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Formula 1

Why Haas is dropping both F1 drivers at the same time

by Matt Beer
5 min read

The Haas Formula 1 team is dropping Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at the same time because it has “nothing to lose” with an all-new line-up in its current competitive state.

Grosjean has driven for Haas since it entered F1 in 2016 while Magnussen joined just one year later, but their four-year partnership will end with the 2020 season.

Haas is expected to sign well-backed Formula 2 race winner Nikita Mazepin to one seat with a Ferrari protege, likely Mick Schumacher, the favourite for the other.

Running two rookies, or even a driver like Ferrari-backed Antonio Giovinazzi who has raced for Alfa Romeo for the past two seasons, instead of keeping either of its current drivers or signing out-of-contract Nico Hulkenberg or Sergio Perez means Haas is turning a lot of experienced options away.

Team boss Guenther Steiner said he was performing a “balancing act” between the benefits of signing young drivers with funding and potential to be good drivers, and the pitfalls of gambling on inexperience.

Asked by The Race if this was a low-risk move given Haas is currently ninth in the constructors’ championship with an underpowered engine and expects to continue to struggle next year with significant car carryover, Steiner said: “I don’t disagree with your statement there. We evaluated that as well.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Eifel Grand Prix Preparation Day Nurbugring, Germany

“Next year I think it will be better, I hope it will be better, we work to be better – but the chances that we are back to our 2018 form [when Haas was fifth in the championship] next year is pretty low.

“We need to be realistic as well. So, if you make a change, you better make it like now that we have got something to build up again and not going into [a situation] where you have something to lose.

“At the moment, next year we have nothing to lose. We just have to gain. We cannot lose a lot more from where we are now.

“What we want to do is having the same drivers in 2022 when the new regulation comes out because there is a new car.

“So next year is also an opportunity. It’s a challenge because our package looks it will not be wonderful.

“The opportunity is to build up the rest of what we have got for 22 when we hopefully are better again, or back to where we want to be.”

Steiner said it was a “very difficult” decision to drop Grosjean and Magnussen, and that it was communicated to them last week – without their replacements confirmed – to give the duo the best chance of securing an alternative programme in 2021.

He praised the drivers for their longevity with the team, and said they ‘understood’ the reasons the team gave them.

“As much as we have ups and downs in our relationships in the end you don’t stay with people for this long time, four and five years, if you don’t like them,” said Steiner.

“It’s always difficult to do these things but in the end, I need to look after the team in general and they both were very understanding.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Tuscan Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mugello, Italy

“For sure they were not happy, I mean who would be, but they had a good understanding and they know that we gave them a good run at it as well.

“So it was not only good for us it was good for them as well.

“There is no bad blood running between us and we want to get to the end of the season hopefully we can score a few more points as well.”

Steiner would not name the drivers Haas is considering for the vacant 2021 seats or give an indication of how many are on his shortlist, only stating that “we are down to a lot less people now”.

But he said “anything is possible” when asked by The Race if two rookies could drive for the team next year, and indicated that a driver with backing – which Mazepin would provide – could be exactly what the team needs.

“Maybe two rookies is a good thing, I don’t know that yet,” Steiner added.

“That is one of the things we have evaluating as well. Do we need one experienced one or not? [If not], OK, we do with two rookies.

“But sometimes just trying something different helps to learn about it. And sometimes teaches that you shouldn’t have done it as well, I’m fully aware of that.

“But sometimes to do things differently, it opens up new ideas and we get better. If we all stay with the status quo, we will never evolve.”

Motor Racing Fia Formula 2 Championship Saturday Sochi, Russia

Steiner said that a driver with backing would also need to be considered good enough to succeed in F1. He insisted that Haas has “quite a few” options and is benefitting from most seats being filled and several strong drivers being on the market – from the out-of-contract experienced F1 drivers like Perez and Hulkenberg, to independent F2 drivers like Mazepin and Ferrari-backed Schumacher and Callum Ilott.

“It’s a balance you need to find to try to do what you think is best for the future,” said Steiner.

“That is what we are evaluating.

“Is it a rookie with a lot of potential, but you’re not sure about it, or something you know – and you know you’ve reached your limitations with it.

“Then it’s like, if a rookie has got some sponsorship behind him, would that money be good invested in the car?

“That is the balancing act that we are going through in the moment.

“We came to one conclusion, that we reached a peak with our drivers, and it’s a little bit to our own fault the last two years we didn’t give them a good machine, a good car to get the best out of it.

“So, next year will be something similar, not our best year as I can predict it sitting here now. So should we do something different?”

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