session earlier in the day and even though the car did not feel as strong in dry conditions he was still seventh fastest in Q1 and Q2, with a decent margin over the elimination places as well.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying Day Imola, Italy

The first run in Q3 was not perfect but “pretty decent”, he said, to bank the fourth-best time. And it could have been even better.

Lando Norris had only pipped him by 0.033 seconds and Magnussen improved by a tenth and a half in the first sector on his next attempt, but could not finish the lap as Valtteri Bottas ground to a half in his Alfa Romeo and caused a red flag.

When the session resumed there was time for one final push lap but then Norris proved to be another red-flag rogue and brought the session to a final stoppage with a crash in the last half a minute – so there was no chance for the drivers to finish their timed laps, or for the session to resume.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying Day Imola, Italy

“I only had a couple of hundredths of a second up to the top three so I was gonna go for that,” Magnussen said.

“So, I was a little disappointed when it [the red flag] came up.

“But then I realised, ‘Oh wait, then we get P4’. So it’s good. Really happy.”

Magnussen’s comeback story already has a rich narrative but qualifying fourth for Saturday’s sprint race at Imola marks another competitive milestone given it is Haas’s best result in a qualifying session.

As there’s a sprint race to complete before the final grid is set, Magnussen needs to finish that in fifth to match Haas’s best ever starting position – scored by Romain Grosjean at the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Spielberg, Austria

But he reckons it is realistic and says the target now is to race intelligently to capitalise on the Friday result.

“I want to start in a good position for the Sunday race,” he said.

“And we’re in P4. In the dry I don’t think we’re fast enough to be P4. But it’s a tricky track to overtake.

“So, if I can get around the first lap in P4 that’s going to be superb. If I lose a position or two after that, we’ll still get points and a great position for Sunday.

“I want to finish higher than fourth, of course, but we’ve also got to be realistic and clever.

“I feel like I want to push, I’m so close to the top now – you can win from P4! But we’re not fast enough to do that.

“So I think we are in a different battle, we’ve got to remember what we’re trying to do, and benefit from this great result today in a clever way.”

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