When Kevin Magnussen departed Formula 1 at the end of the 2020 season, it didn’t quite feel right. There was an air of unfinished business, not necessarily with Haas, but with the sport as a whole.
Fast forward some 15 months and Magnussen had set up a nice future in racing for himself, driving in the top category in the US-based IMSA endurance series, while also securing a WEC drive for Peugeot in the Hypercar entry.
All that changed in an instant when a barbaric decision in Eastern Europe sparked war and ultimately left Nikita Mazepin, who was preparing for his sophomore campaign in F1, without a drive. Haas parted ways with the Russian as well as its title sponsor Uralkali, which is owned by Mazepin’s father Dmitry.
Bringing Magnussen back to Haas was a big statement for the team to make. It didn’t search in parallel with engine supplier Ferrari, or seek out a driver who would bring an abundance of funds to the organisation. It went for someone who is guaranteed to bring experience and stability.
At times, Haas’ 2021 campaign was difficult to watch. Stuck at the back of the field with a car that was not being developed, its two rookies in Mazepin and Mick Schumacher languished towards the rear of the pack, forced to deal with a VF-21 car that often was a handful to drive.
Magnussen, let’s not forget, dished out his own complaints in the past over Haas’ cars, but his injection into the team can do no harm. It now has a direction to point in, while Schumacher has received a strong benchmark of both pace and know-how, after he all but blew Mazepin out of the water last year.
Magnussen wasn’t without his demons during his Haas stint. Often labelled as the most aggressive driver on the grid, he was criticised for some of his racing manoeuvres that some drivers felt were over the limit.
Having sat out the 2015 season after being dropped by McLaren, 2022 marks Magnussen’s third chance in the sport. His dream of becoming an F1 World Champion is very much back on, having been forced to shelve the idea when he departed Haas at the conclusion of 2020.
“I think it was tough mentally to accept that ‘Ok that’s it, everything, this dream you’ve been working towards ever since you were a little kid is now a closed chapter, you have to deal with it’,” Magnussen said. “One of the ways I dealt with it was to think how lucky I was to get the chance in the first place. Even though I hadn’t won a world championship when I exited in 2020, and I didn’t think, I thought that whole chapter was closed.
“That made me really sad. But then if I thought about how lucky I was to get that opportunity to have done seven years I F1 and get those races and experiences that made me really happy about what I had achieved, it made me feel privileged to have done what I have done, instead of sitting around missing it and thinking about old times, looking back.”
In truth, Magnussen was the obvious choice. There were rumblings of comebacks for Antonio Giovinazzi and Nico Hulkenberg, but Magnussen’s experience within the organisation is like gold dust to the team. It’s still a relatively new outfit, and having one of its most seasoned drives back in a time of difficulty can only serve it well.
It will also be intriguing to see how Magnussen matches up against Schumacher. There would be little surprise if Schumacher held the upper hand in the opening rounds of the season, given that Magnussen set less than 100 laps at pre-season testing following his late call up.
Schumacher had little competition last year, but now the 2020 Formula 2 champion has a worthy opponent, one that will never shy away from a battle. Ferrari too will likely be pleased with Magnussen’s signing, as he can offer Schumacher a new way of approaching a race weekend.
All in all though, Magnussen is another injection of excitement for the sport. His unrelenting racing skills and his rapid qualifying pace that he has displayed on many occasions is only a benefit for the sport. How competitive his car will be is a different matter altogether. But one thing is for certain – he will not be have an unknown presence on the grid this year.
This opinion article originally appeared in issue 458 of our weekly digital motorsport magazine, Motorsport Monday. Completely free to read with no sign-up necessary, Motorsport Monday is published every Monday morning and is packed full of motorsport content. Check out the latest issue here.