Magnussen welcomes end to “unrealistic optimism” at Haas

Haas VF-24 - Silverstone shakedown - February 2024 - © Haas F1 Team
© Haas F1 Team

Kevin Magnussen says that Haas has suffered in recent years from "some unrealistic optimism" at the start of the year, and he's happy to see new team boss Ayao Komatsu take a more clear-eyed approach to things.

Komatsu took over as Haas F1 Team principal last month after Guenther Steiner's contract was not renewed by team owner Gene Haas, following the squad's wooden spoon performance in 2023.

It's the second time in three seasons that Haas have finished bottom of the constructors standings. Komatsu has said the team will probably be backmarkers again this season, at least in the opening races.

Magnussen felt such hard-headed pragmatism was a refreshing change, one that was much-needed if the team had any hope of making actual progress in the future.

“I think in some years there has been some unrealistic optimism going into seasons - and I’ve been affected by it as well,” the Danish driver acknowledged this week.

“Certainly Ayao is very clear that he doesn’t think we’ve moved out of last year’s position yet," Magnussen continued. "But he’s also clear in that he sees the development trajectory looking a lot stronger

"He’s actually optimistic that we can move forward through this year," he added. "Expectations are low to begin with, but high for the season as a whole.”

Magnussen said that the reason for this is because the gaps in performance between teams and drivers was very small, meaning that a relatively tiny improvement could quickly boost a car up the grid past its rivals.

Kevin Magnussen - Haas livery launch - February 2024 - © Haas F1 Team

© Haas F1 Team

“The entire field is so close together," he explained. "Last year we completely ran into a wall in terms of development, we couldn’t really break that barrier until we shifted the concept. This year is looking a lot better."

Speaking at the official launch event for the new VF-24 chassis, Magnussen confirmed that he was on good terms with the new boss. “I have a good relationship with Ayao,” he said.

“He’s been with the team for eight years, since the beginning in 2016, so I’ve worked very closely with him ever since I came to Haas in 2017.

“It’s been a big change in our team, of course, becoming team principal," Magnussen acknowledged. "It’s going to change the dynamic and communication across the whole organisation.

Haas VF-24 - Silverstone shakedown - February 2024 - © Haas F1 Team

© Haas F1 Team

"Ayao is an engineer, and he has a reasonable amount of engineering experience with a Formula 1 team. Getting into that mindset at the helm of the team is going to be very interesting."

Magnussen's team mate Nico Hulkenberg got the opportunity to be first behind the wheel of the VF-24 this week in a shakedown outing Silverstone and gave it a good report.

"I’ve seen the new car," he said. "We managed to clean up some things. It does look better, it is an evolution.

“You naturally want to do better than the previous year, that’s normal," Hulkenberg said. “Hopefully the car will be a bit better with the limitations than we found last year.

Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen - Haas livery launch - February 2024 - © Haas F1 Team

© Haas F1 Team

“We did have a difficult year last year, so we definitely want to improve," he said. Last year's car was notoriously hard on its tyres, meaning any gains in qualifying and early progress in a race quickly haemorrhaged away.

"Especially the race weakness we had last year, that was something we need to and want to get on top of," Hulkenberg admitted.

"But at this point of the year, like every year, you’re a bit in the dark as to where you are and where you’re going to rank. We just need to keep our heads down, keep working hard, and stay focused.”

The first real test of where Haas stands in 2024 will come at this week's three day official pre-season test at Bahrain, a week before the first Grand prix of the year at the same venue.

It'll be the first time in its existence that Haas F1 has been out on track without Steiner at the helm, heaping a lot of weight on Komatsu shoulders to deliver rapid signs of improvement and forward progress.

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