Hulkenberg receives Haas contract boost: “Exactly what we were looking for”

Jaden Diaz

The arrival of Nico Hulkenberg at Haas F1 Team was met with mixed reaction over the winter, with many fans blasting the American outfit for signing the 35-year-old to compete in the 2023 season.

Despite the German driver’s consistently strong performances in the midfield, alongside his victory at the 24hrs of Le Mans, the narrative surrounding Hulkenberg seemed fixated on his failure to secure an F1 podium.

Even a surface-level analysis of an F1 driver would quickly conclude that a podium – whilst often the highlight of a midfield driver’s career – is not even close to an accurate metric to gauge ability.

The occasional podium finish of a midfield runner, which was exceptionally rare in the early hybrid era, provides little valuable information about their actual performance.

Instead, observing a driver’s total points, race and qualifying head-to-heads against their teammates can show far more useful data. In these areas, Hulkenberg has excelled throughout his career.

So far in 2023, the 35-year-old has demonstrated his pedigree, largely matching and even outperforming his teammate Kevin Magnussen.

MELBOURNE GRAND PRIX CIRCUIT, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 02: Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23 during the Australian GP at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday April 02, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Simon Galloway / LAT Images)

A crucial points finish in Australia and a handful of Q3 appearances, have given Haas plenty of reasons to be satisfied with their decision to offer Hulkenberg a contract.

Ayao Komatsu, Director of Engineering at Haas, has emphasised the team’s perspective of the German driver’s performances:

“Nico has brought exactly what we were looking for. From Abu Dhabi testing, it was really clear that he can feel the car really well, so his feedback is very accurate.

“He’s very calm and he rarely makes mistakes. Even when things are less than ideal, he just stays calm in the car and gives you the feedback in real-time which doesn’t put engineers on edge, it means they can just focus.

“Whenever he’s running, we can get a decent amount of data and he is able to somehow comment on car behaviour in a way that engineers can relate to.

“He’s really accelerating our development and our set-up direction, and Kevin is benefitting from that as well.

“If you look at Monaco, okay – we weren’t competitive as a team – but if you look at both driver performances, they were nip and tuck in every session.”

BAKU CITY CIRCUIT, AZERBAIJAN – APRIL 30: Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-23 during the Azerbaijan GP at Baku City Circuit on Sunday April 30, 2023 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Sutton / LAT Images)

Team principal Guenther Steiner has also praised Hulkenberg’s level of performance this year, describing a new contract as little more than a formality if he maintains this strong form. 

It should be noted that Haas will continue to evaluate both drivers heading into the summer break, with the upcoming stretch of races being crucial for drivers to solidify their positions in contract negotiations.

This means that both sides of the Haas garage – who have executed reasonably well to put the American squad seventh in the standings – cannot afford to jeopardise their seats with a run of bad form.

Still, unless a prospect from Formula 2 breaks onto the scene in dramatic fashion, few realistic alternatives seem to exist for Steiner and his team.

As it stands, both drivers (Hulkenberg perhaps more so) will be entering contract talks from a strong position this summer.

Author: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang