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Formula 1

Magnussen has even bigger Haas problems than F1 ban threat

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Kevin Magnussen faces the very real prospect of a Formula 1 race ban this season and that only adds to the increasing risk to his place on the grid with Haas longer-term. 

The combative, all-or-nothing Dane has racked up an eye-watering 10 licence penalty points in just six events this season, meaning he needs to complete the rest of 2024 without accruing two more – or he will get an automatic one-race suspension.

In such circumstances Haas would replace him with its reserve driver and Ferrari protege Ollie Bearman, who looks destined to join this team on a full-time basis sooner or later.

Ollie Bearman

Bearman’s presence was an obvious threat to Magnussen when the young Briton’s expanded role was announced, although the pressure for Magnussen to save his seat looked to be reduced slightly in light of Nico Hulkenberg’s now-confirmed move to Sauber next season.

“Naturally that increases Kevin’s chances,” team principal Ayao Komatsu said going into the Miami weekend, “but we need somebody who can be a reference for the team.”

At the moment Komatsu is not convinced Magnussen can be that.

A Magnussen/Bearman pairing seemed entirely plausible, blending youth with experience, but it is not a given that Magnussen will be retained.

It is understood he must do more to win over Komatsu and his Miami antics have not helped that cause, even though Magnussen professed the worst of his incidents and penalty points came as a result of playing the team game.

Magnussen played rear gunner in the Miami sprint as team-mate Hulkenberg ran in a strong point-scoring seventh. But he crossed the line in the eyes of the stewards, and just as importantly Haas, when his aggressively defensive driving went beyond merely backing Lewis Hamilton up and turned into routine flouting of the rules to desperately stay ahead.

That was not a good look – “embarrassing”, one senior team figure called it – and crucially did not come from a direct team order. Playing the team game by protecting Hulkenberg is one thing, but that driving was not requested, expected or desired.

It was perhaps telling that Komatsu offered no defence of Magnussen on Saturday in the team’s official press release – think of how much Aston Martin has gone to bat for its drivers when they have been involved in controversies this season – and glossed over his transgression in Sunday’s grand prix as well. The stewards viewed that crash with Logan Sargeant as a slam dunk as well. Maybe Komatsu does too.

So, it is not just the fact Magnussen has taken himself to the brink of a ban per se. That can happen with this licence penalty point system through a series of minor offences. But Magnussen’s rapid accrual of those points, and the manner in which he has done it, has not endeared him to his boss. Which is problematic given his wider performances.

As Komatsu says, Haas needs a post-Hulkenberg reference. Hulkenberg has been in superb form this season – he was already fast last year, but has been able to turn that into consistently good results this year thanks to Haas’s car improvements, and Hulkenberg also raising his Sunday game too.

Komatsu cannot speak highly enough of the job he’s done and if it were up to him, he would have signed Hulkenberg to a new contract. There were some initial talks, and Hulkenberg seemed sincerely interested, but Audi’s pressure on the driver market meant this all happened too soon.

Team owner Gene Haas doesn’t like to do driver dealings until later in the year, and his word on that is final. Even if Komatsu could have come up with a deal Hulkenberg would accept, tabling it probably was not possible. 

So, Komatsu’s having to deal with the reality of losing his star driver, when the incumbent second driver looks like exactly that – a number two, not a leader for next season and beyond.

Kevin Magnussen Mick Schumacher Haas British Grand Prix 2022 Silverstone

Magnussen had impressive peaks on his F1 comeback with Haas in 2022 but there was a suspicion from Komatsu’s predecessor Guenther Steiner that a better team-mate than Mick Schumacher would have exposed some inconsistencies in Magnussen’s performances. Hulkenberg’s arrival has done exactly that.

Hulkenberg has been constantly fighting for points this season. His race results are 16th (after qualifying 10th and having a first-lap collision), 10th, 9th, 11th, 10th and 11th, and he’s grabbed two more points for that seventh place in Miami.

Magnussen, though, has been mostly living up to his limitations rather than his potential. It's not been all bad. He played the team game admirably for a while in Saudi Arabia, before he crossed a line, and he earned praise from Komatsu for his driving in Australia. But Magnussen has had fewer peaks than Hulkenberg and been more erratic, as his results - 12th, 12th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 19th - show.

With Bearman surely coming in, being the continuity candidate is a helpful factor in Magnussen’s favour. He is experienced, knows the team intimately, and has engaged in the Komatsu era very well. There is no questioning his work ethic.

But unless something changes, Magnussen is not earning another Haas deal purely on the back of his own performances on track.

He could be relying on backing from the big boss, as Gene Haas has always seemed to like him, and/or some assistance from the wider driver market. But part of his problem is that Haas is looking like a much more attractive proposition than it was six months ago.

Kevin Magnussen

He is likely to have more rivals for his seat at a time where Komatsu may well think he is not a good enough lead option.

And if a Magnussen ban becomes a reality, that's going to give Haas a real-world example of what’s possible with a Hulkenberg-level driver and Bearman as its driver line-up – and may only cement Komatsu's desire to make such a pairing happen.

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