Kevin Magnussen's Triumphant Return is Going Better Than Anyone Expected

Magnussen was an odd re-hire for Haas F1 late last offseason, but he performed admirably with minimal testing time.

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This time last year, Kevin Magnussen's Formula 1 career was over. He had already spent a year in American sports cars with Chip Ganassi Racing's Cadillac team, a program he had already announced plans to leave for Peugeot's new Le Mans Hypercar initiative in 2022. Then, Russia's invasion of Ukraine led to the firing of Nikita Mazepin and a surprising late-season opening at his old Haas F1 team. Magnussen was brought into the fold very quickly after the seat was opened, surprising the world further by signing a multi-year deal.

This is the fifth installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2023 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering Haas F1. You can find the rest of our previews here .

At the time, it seemed like Haas F1 was rushing to make an unnecessary commitment to a driver that had not impressed with them in the past. Magnussen certainly impressed with them this year.

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HOW HE GOT HERE

Before any of this, Kevin Magnussen was the future at McLaren. A 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 title earned him Sergio Perez's car in the 2014 season. Unfortunately, both he and Perez (and, years later, Stoffel Vandoorne) found themselves at a struggling McLaren wholly unequipped to help a young driver develop alongside the team. He was dropped within a year for Fernando Alonso and spent 2015 as a reserve driver.

2016 took him to Renault, where he comfortably outdueled Joylon Palmer at another storied team at an all-time low. He scored points twice, but his decision to move to Haas in 2017 actually looked at the time like something of a move up the grid. That was the first of a four-year internal rivalry with Romain Grosjean, a similar talent with a very different background and driving style. While Grosjean beat him in the standings in 2017 and 2020, he reached the team's all-time high for a driver when he finished 9th in 2018.

That pair was finally broken up after a disastrous 2020 season turned into an even more disastrous 2021 for Haas. Grosjean went to IndyCar, where a promising season in a Dale Coyne Racing car earned him a promotion to Andretti Autosport. Magnussen looked to sports cars, first signing with Cadillac's IMSA program and later agreeing to a future deal to lead Peugeot's World Endurance Championship team. He also made one appearance in a McLaren IndyCar, a disappointing fill-in for an injured driver at Road America.

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HOW 2022 WENT

Magnussen's off-season may have started late, but it did not stop him from performing immediately. He secured a fifth in the opening race of the season, a truly exceptional performance for a Haas team that had gone without points just a year prior. He followed that up with points-scoring finishes in two of the next three rounds, then secured points three more times over the course of the year to finish 13th in the standings with 25 points.

But the real achievement came in qualifying. Thanks to an exceptional lap at the perfect time on a drying track before more rain arrived, Magnussen secured the team its first-ever pole at Interlagos. A qualifying race the next day meant Magnussen would not actually start the race from first, but the achievement stands. After a disaster of a 2021 season, Magnussen gave Haas F1 something to be proud of in 2022.

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GOALS FOR 2023

Magnussen, suddenly, has Haas back on an upward trajectory. The team is now better than it was during his first stint and reliably competitive with other back-of-the-midfield teams every weekend. That brings Q3 appearances in qualifying and points scoring finishes in races into play on a weekly basis, even if both are still relatively lofty goals. Helping Haas move further up the grid means more Q3s, more points, and maybe even another pole or podium.

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A SUCCESSFUL SEASON LOOKS LIKE...

This past season, Magnussen was paired with a young teammate in Mick Schumacher. The Haas team has since pivoted to another driver like Magnussen, a proven veteran with a relatively low ceiling in Nico Hulkenberg. That means more stiff internal competition, but the team has no prospect of its own waiting in the wings and has no reason to worry about either being poached by an elite team in the near future. In other words, Magnussen and Hulkenberg are in a rare position as F1 teammates that may actually be able to co-exist and build together over a relatively long term.

That being said, the expectation is still that Magnussen will beat Hulkenberg. Doing so will strengthen his job security at Haas. If he beats Hulkenberg in the final standings and secures another top-15 finish in the driver's championship, Magnussen will again be able to claim that he had a successful season in Formula 1.

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