Haas played the team game in Saudi Arabian F1 GP, but not everyone is happy

If there came a moment when you needed a reminder that Formula 1 is also a team sport, Haas provided you with one in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Roughly midway through Saturday night’s race, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was running a few positions out of the points, with teammate Nico Hülkenberg a few places ahead of him. However, Haas knew they did not have a chance at a double-points finish, as Magnussen had already picked up a ten-second penalty for causing a collision with Alexander Albon.

Knowing that his chance at a top-ten result was gone, Haas instead looked to play the team game. Hülkenberg still needed a pit stop, but that put his own chance at finishing in tenth — and capturing a point for the team — at risk.

So Magnussen went to work.

First he worked his way past Yuki Tsunoda — a pass which saw Magnussen later receive another ten-second penalty — and then he put his elbows out on the track, holding off the rest of the pack. But his effort gave Hülkenberg enough of an advantage over the chasing pack so that when he did come into the pits, he came back out on the track in a position to finish tenth.

Which he did, a result that vaulted Haas up into sixth place in the Constructors’ standings. Sure, this is just after two races, but after finishing at the bottom of the table a season ago, this is welcome news for the team.

Looking at Magnussen’s telemetry data from the race, courtesy of F1-Tempo, you can see how he slowed his pace starting on Lap 22, and through Hülkenberg’s pit stop on Lap 33, in an effort to get his elbows out and defend the position:

Following the race, both Haas Team Principal Ayao Komatsu, as well as Hülkenberg, praised Magnussen’s willingness to play the team game.

“Today was an amazing team effort and I’m so happy that it was from great teamwork. We were fighting for P10 – one point – but against eight other drivers, so everything had to be perfect to take the opportunity,” said Komatsu in the team’s post-race media recap. “Today, Kevin got two penalties, but once we realized he was out of points contention, we made a great call and Kev drove fantastically to hold those guys back while setting a target lap time, and Nico drove faultlessly. It was a huge team effort, congratulations to everyone, and I’m really looking forward to the next race.”

“One point is worth a lot these days. It felt like a very clean race, and a really good race by the team strategy-wise. We split the cars during the Safety Car which was discussed before the race and that worked out well. At the restart when the faster cars disappeared, I managed to get free air, good pace, and a good rhythm,” added Hülkenberg. “I think that was key, but also the teamwork from Kevin today to slow down the others for me to be able to make a pit window. It was perfect teamwork, and I’ll return the favor to him later in the season.”

In Magnussen’s mind, the single point was a massive result for the team.

“I showed good pace but unfortunately I got two penalties, so that’s not a great day for me of course, but I think I made up for it with the effort in keeping everyone behind to create a gap for Nico to pit. He scored a point so that’s super important and right now, I’m not fighting for a championship, so the real fight is in the Constructors’ Championship, and I’m happy that we scored a point today,” described Magnussen. “It’s huge for the team, we earned it today, and it’s positive that we have the pace – for a second race in a row we’ve shown that we have good pace.”

However, at least one of the teams that Magnussen held off is not happy, and they intend to raise the matter with the FIA, the sport’s governing body.

As mentioned above, Magnussen received a second ten-second penalty for an incident with Tsunoda. Now his team, Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, is blasting Magnussen’s driving, and will take their concerns to the FIA.

“With Yuki, we did a conventional race like most others. We started him on the medium [tire], and when the Safety Car came out, pitted him for the hard compound. What then happened was a little difficult to take,” said VCARB Sporting Director Alan Permane in the team’s media recap. “Magnussen drove off the track to deliberately put himself in front of Yuki and then slowed him down by up to two seconds a lap, which allowed Hulkenberg, who hadn’t stopped yet, to create a gap and of course pit in front of all the cars behind.

“That, to me, doesn’t seem correct and is the very definition of unsportsmanlike behaviour. I’m sure we and other teams will talk to the FIA about it for future races.”

Permane was not the only one sharply criticizing Magnussen’s driving. Team Principal Laurent Mekies joined the chorus in VCARB’s post-race report.

“It was a very disappointing result for the team today after a lot of good work during the weekend.

“Yuki was fighting for what could have been a P10 finish. He was then passed by Magnussen, who cut the track to do so and then slowed down the whole pack to let his teammate open a gap to pit in front of all of us. It made the penalty imposed on Magnussen meaningless, as it destroyed Yuki’s race,” added Mekies.

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