Guenther Steiner explains why he chose Nico over Mick, and ‘it’s not because we love him’

Michelle Foster
Guenther Steiner shares a joke with Mick Schumacher. Silverstone July 2022.

Guenther Steiner shares a joke with Mick Schumacher on the pit wall. Silverstone July 2022.

Returning to the Formula 1 grid this season, Guenther Steiner has reiterated his belief that Nico Hulkenberg’s past experience is what Haas needs to “get better as a team”.

Last season the Haas team boss raised eyebrows when he dropped 23-year-old Mick Schumacher in favour of signing Hulkenberg, 35, despite the latter not having raced full-time for three years.

It brought to an end a difficult period for Schumacher, the German often criticised by his team boss who wasn’t shy in letting the driver, and the world, know that his seat was on the line.

But while Steiner concedes deciding between the two “wasn’t an easy decision”, he believes Haas have made the right one based on performance.

“What we wanted to achieve is to improve the team. I think we still have potential to get better as a team,” the Italian told Auto Motor und Sport.

“And what’s the best way to advance a team? With drivers who you know what they can do and who take the team further.

“There’s a reason why we take Nico. It’s not because we love him. There’s a performance reason.

“Unfortunately Mick was only in his second season and there are people who were there before, they have already spent seven, eight, ten years in Formula 1, and they simply know more, they can take the team forward. And that’s why we decided to do it.”

But, he admits, it was a choice he did not make lightly.

“He improved a lot this year. Some moments were very good, I have to say. We were all positively surprised by what he brought. Canada, Silverstone and Austria were very good,” Steiner said while naming some of his better weekends.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. We waited properly because we didn’t know exactly what was best for the team. We always said we’re in no rush to make the decision, so we’ll wait a little longer and see how far it goes.”

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‘People all believe they have the right to vote’

Schumacher suffered two big crashes in his final season with Haas, the driver destroying his car in qualifying at the Jeddah circuit while in Monaco a small mistake led to a big accident.

It was reported that the two crashes alone cost Haas $2 million, and that’s not accounting for the new chassis he needed after “little aquaplane moment”, as he called it, in Japan.

But in hindsight Steiner says some of his criticism towards the driver wasn’t entirely fair.

“After Jeddah and Monte Carlo, the frustration was already great. With the two write-offs, you get frustrated. And sometimes you make statements that you don’t really think about. I know myself,” he said.

The situation wasn’t helped by everyone, and Schumacher’s uncle, having a say on the matter.

“The surname Schumacher is both a curse and a blessing. That’s well known,” added the 57-year-old. “People all believe they have the right to vote.

“I think only people who are part of the team or who own the team have the right to vote. Because if you don’t contribute, financially or otherwise, but just have an opinion, then you don’t have any risk.

“I have too I always have an opinion when I watch football about who should go where. But my opinion doesn’t count.

“I don’t let myself be influenced by people who have an opinion but no responsibility. You just have to see it that way, you have to stand up straight.

“If someone tells me that I’m doing everything wrong, they should say so. That’s life. You can’t please everyone. That’s why I’m completely relaxed.”

Schumacher’s Mercedes move is ‘not a bad decision’

But although from the outside one could understand if Steiner and Schumacher weren’t talking, the team boss felt their relationship actually improved in the latter part of 2022.

“My relationship with Mick was better in the second half of the season than the year and a half before that,” he revealed. “I think we can look each other in the eye without any problems.”

That’s a good thing as they’ll be seeing a lot more of each other this year after Schumacher signed as Mercedes’ official reserve driver for the 2023 championship. He’ll fill the same role at McLaren.

Steiner has wished him all the best for whatever comes next.

“I don’t know his contract, how much he drives a simulator, how much he tests. I don’t have any details. But it’s not a bad decision,” he said.

“I think it gives him the opportunity to be present in Formula 1. You know it, yes: If you are not present, you are quickly forgotten and it stays there.”