Haas F1 Team principal Guenther Steiner says he is not actively negotiating with Nico Hulkenberg about a Haas seat for 2021.
Maybe he should be. Or, maybe he’s at least talking to Sergio Perez.
In fact, Steiner says he’s not in serious negotiating with anyone right now for the team’s two 2021 seats. About the only names missing from the Haas F1 rumor mill for those seats seem to be current drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Russian Nikita Mazepan is the flavor of the day for one of the seats, but whether that that deal comes together may be ultimately up to Ferrari and not Haas. Ferrari has technical ties with Haas, and if Ferrari were to send Haas one or even two Ferrari junior drivers to occupy the seats in 2021, Haas and Steiner go along with Ferrari’s wishes.
The three Ferrari junior names mentioned most frequently are Mick Schumacher (everyone’s No. 1 prospect), Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman. With one Formula 2 race weekend remaining—Nov. 26-28 in Bahrain—Schumacher has a big points lead over Ilott. Shwartzman is fifth.
Mazepin, who is not an academy driver but whose billionaire father Dmitry has money that would get the attention of just about any F1 team, is sixth in the F2 standings. All four F1 candidates are on track to end 2020 with enough Super Licence points to be eligible to drive in F1 in 2021.
Other candidates for Haas include Sergio Perez (losing his ride to Sebastian Vettel at Racing Point) and free agent Nico Hulkenberg. Perez and Hulkenberg each fit the profile of what team owner Gene Haas has looked for in the past—an experienced veteran who can give feedback on the car and help nurture a younger driver.
That’s been the excuse for keeping Romain Grosjean on board for all five years despite the fact that Grosjean has shown a steady decline in production with Haas. He’s never finished higher than 13th in the final standings for Haas, and he’s 18th in 2021. In fact, Grosjean even trails Hulkenberg in the standings this year despite the fact that Hulkenberg has started just two races and Grosjean all 11 races to date.
Grosjean has scored 37, 8 and 2 points the last three seasons. At 34 years old, he no longer qualifies as a driver with potential upside, and the team’s lack of overall success speaks to Grosjean’s ability to groom a less-experienced driver.
To quote former Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, “We finished last with you. We can finish last without you.”
Actually, Haas isn’t last. It’s ninth out of 10 teams, but you get the picture.
Kevin Magnussen, 27, has been with Haas the past four seasons and this year is having less success than even Grosjean. Magnussen has scored just 1 point and sits 19th in the standings. The only drivers the Haas drivers lead in the standings are scoreless Williams drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi.
Interesting also is that throughout the Haas F1 Team’s five-year history of being “America’s Team,” there has been seemingly no interest in bringing in or even grooming an American driver. How much fun would it be to watch Josef Newgarden in F1? Or, bring Alexander Rossi back to that series?
Rossi is reportedly under contract with Andretti Autosport in the NTT IndyCar Series until 2024. Newgarden is currently with Team Penske in IndyCar. Both drivers, however, expressed interest in F1 in the past (Rossi even gave it a shot in 2015 with backmarker Marussia) and most top-level athletes and teams have never met a contract that they couldn’t find a way out of if a better deal came along.
“(Signing an American driver) would be an ambition, but at the moment there is nobody ready for F1 in the United States in my opinion,” Steiner said in 2018.
It’s been a point made numerous times by Steiner and Haas with different words over the past five years. From a fan’s standpoint, it’s difficult to believe a Newgarden or a Rossi wouldn’t be able to compete with a Magnussen or a Grosjean or a Russell or a Latifi. Let’s just say, we’d like to see them try.
Looking back, were Grosjean and Magnussen even ready for this Haas challenge? If they were, who is to blame for their lack of development and the fact that they’ve become consummate backmarkers?
One thing that is clear is that the Grosjean-Magnussen tandem didn’t work at Haas. Neither have earned another year with that team. Battling the Williams F1 team for ninth place in the team standings in Year 5 cannot possibly be what team owner Gene Haas had in mind when he started this team. There’s no way he went into this F1 career move saying, “I really hope at least one of our drivers can get a 10th-place finish once in a while by Year 5.”
It’s time for Haas to clear the decks and replace both of its current drivers if it truly hopes to move up in the standings. What’s going on now clearly is not working.
Here’s hoping the Haas team is able to put Schumacher and Hulkenberg (or Perez) in their seats next year. Give the fans something to watch. Give the fans a little hope.
“I would definitely not be against that,” said Steiner in a in interview with German outlet Sport1 when asked about taking on Schumacher. “The decision who Ferrari sends on is up to Ferrari, not us. We can say we want one or the other, but I don’t know the contracts Ferrari has with the juniors.
“Who wouldn’t want a Schumacher back in Formula 1? Especially in the form he is currently in Formula 2.”
As for Hulkenberg, Steiner, in the interview posted on Oct. 18, was less committed.
“I haven’t spoken to Nico in the last few weeks,” said Steiner. “As a team, we have to know what we want before we approach people. Nico is very respected in F1. We know what he can do. But we see what is best for us. We don’t negotiate with people without knowing where we are going.
“I find it dishonest to talk to people and then drop them. “
Mr. Steiner, please pick up the phone. Start talking to people.
Who is your Haas F1 Dream Team of drivers for 2021? Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg? Nikita Mazepin and Sergio Perez? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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