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Kevin Magnussen’s F1 tactics have helped Haas — and put him in danger of a race ban

Written by on May 14, 2024

If you’d have told Haas going into this Formula One season that, after Miami, it would have points from four rounds and sit seventh in the championship, the team would have been delighted.

A car that is more forgiving on its tires, combined with some particularly impressive displays from Nico Hülkenberg, has put Haas a step ahead of Williams, Sauber and Alpine so far in 2024. It has surpassed all preseason expectations, set low after a difficult end to last year, in which it finished last, and that resulted in Guenther Steiner’s offseason exit.

On a couple of occasions, the deciding factor to make the top 10 has been Hülkenberg’s teammate, Kevin Magnussen, whose bold defensive tactics — it wouldn’t be a stretch to call them aggressive — have helped his teammate snare a couple of extra points.

But after a penalty-laden weekend in Miami, Magnussen will spend the rest of the season on the brink of an F1 race ban for his driving behavior, assuming he doesn’t trigger it with one more offense.

At a time when the gulf between F1’s fastest five teams and the slowest five is so great, every single point is valuable in the battle at the back of the grid, particularly as each constructors’ championship position is worth in the region of $12-15 million in prize money.

Magnussen had this in mind in Saudi Arabia after picking up a time penalty for a collision with Alex Albon early on and another for passing Yuki Tsunoda off-track. Knowing his race was ruined by the added time, he got aggressive in his defensive moves to help Hülkenberg. By slowing down the cars he was fighting, Magnussen created a gap that meant Hülkenberg could pit without losing a position, keeping 10th to score a precious point for Haas.

Post-race, Hülkenberg thanked Magnussen for playing the team game. Magnussen picked up three penalty points for the collision with Albon, while the overtake on Tsunoda only resulted in a 10-second time penalty — even though it had cost the cars behind far more.

Magnussen picked up another two penalty points in China for his collision with Tsunoda after the safety car restart, putting him on five for the season. Any driver who accrues 12 penalty points on their super license in a 12-month period is subject to a one-race ban, per the rules introduced in 2014.

Kevin Magnussen’s 2024 driving offenses

Race Offense Penalty

Saudi Arabia

Causing a collision with Albon

10s time penalty; 3 penalty points

Saudi Arabia

Leaving the track and gaining an advantage

10s time penalty

China

Causing a collision with Tsunoda

10s time penalty; 2 penalty points

Miami (sprint)

Leaving the track and gaining an advantage

10s time penalty

Miami (sprint)

Leaving the track and gaining an advantage

10s time penalty

Miami (sprint)

Leaving the track and gaining an advantage

10s time penalty; 3 penalty points

Miami (sprint)

Leaving the track without a justifiable reason multiple times

5s time penalty

Miami (GP)

Causing a collision with Sargeant

10s time penalty; 2 penalty points

Miami (GP)

Entering the pit lane under safety car and not changing tires

Drive-through, converted to 20s time penalty

But it was in the Miami sprint race that Magnussen did himself the real damage, again to aid Hülkenberg score a few points. He went off-track on three occasions to help stay ahead of Lewis Hamilton, opening up a gap to Hülkenberg ahead in the process. Each triggered a 10-second time penalty that meant Magnussen was classified last, but his actions were effective in allowing Hülkenberg to speed away in front.

Magnussen was already aware of the first 10-second time penalty dropping him to last before the second and third offenses, the latter also resulting in three penalty points on his super license because of the frequency of the misdeeds. Post-race on the radio, he mentioned some “nice teamwork”, and admitted afterwards to F1 TV that he had to “had to do my thing to protect Nico” who scored two points for Haas in seventh.

“I had to play the sporting game not to have him be overtaken as well,” Magnussen said. “So, not the way I want to go racing. But what I had to do.”

The stewards investigated Magnussen for unsportsmanlike behavior after the sprint, given he so freely admitted to driving how he did to help Hülkenberg, only to deem this bar to be set too high for his actions. Magnussen got the penalties the regulations dictate; if they’re not severe enough, that’s on the rules, not the driver. The stewards did note the fact the rules do not deter the kind of way Magnussen drove, and that they would “raise explicitly” the matter with the FIA and the stewarding team.

Magnussen agreed the rules could be improved. “If you’re fighting and you do something that’s not allowed, it would be great if the FIA had the power to tell you to give it back and swap positions,” he said. “That way, it’s going to have an effect immediately and stop any games being played.”


Magnussen’s questionable tactics kept Hamilton from passing his teammate Hülkenberg in the Miami Sprint race. (Jared C. Tilton – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

McLaren boss Andrea Stella was very unimpressed by Magnussen’s actions in the sprint, calling them “unacceptable” and saying that penalties should be “exponential,” not cumulative. “Five plus five plus five should equal… maybe you need to spend a weekend at home with your family, reflect on your sportsmanship and then come back,” Stella said.

It will require a close look from the FIA, whether this is a loophole it needs to close to improve driving standards, or simply part of the game. For now, it firmly remains the latter, and it is one that Magnussen played to perfection in Miami.

That’s not to say there may not be a price to pay. The three penalty points were followed by another two on Sunday for his clumsy collision with Logan Sargeant, taking Magnussen up to 10, two shy of a race ban.

It’s not the first time a driver has reached this tally — Pierre Gasly spent a few races on 10 points in early 2023 — but it will be the first time a driver has to spend the majority of the season with the threat of a ban looming.

Penalty points are typically limited to on-track incidents (the three for the repeated breaches of track limits was an exception), meaning it’s likely to only be a collision with another driver that might tip Magnussen over the limit to 12. Magnussen won’t drop any of his points until the start of next season, meaning he has another 18 races to survive without any more incidents.

Were Magnussen to be benched for a race, Oliver Bearman would be first in line to step in after his star turn for Ferrari in Jeddah. Bearman will take part in FP1 for Haas at Imola next weekend, his first of six scheduled practice appearances with the team over the course of the season.

Asking a driver to change their approach or be more mindful when in battle is far easier said than done. For Magnussen, as successful as his tactics have been so far in helping Haas this season, they now leave him at risk of spending a race on the sidelines barring a spotless remainder of the season.

(Lead photo of Kevin Magnussen: Song Haiyuan/MB Media/Getty Images)

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