Haas brought the Dane back into the fold after a season away following the sacking of Russian driver Nikita Mazepin in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine
Juan Pablo Montoya has explained why Kevin Magnussen was the man Haas turned to when they needed to find a driver on the eve of the new Formula 1 season.
Haas found themselves a man short with just two weeks to go until lights out in Bahrain following the sacking of Nikita Mazepin. The American team ditched the driver after cutting ties with the Russian fertiliser firm Uralkali, co-owned by his oligarch father Dmitry, which had been a major sponsor.
Team boss Guenther Steiner later explained that keeping the Russian racer was untenable in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “We couldn’t make any other decision when we got to it, there was no possibility to keep him driving,” he said in Bahrain. “The criticism, the sanction, altogether, it didn’t work out any more.”
As a replacement was needed at such short notice, it was clear that someone who could get up to speed quickly was needed. Pietro Fittipaldi was an obvious choice as the reserve driver, while Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were also touted as possible choices as the two most recent contracted racers at Haas.
In the end it was the Dane who was selected. Montoya, a seven-time race winner in Formula 1, has explained why that call was a no-brainer in a pre-season filled with difficult choices for Steiner and team owner Gene Haas.
“I think a lot of people were surprised, but I think he was the right person for the job,” Montoya told VegasInsider. “Because it would have been him or Grosjean, in my opinion, because they are guys that have been in the team, know the team, know the engineers, know the working environment. And they understand the sport. When that happens, it’s easy to make that decision.
“You can either have somebody with crazy amounts of money or you look for somebody that’s gonna help the team. At that point, you’re gonna look for somebody that is going to help the team, more than anything else, in my opinion. And I think they went for the safer route. That is the safest route they could go with. Because, who else are you going to hire?”
F1 legend Emerson Fittipaldi said he was “disappointed” that his grandson Pietro had not been given a shot, although he understood why Haas went with a more experienced option. Montoya went on to say he felt choosing the Brazilian would have been too much of a risk.
“(Pietro) Fittipaldi hasn’t raced in how many years? And he did a decent job when he replaced, a year and a half ago. But since that race, I don’t think he’s raced anything,” the Colombian added. “How many tests do they do in F1? Are they gonna gamble it on a young guy? With no testing experience, no simulator time, a week before the race?”
“The choices were Grosjean but he signed with Andretti for a multi-year deal. He’s in a happy place and I don’t think he would go for it. So the other guy was Mags. The other guy you could have looked for was (Nico) Hulkenberg.”
Magnussen enjoyed a dream start on his F1 return, taking advantage of both Red Bulls suffering mechanical issues at the end of the Bahrain Grand Prix to finish fifth and end a long wait for points for the team. Delighted team principal Steiner was unable to hide his joy over team radio: “Kevin that was some f***ing viking comeback,” he exclaimed. “F***ing great, I cannot believe it!”