Guenther Steiner has a difficult decision looming on the horizon. Sunday was yet another disappointing race for the American team, but the focus has firmly shifted towards the 2020 season. For the first time in its history, Haas look likely to finish worse than it did the year before on points. Continuous improvement is always a difficult endeavor so the struggles this season are no significant cause for alarm. However, Haas must decide on the future of its driver lineup as Romain Grosjean will be out of contract at the end of the season. The dominoes have started to fall and it’s Haas’s turn to make a move.
Romain Grosjean has been a major part of Haas’s history since its inception back in 2016. Paired alongside Esteban Gutierrez, Grosjean easily outraced his teammate accruing all of the team’s 29 points in its maiden season. Since the arrival of Kevin Magnussen in 2017, Haas has kept the same driver lineup, the only team in the midfield pack to do so. Magnussen has thus far scored 20 more points than Grosjean since 2017, and has looked to have overtaken the French-Swiss driver as number 1 with Guenther Steiner. As Haas looks to be a team in need of a shakeup, Romain Grosjean just might be the one looking for a new home in 2020.
Gunether Steiner made the situation very clear in the lead up to the Belgium Grand Prix about his driver options.
“We’re almost there. It is not a long time until we decide what to do. There are not many drivers… our dream was always to have a driver with experience. So for sure there’s interest [in Hulkenberg].
“There’s interest in Ocon… and there’s interest in Romain as well.”
Shortly after the interview, it was announced that Valtteri Bottas would remain with Mercedes for the 2020 season with Esteban Ocon moving to Renault. Hulkenberg would now be the only available option for Steiner aside from Grosjean. Nico Hulkenberg would certainly bring change into the team, but that change does not necessarily equate to a good decision.
Nico Hulkenberg is not having the best of seasons in 2019. Renault was universally pegged to grab a firm hold of fourth place in the Constructor Standings entering Australia. A combination of a strong midfield and an underperforming car has yielded disappointing results, and the team’s upward trajectory towards an eventual title challenge has all but stalled. Hulkenberg is in his third season with the French outfit after a tenure with Sahara Force India. The German driver was always considered a talent on the cusp of breaking into the upper echelon, but has so far not managed to make the jump. This season has only gotten worse for the German who is having a career low average finish of 12.2.
Hulkenberg reportedly had the option of returning to Renault for the 2020 season, according to F1 legend and Renault advisor, Alan Prost. Prost told the media,
“What was decisive is that we offered Nico Hulkenberg a one-year contract with an option for 2021, but he wanted a two-year contract, not an option.”
Prost went on to state,
“We needed someone with more freshness, more enthusiasm. Esteban Ocon brings a whole new dynamic to the team.”
There is little arguing with Prost’s viewpoint on the situation. After all, Renault are in a similar position to Haas. Both constructors are having a down year compared to their expectations, and with the 2021 regulations on the horizon the need to reassess their respective situation is paramount.
Regardless of the internal deliberations leading to the current state of play, Nico Hulkenberg still has plenty to offer a competing team in Formula 1. Although he is yet to achieve a podium finish in his career, he offers a plethora of experience and consistency that has shown through during his time with multiple midfield teams. Oddly enough, a major criticism of Romain Grosjean has been his inconsistency with Haas. During the entirety of the 2018 F1 season, Grosjean only finished higher than his starting place on four occasions. He has also been the subject of some troubling gaffes while on track resulting in either a crash or an impaired vehicle.
For all the criticism that Grosjean has received, Haas would not have kept him around this long if those in the team did not believe he was of value. Grosjean brings a comprehensive understanding of the car, which could help Haas if it expects another tumultuous season in 2020. He also possess the talent to be a top driver when performing at his best, but that talent has not been on display often enough. Unfortunately, following multiple on track incidents between Grosjean and Magnussen, Steiner might be thinking their partnership has reached its course.
A team consisting of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen would make for a media frenzy entering the 2020 Formula 1 season. Both drivers have had public spats in the past, and there seems to be no love lost between them. Following an on-track incident during the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hulkenberg confronted Magnussen in the press pen during post race interviews. Hulkenberg was quick to downplay any tension between a possible pairing with Kevin Magnussen,
“I’d love to see that. A teammate is a teammate. You kind of have to accept him. Some you get on (with) but you don’t have to get on- maybe it’s better, I don’t know. I don’t think it would be a deal-breaker for me.”
Nico Hulkenberg might not be an upgrade in pure ability from Romain Grosjean, but he has shown consistency over the course of many seasons. Nico Hulkenberg would undoubtedly relish the opportunity to challenge for the number 1 driver position with a team again. Daniel Ricciardo’s signing was a clear signal from Renault that Nico is not the future. Hulkenberg’s partnership with Magnussen might result in both drivers performing at their best in a team looking to bounce back from a horrendous season.
The stars are aligning for a Grosjean departure and a Hulkenberg arrival. Haas’s decision to stick with Grosjean for the 2019 was surprising to begin with and the prospect of him returning after an even more disastrous campaign, though not all down to poor driving, seems unlikely. Nico would bring a change of pace that is necessary and in the end both parties would be better for it.
Photo Credit-Unsplash: Puk Patrick