Why Haas opted for an unchanged 2019 driver line-up

SOCHI, Russia — Stability was the key for Haas in deciding to take an unchanged line-up of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean into the 2019 Formula One season.

With its confirmation on Friday, the American team bucked the trend of this year’s volatile driver market by opting to stick instead of twist — Mercedes is the only other team set to go into next season with the same two drivers. Its current pairing is fighting Renault for fourth in the constructors’ championship. Win or lose that battle, Haas is set for its best finish since joining the grid in 2016.

An extension for Magnussen has seemed to be a matter of when not if for quite a while now. ESPN understands he has been signed on for another two years, with the option of a third.

Magnussen’s original motivation for joining Haas in 2017 was because it offered him a multi-year deal and he said that was an important factor in deciding to stay.

“I like having two years, because it just gives you a long time to kind of figure out what you want to do. You don’t have to stress about it already in the first year, you can kind of… during the first year, you can kind of get a feeling for what you want to do a year-and-a-half in front of that. You just have a long time to kind of focus on the future without any stress.”

The Danish driver’s stellar form at the beginning of the season contrasted positively to the struggles Grosjean encountered at the same time. After difficult seasons at McLaren and Renault it is also clear how comfortable he is at the team — he has produced some of his best displays this season and has been encouraged to drive with his naturally aggressive style, not shying away from getting his elbows out in wheel-to-wheel fights with other drivers.

“There’s never really been any doubt, it’s just contracts are complex and they take long. We’re a small team, and we don’t have a big team of people sitting back at the factory who can work on contracts while we’re working on the Formula One cars.

“It has to be done between the races. We both knew what we wanted to do, so there was really no stress. We didn’t really have to be one of the first to announce. We agreed a while ago that was what we wanted to do.”

Credit in the bank key for Grosjean

Grosjean’s seat had appeared to be under serious threat early in the year. A combination of driver error and bad luck saw him struggle for form in the opening races as Magnussen excelled. He scored his first points in Austria — where he finished fourth, the team’s best-ever result — and then felt like everything finally clicked for him two races later in Germany.

The French driver said he always trusted that the form would return.

“Things had to turn at one point. The season looked worse than it was actually at some points due to the bad luck, because of Bahrain I was in the points and I lost half of the car. In Canada, I was scoring points and I couldn’t make qualifying, so there was a few races it was just bad luck and maybe I didn’t score points. Silverstone was the time where I was like OK, now I need to understand things and just make sure things are going my way all of the time. Germany and then Hungary, and then I knew I was back on track.”

Grosjean was one of the first people employed by Gene Haas, signing his deal before the race team existed in 2015 and months before it rolled out a car for winter testing ahead of the following season. Team boss Guenther Steiner said Grosjean’s history with the team meant he was given more time to turn things around.

When asked if Grosjean’s form in the team’s first two years gave him extra ‘credit in the bank’ in terms of patience during his troubled run of form, Steiner said. “Absolutely. And that is what is respected.

“I think Romain did a good job for us in difficult days. You give him a little bit more time if you do a mistake. You cannot jump to conclusions, that’s what we said. We give him time and he delivered, and that’s why we signed him again.”

Steiner had no problems keeping the line-up unaltered for next season as it looks to build on the success of 2018.

“I think consistency is a big part of this sport. They are good drivers, they did a good job for us the last years, Kevin the last two, Romain the last three. We decided we stay with them. So trying to build on the consistency of the whole team and trying to move forward.”