Ill-gotten gains be damned, Kevin Magnussen is winning the game of millions for Haas

Michelle Foster
Kevin Magnussen Miami opinion

Kevin Magnussen has helped Haas score more than half their points

The scorecard may read one point for Kevin Magnussen but an in-depth dive shows he is responsible for half of his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg’s six.

Ill-gotten as rivals may feel those points are, they have elevated Haas to seventh place in the Constructors’ Championship and that’s millions worth fighting for, even fighting dirty.

In a game of millions, what’s 10 seconds versus 10 million?

Cast your minds back to Jeddah, the Grand Prix in which Haas did what four of their rivals had not done at the time – score a point.

Magnussen played the team game for all he was worth that Sunday as he took up the role of protector to Hulkenberg and bollard to Yuki Tsunoda.

Stopping the RB driver from passing, even if it meant knowingly incurring a penalty for leaving the track to stay ahead, Magnussen also slowed his pace to give Hulkenberg the chance to build up a gap.

Tsunoda decried it as “unfair”, but as Magnussen put it, it was “good teamwork”. The stewards didn’t throw the book at Magnussen for his negative tactics, although James Vowles said that’s “not how” F1 should go racing and called for a review. He was one of several voicing that concern.

But there was no review, all the stewards did was adhere to the rulebook and for Magnussen that meant a 10-second time penalty for the race but no penalty points, as the rules state that leaving the track mandates a 10s penalty but “zero penalty points”.

But when is the norm no longer the norm? Apparently when you commit the same offence four times in one race, and in a 19-lap race at that.

Fast forward two months on from Saudi Arabia, and lining up on the Sprint grid in Miami with five points on his Super Licence – all for causing collisions, Magnussen revisited his Jeddah tactics as he once again protected Hulkenberg, this time from Lewis Hamilton.

But instead of his one-off off from his Tsunoda battle, this time he incurred three time penalties for leaving the track, twice doing so to stay ahead of Hamilton in their battle.

The mandatory time penalties were dished out but nothing to impact Magnussen’s race. He was still outside of the points and Hulkenberg was still sitting on two having finished seventh.

This time around though, stewards went hard for the penalty points as they awarded him three.

“Taking into account mitigating or aggravating circumstances,” read their statement, “the authority of the stewards to increase the points assessed is intended to be used only in exceptional circumstances.”

Aggravating and exceptional were probably two of the nicer words uttered on Saturday to describe Magnussen’s tactics.

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He was also fortunate to avoid a charge of unsportsmanlike behaviour, the stewards quashing that on the grounds that for such a serious offence, “there must be clear evidence of an intention to behave in a manner that can be said to be unsportsmanlike”.

For Magnussen there wasn’t intent, he was just doing what the rulebook stated he could – albeit with the caveat that such actions come with a penalty.

According to the stewards he “thought that he was entitled to race with Car 44 in the manner that he did”. He was also “willing to accept what he considered to be standard penalties” for doing that. And they conceded that “it was not uncommon for a driver to seek to assist his teammate”.

And therein lies the crux, assisting one’s teammate. After all, F1 is a team sport.

Magnussen and Haas played the team game and in doing so amassed three points through those tactics in the first six races alone.

Andrea Stella, despite his McLaren team not being affected by it, called for a race ban, saying: “Maybe you need to spend a weekend at home with your family, reflect on your sportsmanship and then go back.

“And if we see that you’ve become loyal, fair, and sportsmanlike to your fellow competitors, then you can stay in this business. It’s completely unacceptable.”

But with Magnussen himself admitting it was a “stupid tactic” that he didn’t enjoy but that he “had to play the game”, the victim on Saturday, Hamilton, said that was a “pretty cool” response and applauded their “hard”, if a “little bit on the edge in some places”, racing.

Stella’s own driver Lando Norris called it “cruel” but “smart” as Magnussen “did nothing to deserve to get black-flagged”. Nothing as per Formula 1’s own rules that state a driver leaving the track shall be given a 10-second time penalty, and “zero penalty points”.

Magnussen should not be vilified for Saturday’s antics, as he did nothing that is outside of the rules. They say if you do this then here’s your penalty. He did that, and there was his penalty.

If fingers should be pointed, point them at Formula 1 and the FIA as they were given fair warning back in Jeddah that Haas would use whatever tactics needed to score points. Even if it meant sacrificing one of their drivers on the alter of penalties.

Formula 1, despite those post-Jeddah calls for a review, did nothing to change the rules to put in a serious deterrent. Because in a game of millions, what’s 10 seconds versus 10 million?

Last year P6 to P10 was worth an estimated $27 million, Haas being the big loser that time around. So far this year, they’re smiling.

Of course, Haas didn’t foresee the penalty points given the rule says “zero”. Perhaps someone over there should’ve read the fine print.

As it stands Magnussen could receive a ban before the year is over, maybe even the month.

Not for unsporting behaviour, but for hitting the 12 penalty point mark as he’s up to 10 after Sunday’s Grand Prix, hit with another two for punting Logan Sargeant into retirement.

Stella may yet get his wish…

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