Kevin Magnussen’s pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix is one of the biggest shocks to Formula 1 in recent years. But as team boss Günther Steiner says: “We weren’t lucky.”
A game-changing move to ensure Magnussen was the first car on track in Q3 when the threat of rain loomed, and the man’s flawless execution himself earned both driver and team their first F1 pole position at Interlagos a.
And it was earnedthrough that Q3 performance and also at other key moments in the session before that, rather than an accidental pole that was just gifted.
“What a day,” said Magnussen. “And what a performance by the team.
“We made it today. The guys in the garage at the pit wall just made it.
“Getting me out on the track as the first car, that was really the turning point today to give me the best stretch of the track.
“I just have to thank them. And also a great car, we were fast throughout qualifying.
“What a day.”
The Haas VF-20 was well suited to wet but dry conditions in Q1, but Magnussen could have been eliminated – like teammate Mick Schumacher – after switching to the soft tires late on.
While Haas flirted with disaster by opting for the second set of intermediates in Q1 – as the eliminated Alfa Romeos did – the team got their drivers onto softs in time to get the crucial preparatory lap and then a decent push. Magnussen did it.
The late switch gave him a narrow window to set his final lap, but unlike Schumacher, Magnussen was able to generate tire temperature and feel the grip well enough to avoid retirement.
And in Q3, Haas faced the same circumstances as any other team: a dry track and the obvious threat of an impending and prolonged downpour. The team and Magnussen together simply did the best job with it.
Haas had a key advantage – last spot in pit lane, and therefore closest to the exit – and used it to secure a position at the front of the queue.
“Because we knew it was going to rain, do you take the risk of going out on dry land or is it better on intermediates? That was the decision,” said Steiner.
“As soon as the decision to drive on slicks has been made, we have to go out first because it’s going to rain. The sooner you get out of the rain, the better.
“We took that risk and got out there. Of course you don’t want to get out too early because it could start raining and then you’ll be on the wrong tire or the tire will cool down.”
After that, clear, calm information from race engineer Mark Slade meant Magnussen knew exactly what was in store: probably just one flying lap and almost everyone (except Charles Leclerc) in the same situation on slicks.
This ensured Magnussen could just keep going, which he did with a fairly aggressive outlap, meaning his tires were right where they should be for the only full flying laps of the session. And unlike Max Verstappen behind him, Magnussen made no mistakes on this lap.
“Of course, some people will say that we were lucky, but I think we weren’t lucky,” said Haas team boss Guenther Steiner.
“We did a good job and played everything in our favor because we are at the right end of the pit lane and used this position.
“We could have waited, seen what the others are doing, so as not to take any risks with the tyres.
“We knew what we were doing and then Kevin was out there first.
“He had to turn off the lap without having a reference. For him it was just ‘go’.”
The only real luck for Magnussen and Haas in this is that the rain came when it came and drove George Russell into the gravel and set off a red flag.
rock stars! #Brazil GP @HaasF1Team pic.twitter.com/a4JhvCFbdF
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 11, 2022
This combination prevented further improvements, but everyone knew there was a way.
“It’s only in such conditions that you can make such a difference as a team, to make the right decisions and stuff like that,” said Magnussen.
“The team and I had perfect communication, made the right decisions in terms of risk management and also aimed for a good position.”
Rain isn’t quite the grand leveler that old motorsport cliche is all about, but if nothing else there was an equal opportunity to master that one flying lap in Q3. Using the smallest of circumstances to produce a shock result, Haas and Magnussen stayed calm when it mattered.
🔴 RED FLAG 🔴
Russell beaches his car in the gravel#Brazil GP #F1 pic.twitter.com/J3dRCLzAuD
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 11, 2022
In fact, there was only one moment – after the first few runs, when the red flag was raised, but before the rain got heavier and Haas knew that even restarting the session posed no threat to pole – when Magnussen briefly took control lost.
After Magnussen replied “You’re joking” when Slade told him he was provisional pole, he began to get carried away. Especially when you talk about the red flag. Slade kept telling him to keep calm, then Magnussen blurted out, “I’ve never felt like this in my life, folks!”
But then, hearing Slade again urging him to keep his composure, Magnussen was quick to add, “Don’t celebrate yet, don’t celebrate yet.” And Slade replied, “It’s not over, Kev. You have done an excellent job so far. Let’s just stay focused.”
In the end it wasn’t necessary. And Magnussen can be forgiven for getting carried away given the circumstances. He said he “didn’t want to jinx it” and felt “superstitious” in the car, adding that it also “just felt scary” to know that if conditions were enough to restart, someone could improve.
“There was still time left and I couldn’t really see how much it had rained when I got back in the pits,” said Magnussen.
“When the session restarts, will the track be good enough for people to improve? Because we know we’re not the fastest car.
“Of all the cars, we handled the situation best. So I didn’t want anyone else going out there on a dry track.”
Haas and Magnussen weren’t just lucky. You just did the best job. If the track had been dry enough when the session resumed for a late run on softs, everyone else would have been lucky enough to get a second chance.
Haas and Magnussen didn’t need that.
“If you look at today’s entire qualifying, we didn’t do very much wrong,” said Steiner.
“It was very difficult circumstances, for everyone and for the team, so we were always on the right tyre.
“I think we did everything right.”
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