Haas’ second driver considerations – Speedcafe

Haas will announce its second driver this week

Haas is expected this week to confirm the identity of its second driver, the person who will partner Kevin Magnussen in the 2023 Formula 1 season.

The decision has, according to team boss Guenther Steiner, been made but not announced. There are a few finer details to lock down, but the deal is done.

It’s understood the choice was between two drivers; Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg. The common wisdom is that the latter is the preferred candidate.

That is an opinion based on comments emanating from the team, and its approach to securing its driver.

Publicly, Steiner has stated that he is in no rush as he needs to make the right decision for the team.

That in itself is telling as it suggests he has reservations about Schumacher’s fit within the organization, and his ability to deliver what is required.

And one can understand that. The young German has not had a stellar F1 career and has proved a little crash happy at times.

While he crushed Nikita Mazepin last season, the Russian was hardly of a standard suitable to race at the top flight of world motorsport.

Against Magnussen this year, a driver who was rushed in with little preparation having spent a year on the sidelines, Schumacher was put in the shade early on.

And the problem is, that hasn’t really changed – and certainly not with any degree of consistency.

Magnussen remains the stronger of the two drivers, evidenced by his performance in Qualifying for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

There is a strong points discrepancy between the pair too, with Schumacher having accumulated less than half the points of his teammate.

Had the pair scored at a more equitable rate, there’s a good chance Haas would be in contention for the battle for sixth in the constructors’ championship.

As it is, it is eighth, two points clear of Scuderia AlphaTauri.

While that might seem somewhat beside the point, for a team operating below the cost cap, a gain of two positions in the constructors’ championship has huge significance.

Formula 1’s commercial rights holder pays out prize money based on the team’s performance from the previous year.

While not an exact measure, each position is worth $10-$12 million, meaning sixth in the championship receives $20 million more than eighth.

When the cost cap is $135 million next year, that is a huge sum of money Gene Haas either no longer has to chip in himself or have his marketing team go out and find.

Of course, having that money is great, but another critical factor is not spending it unnecessarily.

Crash damage to an extent is part and parcel of motorsport, but Schumacher has had heavy shunts twice this year – he missed the race in Saudi Arabia because of a mistake in Qualifying and then had a mammoth moment in Monaco.

There have been other incidents too, including after the checkered flag during practice in Japan.

Of course, Schumacher has improved and in the latter part of this year has offered a better account of himself, but is it a case of too little too late?

And realistically, can Hulkenberg deliver any better as the second driver for Haas?

On the body of evidence available, it’s fair to suggest he probably can.

Hulkenberg is older and more mature, and while he hasn’t had many opportunities in recent years, when he’s been given a go he’s typically performed well.

At the start of 2022, he substituted for Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin and proved competitive against Lance Stroll despite having far less time in the car.

We know he’s somewhere on par with Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo in terms of pace, having been a teammate to both at points.

The one thing he lacks is a Formula 1 podium, but for a team like Haas, whose focus is firmly on securing his place in the midfield, that is not really an issue.

He is a dependable and experienced driver with a strong history of keeping himself out of trouble and delivering what is needed – something he has done throughout his decade-long career.

Now 35, he is somewhat long in the tooth and not someone who will lead the team for years to come, but he is a capable stopgap that fits the team’s needs today and will do tomorrow, too.

And for the moment, that’s all the team wants and needs – a driver who can be relied upon to get the most out of the car, deliver the points and, as much as possible, stay out of trouble.

On balance then, given the choice between Schumacher and Hulkenberg, it is understandable why the latter seems the preferred option as Haas’ second driver.

Time will tell, with the team set to make the announcement prior to this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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