The fact that Haas did not renew Mick Schumacher’s contract after two years in Formula 1 and instead brought Nico Hülkenberg out of “retirement” to sign him for the 2023 season was met with some criticism at the end of 2022.
In the Formula 1 talk with ‘auto motor und sport’, Haas team boss Günther Steiner explains in detail how this decision came about – and Schumacher’s performance on the track was not the decisive argument.
Because when asked if the German hadn’t improved enough over the course of two years, Steiner says: “Better or worse doesn’t really play much of a role here.”
“What we wanted to achieve is to improve the team. I think we still have potential to get better as a team. And what is the best way to bring a team forward? With drivers you know what they can do and who can take the team forward.”
“Mick is unfortunately only in his second season,” Steiner points out. “And there are people who have been there before, who have already spent seven, eight, ten years in Formula 1, and they simply know more. They can bring the team forward and that’s why we decided to do it,” he explains.
It was not a question of Schumacher being too bad. “He has improved a lot this year,” the Haas team boss knows. “Some moments were very good, I must say. That’s when we were all pleasantly surprised by what he brought.”
The experience factor was crucial
“But in the overall package, just to take the team forward so we can follow up on what we did in 2018, we decided to bring back an experienced driver – like we had when we first entered Formula One. We had Romain and Esteban the first year.”
Romain Grosjean had already had four full seasons of Formula One at the time, in 2016, while Esteban Gutierrez had two. “Esteban wasn’t bad,” Steiner looks back, “it’s just that we said we needed someone with a bit more experience.”
“And with the second driver we now have even more experience. Kevin (Magnussen) has been in Formula One for seven years in the meantime, and with Nico, he has been in Formula One for a long time and always in a position where we actually wanted to go. He’s the one who got the teams there.”
Steiner is now hoping for the same at Haas: “There is a reason why we are taking Nico. It’s not because we love him. There is a performance reason.”
The team boss does not want to deny that Schumacher’s performance on the track was also good in some areas. “Canada, Silverstone and Austria were very good,” he says. However, the German was unable to build on this afterwards.
“Why he had those highlights … I think the car was also in a good condition for the three races,” Steiner says. “Kevin was also always doing well. And afterwards, in the second half of the season, I think he was not much worse than Kevin in terms of performance overall, you have to say.”
Schumacher’s name a curse and a blessing
That is why the decision was anything but easy for the team. Steiner admits: “After Jeddah and Monte-Carlo, there was a lot of frustration. With the two total losses, you get frustrated. And sometimes you make statements that you don’t really think about. I know myself.”
“But it was not an easy decision. We really waited because we didn’t know exactly what was best for the team. After all, we always said we were in no hurry to make the decision, so we’ll wait a bit and see how far it goes,” Steiner explains the process.
In the end, however, they came to the conclusion that it was better to “develop the team further and bring in an experienced man”. And so the decision fell on Hülkenberg.
Asked about the media hype that grew louder around the question of Schumacher’s future, Steiner says: “Sure, the surname Schumacher is a curse and a blessing. It’s well known. People all think they have a right to vote.”
“But I think the right to vote is only people who belong to the team or who own the team. Because if you don’t contribute anything, financially or anything else, but just have an opinion … I also always have an opinion when I watch football about who should go where. But my opinion doesn’t count.”
“I know that because I don’t have the right to vote. And that’s why it’s annoying, but it doesn’t influence the decision,” the Haas team boss assures, revealing, “My relationship with Mick was better the second half of the season than the year and a half before. I think we can look each other in the eye without any problems.”
“If you are not present, you are quickly forgotten”
He can live well with the criticism from outside: “The decision was only made for that reason, and I don’t let myself be influenced there by people who have an opinion but no responsibility. You just have to see it that way, you have to stand up straight.”
“If someone says to me that I’m doing everything wrong, let them say so. That’s life. You can’t please everyone. That’s why I’m completely relaxed,” Steiner said.
His former team boss sees the fact that Schumacher was signed on as a reserve driver by Mercedes after leaving Haas as an opportunity.
“I think it gives him the opportunity to be present in Formula 1. You know how it is: if you are not present, you are quickly forgotten, and he stays there.”
“I don’t know his contract, how much he does simulator, how much he tests. I don’t have the details. But it’s not a bad decision,” he said, classifying Schumacher’s new role. In it, he will also be available to McLaren as a reserve driver.