Interview: Magnussen finds 'family' at Haas
19 March 2017 – Kevin Magnussen, still only 24, has already represented two of the biggest names in the history of Formula 1: McLaren and Renault. In 2017, he will begin a new chapter at Haas, which, as he clearly puts it, is "by far the smallest team" on the grid. GPUpdate.net hears from the Danish racer about his next step.
Magnussen was thrust into the limelight in 2014 when he graduated to Formula 1 with McLaren, taking a startling podium on his debut in Australia, but the remainder of the season proved more challenging, and Fernando Alonso took his race seat for 2015.
With Stoffel Vandoorne emerging, and no way back at McLaren, Magnussen sought refuge with returning manufacturer Renault, when Pastor Maldonado's funding fell through.
However, Renault struggled upon its comeback, limiting Magnussen to just two points finishes, while he grew increasingly uneasy over his future, amid hesitancy from the French brand, as it explored an array of options, prompting Magnussen to jump ship to Haas.
"It's been a really good experience at Haas so far," smiles Magnussen, who cuts a relaxed figure in a team hoodie, as pre-season testing rumbles on in the background.
"I'm looking forward to continuing, to really settling in completely and to experiencing a full race weekend with the team – it's been a real pleasure here.
"It's by far the smallest team in F1, but they're really delivering in all aspects.
"Everybody at Haas is massively motivated, but we're in a situation where we have partners, like Dallara (chassis) and Ferrari (engine/parts supply), who are also very, very motivated."
Magnussen has already noticed some key differences at Haas, compared to the major organisations of McLaren and Renault, during his initial months onboard the outfit.
"This team, because it's much smaller, it hasn't taken so long to get on with the job and know everyone – I feel like I know the names of everyone already.
"I never got to that point during my time at McLaren or at Renault, but there's very much a family feeling here because it's so small and intense, intimate in a way."
Magnussen says this "family feeling" results in a much more positive factory environment, with staff working collectively and pushing each other on to new levels.
"It's a thing in Formula 1 that even within teams there's too much competition between the people in the team, the engineers, the designers and stuff," he says.
"They're competitive with each other, which doesn't make a good atmosphere or spirit.
"At Haas, they're working together not against each other, not fighting for each other's job. Everyone feels under pressure but they don't feel threatened."
Magnussen is a fan of Haas' relatively simple management set-up, after having to contend with an array of senior figures at McLaren and Renault, where tensions arose.
At Magnussen's new home, Gene Haas is the owner, while Guenther Steiner is the team boss.
"It's very new and we haven't worked together so long, but when there will be some issue, you know that Guenther will be there, the problem will be solved and you will move on.
"I think that will be easier [to deal with] because we have a small management structure and one vision, it's not three or four different visions – so that's healthy."
Magnussen got his first taste of the VF-17 during the recent fortnight of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and was left encouraged by what he experienced.
"My first feeling in the car is very good," he says with a smile.
"We need to continue to make progress and improve the car but, at the moment, we know what direction we want to go in and we know where we can make progress.
"It's been positive and we're going in a good direction."
Magnussen also enthuses over the direction Formula 1 has taken for 2017, with revised aerodynamics and wider Pirelli tyres contributing to significant lap time gains.
"If you are a true motorsport fan, you will like this," he argues.
"This is what motorsport fans want; we want fast cars, impressive performance and not some kind of fake show you can put on television – watch Big Brother instead.
"It would be nice to do something about those weird [thumb-tip] noses, but I don't really mind the shark fins, I think they look pretty good. As long as it's fast!"
Magnussen played down fears of processional races under the new regulations, suggesting that there will now be "quality over quantity" on the overtaking front.
"In terms of racing maybe there will be less overtaking, but I think the quality of the racing will be better, as when we get some fighting it will be hard," he says.
"If you have a big possibility to overtake, if it's too easy, the field will just be Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, blah, blah, blah – qualifying will be the result in the race.
"If you have it a little bit harder to overtake, you get a surprise in qualifying or the first lap, and this guy that is out of position, he has something to fight for.
"Before, if you end up in a big position in the first lap, you could forget it, as you'd be overtaken easily, so maybe this factor will be more exciting this year."
Romain Grosjean scored 29 points to give Haas eighth position, out of 11 teams, in last year's standings, including sixth- and fifth-place finishes at the first two races.
But how does Magnussen expect the team to fare as F1's new era begins?
"As I said, Haas is by far the smallest team in Formula 1, so anything more than last position is over-delivering," comments Magnussen, discussing his and the team's aims.
"It's quite impressive for them to score nearly 30 points in the first year.
"I think if we can improve on this position it's very, very, very impressive. I'm sure everyone in the team would be happy even just to improve a little bit on last year."
Interview by: Mike Seymour