Guenther Steiner: Teams ‘always take a step forward’ with Nico Hulkenberg

Michelle Foster
Nico Hulkenberg climbs out of the Haas. Abu Dhabi November 2022

Nico Hulkenberg climbs out of the Haas during the post-season Pirelli test. Abu Dhabi November 2022

Despite returning to the grid after three years without a full-time ride Guenther Steiner is convinced Nico Hulkenberg is the right man to drive Haas forward as he’s done it with other teams.

Having conceded midway through 2022 that his Formula 1 career was over, Hulkenberg reportedly telling his former team-mate Jolyon Palmer just that, the 35-year-old was handed a lifeline by Haas who signed him as Kevin Magnussen’s 2023 team-mate.

The driver replaced Mick Schumacher, the younger of the two Germans having managed just two top-ten results in 43 starts.

Feeling that Haas were spending more time trying to help Schumacher get better, rather than the German doing that job for the team, Steiner made the call to drop the 23-year-old.

He went with Hulkenberg as his replacement as the Italian believes the former Renault driver, although yet to record a F1 podium, has “always” helped his teams take steps forward.

“I think when we looked at it,” he told Speedcafe, “I mean it’s not like Mick Schumacher did a bad job, it’s just he drove two years in F1 and we still have got weak spots in the team.

“And I’m always the first one to say we need to get back to everywhere and we need to help to get better. And if we need to help a driver get better, that takes a focus of what we need to get better as a team.

“So we looked back and said we need an experienced driver.

“Obviously there are a few things: Nico didn’t have a drive, I know he didn’t drive for three years or not full time, just some races.

“But when you look at Nico Hulkenberg’s career, he was always in the midfield teams and they always made a step forward because I think he knows exactly what needs to be done to make the team better.

“That experience we want to drill into, we want to use that experience to make our team better so we are in the midfield, but on top of the midfield is our next main.

“Once you’re on top of the midfield then you can try to make the next step to go on to the podium all the time so we need to do step by step but I think having Nico Hulkenberg on board with Kevin, it will help us to achieve this position faster.”

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Steiner hopes Haas are making the ‘smartest’ investments

While the likes of Aston Martin and McLaren are investing heavily in infrastructure, building new factories and wind tunnels and simulators, Steiner says Haas are happy with what they have today.

Not only does the American team draw heavily from Ferrari’s expertise, their car’s suspension and gearbox bought from the Scuderia, they also have a base in Maranello and access to Ferrari’s wind tunnel.

The 57-year-old does not believe investing in buildings will drive his team forward, rather he says Haas’ focus is on the people working for the team.

“I think from our side, the wind tunnel we use is fine as is the business model,” Steiner insisted. “We don’t need a big factory because we buy a lot of the mechanical parts from Ferrari. They’ve got good facilities so I don’t worry too much about that one.

“They had a very good car this year and I think they will have a good car next year as well so like the suspension, the hydraulics, the gearbox we buy from them. I think we’ve got a very solid path there.

“And the wind tunnel we use is up to scratch so we don’t need a new big building. I think our focus is more like how we can get the whole racing team better to make the next step including driver.

“So we focus on that one and obviously, as you say in Formula One, we are not the only ones which want to be on top of the midfield, there is a lot of other people out there as well who want to do that and everybody invests in what they think is the right thing to invest.

“I think our way to get better is to invest in the people going forward. I think facility wise we are pretty fine. Obviously you always can add more but bigger facilities is also a distraction in my opinion.

“They don’t make you go faster, except if you have got a very good wind tunnel that nobody else has got. But I think the wind tunnels are all very equally at the moment.”

He added: “I’m pretty happy where we invest our money and hopefully we are the smartest ones doing it.

“There’s no assurance of that because the other people are not stupid, they’re very smart people at Aston Martin and McLaren who try to outperform us as well.”

It’s a long road back to P5 for the Haas team

Haas recorded their best finish ever in the championship back in 2018, the year they finished fifth. Although the season started with a double DNF at the Australian Grand Prix, the team responsible for their own demise, both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were fighting for points when they retired.

Fast forward five years and Magnussen was back with Haas and again fighting for points at 2022’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. This time he made it, P5 on the day, and Haas’ season was up and running.

But their joy was short-lived as by race five they were falling off the pace while rival teams developed their cars and, when Haas finally got around to upgrading theirs, they got it wrong. What started so brightly ended with a P8 in the Constructors’ Championship with Haas scoring just two points in the final 11 races.

The team is now banking on another returning driver, Hulkenberg, to join Magnussen and drive the team forward. They will have two voices instead of one developing the car, as well as two drivers both incredible appreciative of the opportunity Steiner has given them.

Expect Haas to take a notable step forward in 2023, but it’s one that will close the gap to the teams at the top of the midfield, not one that will surpass them after all Alpine’s 173 points scored in 2022 are a long way ahead of Haas’ 37.