until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Two very different reactions to a 2023 F1 flop

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

One of Formula 1’s biggest disappointments of 2023 elicited two very different public reactions from the team's drivers.

As Haas finished last in the championship for the second time in three seasons, you would forgive Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen for feeling thoroughly fed up at the end of a frustrating campaign.

Months of development work amount to nothing - almost literally no upgrades - as the Haas VF-23’s original concept showed no meaningful gains in the windtunnel. Haas changed approach and introduced a big bodywork update characterised as its biggest in-season change ever at the United States Grand Prix but that failed to make a difference either.

Hulkenberg went back to the old specification for the final two races while Magnussen stayed on the new package - a decision characterised at the time as Hulkenberg simply preferring the feeling he had in the original car.

Hulkenberg was in a distinctly uncharitable mood whenever he discussed the ineffective upgrade package, and repeatedly made it very clear he felt this was nowhere near good enough. It was ‘throw the team under the bus’ territory which arguably peaked in Abu Dhabi when he qualified in the top 10 and declared he had “maybe proved a point” by so emphatically outpacing Magnussen’s ‘upgraded’ car.

“It’s very disappointing and upsetting for us,” said Hulkenberg. “We’re not happy about this of course.

“That’s the story of our season, we didn’t develop anything and totally got overtaken and outdeveloped and hence we’re last today.

“That’s the root cause. We need to really address that coming into next year.

“We have to prove it, when the time comes. We need to look at what we’ve done and what we have.

“Maybe we need to make some changes, because what we’ve done this year didn’t work, but that’s some big questions going into winter break now.”

Magnussen, meanwhile, opted for a slightly more softly-softly approach. But he could not help underlining the problem when he revealed in Abu Dhabi that he had not really wanted to stick with the upgrade either.

“I would’ve liked maybe one race with that and then go back to the old one, but that just wasn’t possible,” said Magnussen.

“I guess I took one for the team here, but happy to do that and looking forward to next year.”

Asked by The Race to clarify that he preferred the old package as well, Magnussen said: “Just because it’s [the old package is] quicker.

“The feeling itself is better with the new one. I’ve been struggling with the old one all year.

“Then I got on this new car, it helped me a lot, when Nico and me were running I seemed to be happier with it.

“Then he went back to the old, I stuck with the new just to collect this data and that was it really.

“It would have been slightly better with the old package, but more just for my ego than anything else.”

Aside from the disparity in the bluntness and different tones, both probably have quite easy explanations.

Part of it will be driven by differences in their personalities - both are certainly capable of being moody but Hulkenberg gets more impatient and perhaps a little snarky whereas Magnussen’s brand of sullenness is a little less provocative.

They have also had very different seasons. Hulkenberg’s had a clear qualifying edge, pulled out some real head-turning laps, and tended to start higher up the grid. His fall has been greater on Sundays so he has borne the brunt of the frustration with this car’s limitation. Magnussen has had a harder season and struggled to do what Hulkenberg has in most qualifying sessions.

It stands to reason, therefore, that Hulkenberg would be more agitated by the car’s deficiencies.

“I don't think there's a huge difference between them. Both are similar. But that's in itself obviously not good enough,” said Hulkenberg.

“An update is supposed to be better and fix some of your issues. And unfortunately, that didn't happen.”

Hulkenberg has produced more of his best and been let down by his machinery more obviously than Magnussen, who may well have opted to be more reserved and adopt the ‘team player’ role in the knowledge that he has not performed well enough to throw his toys out of the pram.

“I don’t think it helps the team to sell them cheap to you guys,” said Magnussen.

“It’s a team sport, we are all involved, we are all responsible and I don’t want to stand here as some holy cow.

“I’m part of this problem if you want, as is every team member in Haas and we need to stick together and come back like we have done in the past.

“This team has shown great potential for a long time, and it’s about time we hit our marks on a consistent basis because I think the talent and the potential in this team is very big.

“I want to be there to push it forward and show what we can do.”

The two drivers’ perspectives might also be impacted by their respective circumstances.

Though Hulkenberg’s career has been spent in the midfield he has pretty much only ever really experienced a competitive midfield car. Now he’s come out of a three-season absence to drive for the team that finished last and post easily his worst full campaign in F1 - 16th in the championship with just nine points to his name.

For Magnussen…well, he’s been here before. He endured the decline in 2019 and the woeful follow-up that was 2020. He’s somehow managed to experience worse than this with Haas.

He also has a deeper connection with the team that probably prevents him from wanting to twist the knife. That might well have left Magnussen with better stock within the team even though Hulkenberg was the quicker and better of the two drivers in 2023.

“It might be hard for you to believe, but we didn’t expect it to be better,” Magnussen insisted.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping something unexpected would come from it. It didn’t, but that was expected.

“We took a lot of learning from this. Both me and Nico got a good feeling with this concept of car and there’s some interesting things like the consistency of the front end.

“And with this concept it’s got a lot less downforce, so the fact I can actually qualify not that far from him with the amount of downforce we are missing, on that package, it shows that some other parts are good.

“We can work with that and hopefully take a big step next year.”

The search for silver linings is admirable. It is certainly likely to cause less internal tension or friction than some of Hulkenberg’s comments.

But however magnanimous Magnussen has come across at the end of 2023 compared to his new team-mate, neither driver is likely to have much patience if a clear improvement is not forthcoming over the winter.

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