EXCLUSIVE: Why F1 comeback star Magnussen can dream of the podium again

Eight years on from becoming the first Danish driver to stand on the F1 podium, Kevin Magnussen is daring to dream about a return to the rostrum. 
EXCLUSIVE: Why F1 comeback star Magnussen can dream of the podium again

When a 21-year-old Magnussen scored a sensational podium on his F1 debut with McLaren at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, it was easy to see why he had been tipped as a potential superstar of the future. 

However, a mixed rookie season ended with Magnussen losing his F1 seat at the end of the year. After ultimately being released by McLaren, and following a brief spell at an uncompetitive Renault, Magnussen found a new home at American outfit Haas for 2017. 

But four years later Magnussen would once again find himself on the sidelines when Haas replaced him and Romain Grosjean with Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher. 

Away from F1, Magnussen switched to sportscar racing in the United States and ended an eight-year winless run stretching back to his title-winning Formula Renault 3.5 campaign in 2013. He also became a father, with his wife Louise giving birth to baby daughter Laura in January 2021. 

Despite rediscovering the winning feeling and accepting his career in F1 was most likely over, an unlikely and unexpected opportunity fell Magnussen’s way when Haas terminated Mazepin’s contract on the eve of the 2022 season following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas F1 Team. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Preparation
Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas F1 Team. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5,…

For Magnussen, the lure of returning to F1 proved too great. He was sold on the idea during a phone call with Haas team principal Guenther Steiner while he was preparing for a family holiday. 

"Being out last year kind of made me realise some things about F1 and my time in F1 that perhaps I didn’t fully feel when I was [in it],” Magnussen tells Crash.net in an exclusive interview at the recent Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

“Like the appreciation of actually coming out and having a year out of F1, it made me miss it a little bit. I was happy, I was in a good place and I didn’t think I was going to be back in F1. 

“I thought that chapter had closed and I was good with that. I was looking forward to a lot of other things in my life and then this chance came about and I just felt super excited. I could feel that I wanted to do it. 

“Guenther told me about all the work that went into this car and I couldn’t see why not. When I felt so excited, why should I turn it down?” 

Magnussen’s comeback has coincided with an upswing in form for Haas after two dire years struggling at the very back of the grid. 

Despite playing catch up after only having one full day of testing time to get up to speed with F1’s new generation of cars and Haas’ VF-22 challenger, Magnussen converted seventh on the grid into a stunning P5 finish in the Bahrain season-opener. 

EXCLUSIVE: Why F1 comeback star Magnussen can dream of the podium again

Further top-10 finishes followed in Saudi Arabia and Imola, where Magnussen once again starred in a wet-dry qualifying to put his Haas fourth on the grid for the sprint race.

It has been a magnificent return for Magnussen, who sits 10th in the drivers’ championship and is responsible for Haas occupying eighth place - and just one point off seventh - in the constructors’ standings. 

Magnussen described the VF-22 as “one of the most competitive cars” Haas have ever had. 

Asked whether he thinks a podium for Haas is achievable this year, Magnussen replied: “I don’t think it’s impossible. I don’t think we will be in a situation where we qualify in the top three and finish there as well. I don’t think that’s realistic at all. 

"But I think if you are best of the rest, if you are seventh, let’s say, and consistently seventh, then it won’t take a lot of cars to not finish and a Safety Car at the right time on a track where you can’t overtake and you might get a podium. 

“We’ve seen that in the past. Last year, only two teams didn’t get a podium.  So it’s certainly possible, and I’m certainly dreaming about it. I think the whole team has that little dream inside their minds. 

“We just have to keep our heads down, try to be in front of our competitors in the midfield and if we get a podium that will be amazing and we will party like crazy.” 

EXCLUSIVE: Why F1 comeback star Magnussen can dream of the podium again

Returning to Haas on good terms 

With Haas struggling financially, Magnussen and Grosjean lost their seats at the end of 2020 as the team secured a significant title sponsorship deal with Uralkali, which coincided with the arrival of the company boss’ son Mazepin to form an all-rookie pairing with F2 champion Schumacher. 

Magnussen insisted he left Haas on good terms and fully understood the team’s decision to take on a pay driver in Mazepin, who many felt did not deserve a place on the grid on merit, a view that only grew given how comprehensively he was beaten by Schumacher last year. 

“I didn’t take it personally when it happened,” Magnussen says. “I understood the team’s perspective. 

“This sport is very tough in many ways and sometimes hard decisions have to be made for the best of the team. That was the case in 2020 when I lost the seat and I understood why they had to do it and I didn’t take it personally. 

“We left on good terms, I didn’t blame the team. That’s life! I had six full seasons in F1, seven years and I was very fortunate to have that in the first place and the opportunity that Haas gave me was a very big one. 

“I was actually just very grateful that they gave me that opportunity and I didn’t blame them.” 

Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas F1 Team. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne,
Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas F1 Team. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3,…

Magnussen, who had previously made it clear he had no desire to return to F1 to struggle towards the rear of the grid, admits he was taken by surprise when Haas got in touch offering him the chance to reclaim the seat he lost. 

“I was surprised,” Magnussen adds. “I didn’t know what sort of state the team was in financially and I lost my drive in 2020.

“I thought that the chance of me being on the list of drivers when Nikita lost his drive, I didn’t think I was on that list. 

"Then Guenther called me and I was super happy to say yes and join back with my team.” 

Helping a Schumacher 

Magnussen’s teammate Schumacher has had a difficult start to his second year on the F1 grid and has so far failed to join the Dane in the points at any of the opening five rounds. 

Schumacher, the son of legendary seven-time world champion Michael, enjoyed a fairly comfortable introduction to F1. He joined a Haas team with little to no expectations due to having uncompetitive machinery, while he easily held the edge over his first F1 teammate. 

If 2021 allowed Schumacher to shine, 2022 has been something of a rude awakening. So far, at least, Schumacher has struggled to get close to Magnussen’s benchmark. A great drive in Miami put Schumacher on the verge of his first points, which he threw away in a clumsy crash with Sebastian Vettel. 

Despite a tough start to the season, Magnussen has backed the German to become a successful F1 driver and is willing to lend a helping hand. 

EXCLUSIVE: Why F1 comeback star Magnussen can dream of the podium again

“I’m very open to give support and advice if needed,” Magnussen says. “Mick is a very capable driver, he knows what he is doing. 

“But he’s learning of course as well and I feel very relaxed and if I can help him do better, that will benefit me too. We need to push the team forward as a team and that will come back to us as drivers. 

“He’s very good and the team likes him. He’s working very hard. Studying a lot. He’s an intelligent kid and very talented. 

“I think he has the right attitude to succeed in F1. He’s very honest with himself, very honest with the team and I think he’s going to do well.”

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