Feature F1 Unlocked
PADDOCK INSIDER: Haas choose experience and stability in pursuit of the next step
Haas grabbed hold of the news agenda with both hands by announcing Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg will be retained for a second successive season, as Formula 1 got back to business at Zandvoort after the summer break.
It is unprecedented for Haas to announce their final line-up so early in the season, but it had become clear to owner Gene Haas and Team Principal Guenther Steiner over the last couple of months that their current driver line-up was the right one for them.
Yes, the team have scored only a third of the points they managed by this point last season – however, the car has lacked the performance of last year’s machine relative to their rivals.
While the car has been a menace on Saturdays, with Nico Hulkenberg making Q3 six times and starting a season’s-best second in Canada with Kevin Magnussen’s fourth in Miami a highlight, the VF-23 has dropped like a stone when it matters on Sundays as they struggled with tyre management.
So, when it came to deciding on a line-up for next year, each drivers’ points tally at this stage was largely irrelevant.
Gene Haas and Steiner have been very impressed with the way Hulkenberg has repaid their faith on his full-time racing return. The German’s one-lap pace has sent pulses racing and provided a huge motivational boost to the team and the engineers.
He’s shown no signs of rust and settled in so quickly to the team – it feels to those on the staff like he’s been there for years.
While Magnussen hasn’t had Hulkenberg’s peaks, he has shown his bosses enough performance on-track and continued his fine feedback off it to convince the team to re-sign him.
The Dane is at his best when in a small, family-friendly team environment. The racing team atmosphere and culture – rather than something more corporate – suits him.
And crucially, the two drivers get on very well, combining to deliver a united force that utilises their extensive experience (346 races between them) to help Haas understand why they can’t consistently get the tyres into the window on Sunday as well as giving feedback to engineers to help the 2024 design.
With all that in mind, sticking rather than twisting was a no brainer for Gene Haas and Steiner. They know experience is key to get on top of their current problems. They also want that experience next year so they can consistently get in the points if the car is better.
They’ve been talking to both drivers for several weeks about a renewal and agreeing an extension for each was smooth.
As you can imagine, Steiner was delighted to get it all sorted so early, especially as it means he doesn’t have to answer questions about his driver line-up for another year.
A few more seats still undecided
With Haas stating their 2024 line-up intentions, that leaves just five seats on next year’s grid up for grabs.
The most prized one is technically at Mercedes, but it’s very likely seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will extend his stay at the Silver Arrows into a 12th successive year.
Both Hamilton and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff have said they are keen to continue – with key terms agreed and only a few small details that need to be ironed out. Watch this space.
There’s a seat available at the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team alongside Valtteri Bottas – but paddock sources suggest Zhou Guanyu is favourite to keep the wheel for a third season.
The Chinese driver’s management have been in talks with the team for weeks about an extension, with Zhou having shown an upturn in form this season.
Over at Williams, the team have been supportive of rookie Logan Sargeant all year, as the American grapples to get a grip on life in Formula 1.
They are keen to continue with him into next year, but they want more consistency and more signs he’s closing the gap to a strongly-performing Alex Albon.
That just leaves two seats vacant at the team currently known as AlphaTauri (the Italian team is mulling a name change for 2024 pending commercial discussions).
The Italian squad has a recently-appointed new CEO in Peter Bayer and a new incoming Team Principal in the shape of Laurent Mekies – and is expected to have a significantly closer relationship with sister team Red Bull next year, which will likely see them take a suite of parts from the reigning world champions.
With that in mind, experience will be key to make the most out of it and Daniel Ricciardo has that in buckets.
The Australian has eight Grand Prix wins under his belt and has experience of this year’s Red Bull, plus a back catalogue of knowledge from his five-years with the works operation – all of which will be key in getting the most out of next year’s AlphaTauri.
He'll need to deliver this year, mind, to secure a drive next year. He’s only had two rounds to show what he can do, so expect the team to give it some time before making a call on 2024.
If he delivers, not only will he have another season on the grid, but he’ll be in a prime position for promotion back to Red Bull should they decide Sergio Perez is no longer the driver for them.
His team mate Yuki Tsunoda has been one of the stars of the season so far, the Japanese driver having made huge strides in his third F1 campaign. Providing he continues to get the job done on track, he is believed to be in good shape to retain his seat.
Should either slip up, Liam Lawson – one point off the championship lead in Japanese single-seater series Super Formula – heads the queue to make his Grand Prix debut.