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Formula 1

Magnussen could save his F1 career - but should he?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

For many drivers facing the potential end of their Formula 1 career, the question of forging a path in other motorsport categories is a fallback plan at best and a deeply unwelcome distraction at worst.

If they feel they might hang on in F1, that is what they'll prioritise - acknowledging anything else is as if it were a sign of weakness, an impossible admission to prospective F1 employers that your head isn't fully in the game.

Kevin Magnussen is well aware his F1 career might be ending - but he does maintain there are options to stay on the grid.

But for him, the idea of a racing life outside of F1 is no distraction - it is a siren call.

The fact Ollie Bearman's confirmation as a Haas F1 signing has been widely reported as imminent and was effectively treated as fact behind the scenes by more or less everyone in the Austrian Grand Prix paddock last weekend doesn't really change much for Magnussen, who will count different names among his silly season rivals.

There remains a clear path for him to stay. If Haas strikes out in pursuit of Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas, Magnussen probably gets the seat by default. His case certainly won't have been hurt by the Austrian GP, too, in which he put together an excellent sprint and a solid rear-gunner Sunday race.

And he insists he's "in contention for a few of the seats", not just Haas. Certainly, given the very public struggle Audi has encountered in finding a team-mate for Nico Hulkenberg, it could do worse than simply transposing a Haas line-up that's already working well enough.

But the way Magnussen talks about his racing career, you struggle to see how staying in F1 can bring him what he wants - and can bring us any narrative satisfaction.

When he spoke about it in Austria last weekend, Magnussen described his F1 tenure so far as "a long journey", implying a certain weariness.

"I've been sort of in the midfield pretty much every year that I've been in Formula 1," he said.

"I'm 31 years old, I'm starting to also think that - if I finish my motorsport career having just done F1 in the midfield, that kind of maybe feels empty in some way, also.

"I watch some of those races, you know, Le Mans, Indy 500 - I see the guys that win that, they look bloody happy, you know?

"Luckily there's a great [life] outside of Formula 1, also. I've been part of it a few times, when I wasn't in Formula 1. And it's a great life. And it's pulling a little bit, I would say."

That Magnussen felt that way on Thursday at the Red Bull Ring doesn't mean he would've felt that way on Sunday, or today, or when it's time to decide.

But it makes intuitive sense. In 2013, he won four-in-a-row (albeit with one post-race technical infringement disqualification) to cap off a masterful Formula Renault 3.5 campaign and enter F1.

In his career before that, he was winning every year, sometimes near every weekend. In his career since - just once, in IMSA during his post- and pre-Haas F1 hiatus, in a Chip Ganassi-run Cadillac DPi in Detroit in 2021.

He gave up that drive in a heartbeat to return to F1. He does not sound like someone who would easily make that same decision again.

"When I think about my future, it's not like, if I'm not in Formula 1, that I feel it's going to be a life at all. I feel a little bit the opposite.

"There's a big cost of being in Formula 1. And sometimes I've questioned whether it's worth it. Because it's 24 races, being a family man, it's a high cost - it's not just those 24 races, it's a lot of stuff as well. And it just fills your year 100%.

"And it's not easy to do anything else. And I am passionate about a lot of things. Especially in motorsport, of course, but also outside of motorsport.

"The dream has always been to succeed in Formula 1, to win races and championships in Formula 1. But, you know, after 10 years in the sport and not really getting there, it's maybe ... maybe it's getting old."

Remember that Daytona 24 Hours bid - to tackle it with his father Jan - that got derailed by a hand cyst? Remember his debut in that same race two years prior, a debut that could've been victorious without a puncture?

"I just think there's a lot to be said for winning races. And I haven't done that in a long time. I miss that," he added.

Words to that effect had been taken as confirmation that Magnussen has already made peace with leaving F1. To me, that feels a little selective - considering he also stressed that he saw "a lot of potential" in Haas but never completely fulfilled over a full season, and emphasised that he'd love to make that happen with a team that he's been part of for so long, if intermittently.

If there's an F1 suitor for Magnussen's services, and if he still feels the drive to do the full calendar, he owes it to nobody to say no. There is no great responsibility for him to "make way for the next generation" or anything like that - it's easy to say there is but only when you're talking about someone else's career and lifelong dream.

But he says he "doesn't have any regrets" about his time in F1. "I don't feel like I've achieved much in Formula 1 - but then I look at it from another direction, and just the fact that I've been in the sport for so long is actually also some kind of achievement, you know?"

At 174 starts, he is 33rd in the all-time list. If he sees out the season without picking up a race ban - a bit of a big if, but still - he will draw level with Nigel Mansell! Yeah, there's a lot of era-specific context there, but that is indeed pretty impressive.

But extending his time in grand prix racing beyond the end of the year is only likely to be additive in terms of longevity.

If he stays at Haas, he should have a decent opportunity to reinforce his stock against a rookie Bearman. If he heads to somewhere like Audi, he'll get the chance to try to change the narrative on him versus Hulkenberg. But he will not somehow become first in line for a top seat.

You can never say never in F1, but there is no clear path for Magnussen to make more of his grand prix career than he already has - almost no matter what he does.

Austria showed he still has a lot to offer an F1 team. Just not enough for any F1 team that can offer him the winning feeling he admits to missing so badly.

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