Mark Webber: Hulkenberg to Haas a poor reflection on young driver talent pool

Mark Scott
Nico Hulkenberg checks out the rear of the Haas VF-22. Abu Dhabi November 2022

2023 returnee Nico Hulkenberg checks out the rear of the Haas VF-22. Abu Dhabi November 2022

Mark Webber has expressed his “surprise” that Haas chose to pick Nico Hulkenberg as Kevin Magnussen’s team-mate for the F1 2023 season.

Haas chose to end their partnership with Mick Schumacher after two seasons together, the son of the seven-time World Champion, Michael, ultimately not able to do enough in the eyes of management to warrant at least another year on the Formula 1 grid.

By picking Hulkenberg to replace him, it is symbolic in that it brings Haas’ experiment trying to bring through younger drivers to an end – Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen now set to form one of the most experienced line-ups on the grid.

But Webber isn’t particularly blown away by this driver market move and thinks it speaks volumes about the apparent lack of young driver talent currently trying to work their way through the racing ranks.

“I’m a little bit surprised to be honest,” Webber told Channel 4 when asked for his thoughts on Hulkenberg’s move to Haas.

“I thought that it’s a bit of a poor reflection on the talent pool underneath [Formula 1] at the moment. I think there’s not enough guys that they can lean on to move up [the ladder] and replace Mick.

“We know Guenther [Steiner, Haas team boss] is over rookies. He wants the other end of the scale and has gone for a veteran.

He jokingly added: “Nico can’t crash that car at all, he’s going to perfect next year.

“I know he’s losing some weight right now as we speak. He’s on the treadmill shaving that [fat] off, so good to luck to him.”

With Haas deciding to no longer continue with Mick Schumacher and the F1 2023 driver line-up now complete, it means he will have to settle for a reserve role next season if he is to keep at least one foot in the Formula 1 door for a potential return in the years to come.

A move to Mercedes looks positive, especially with another Silver Arrows’ target in Daniel Ricciardo recently returning ‘home’ to Red Bull.

Both Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Schumacher himself are open to working together and Webber thinks it will make for a nice, feel-good story if an agreement can be reached over the course of the off-season.

He said: “I think it is [a nice move], his father was in that team in 2010 when Mercedes were starting to get back into their ascendancy before Lewis Hamilton began to dominate in the early days there, so I think that will be a nice story.

“The German link and [the chance to] be around a top team, you’ve got to be there just in case anything bizarre happens [to Lewis Hamilton or George Russell].”

A rookie was never going to be an option for Haas

When Magnussen replaced Nikita Mazepin on the eve of the F1 2022 season, that gave everyone all the evidence they needed that Haas were after experience once again and perhaps gave Mick Schumacher his first sign that F1 2022 may have been his second and final year with the team, regardless of his performances.

As Webber alluded to himself during Channel 4’s coverage, Guenther Steiner and Haas are “done with rookies”, so while surprise can be expressed that Nico is ‘Hulkenback’ again, it doesn’t necessarily look bad on the talent pool looking to find a way onto the grid – there was probably a 99.9 per cent chance that Haas would not have been interested in an emerging rookie anyway.

Webber, as manager of soon-to-be McLaren Oscar Piastri, will know all too well about the talent that is on display in the likes of Formula 2 and Formula 3 and these words could come back to bite him on the backside if Piastri struggles to adapt to life in Formula 1.

Not that we want or expect that to happen, of course. We cannot wait to see Piastri unleashed in Formula 1 and hope he can play his part in an entertaining duel with team-mate Lando Norris.

Is it March 2023 yet?

Read more: Nico Hulkenberg was on the shortlist to replace Nikita Mazepin