Steiner admits Grosjean/ Hulk call isn’t clear-cut

Debating whether to re-sign Romain Grosjean for 2020 or bring in Nico Hulkenberg isn’t a “clear decision” for Haas, so says Guenther Steiner.

While Kevin Magnussen is set to remain at Haas next season, his team-mate has yet to be decided.

Haas have two options on the table: Grosjean or Hulkneberg.

While the former has been with the team since the beginning, his troubles on track, which include several run ins with his own team-mate, have put his race-seat on the line.

As for Hulkenberg, he’s a free agent after losing his Renault seat to Esteban Ocon.

Haas, though, concede it is not an easy decision.

“If it was a clear decision it would be easy to make, we would agree immediately,” team boss Steiner explained to Autosport.

“We’re not sure what is the best, he is not, and I’m not.

“He can always tell me what to do, he’s got that privilege because he finances the team.

“He values my opinion, so we discuss it just to make the best decision for the team, not for us.

“What we’ve got now is not bad, but can we make it better?

“How big is the risk that we want to make it better and it doesn’t go in the right direction?

“It’s a lot back and forward, but at some stage we need to come to a conclusion.”

Steiner added that Haas are not in a rush to confirm their second driver given that Grosjean and Hulkenberg’s options are both limited.

“There is no desperation setting in,” he said.

“The market wasn’t moving a lot this year, there are not big movements going on.

“It is very difficult to decide what to do, therefore it takes a little bit longer.

“It’s not like is ‘he good, is he not good?’

“We know Romain pretty well, and I can see what Hulkenberg has done, so it’s more like what is fitting better in the bigger scheme of the team going forward than the race-by-race result.”

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Hulk or Grosjean: Who do Haas pick for 2020?

Haas seem to have narrowed down the options for Kevin Magnussen’s 2020 partner to Nico Hulkenberg or Romain Grosjean, but who do they pick?

This campaign has been a total write-off for Haas. The VF-19 has been a dreadful race car, sending Grosjean and Magnussen on a slippery slope down the order on Sundays.

2020 must be better for the American outfit, a raceable car would be a solid start, but also very important will be the two drivers in them.

They have held off thus far on announcing Magnussen’s partner for next season, though Haas have stated their reluctance to hire a rookie and instead will either retain Grosjean for a fifth season or reach out to Hulkenberg, who departs Renault at the end of 2019.

Both represent an intriguing option for the struggling team, but who would be the better fit? Let’s analyse some of the key factors behind the decision ahead…

Grosjean knows the team, Hulkenberg can be rather negative

Nico-Hulkenberg-and-Romain-Grosjean-PA

As previously mentioned, Grosjean would be going into his fifth season with the team and having been with them since their debut in 2016, he knows Haas like the back of his hand.

Now, we have seen and heard the Frenchman get rather emotional on several occasions this season, but it’s not surprising because the race woes that Haas have provided no firm answers for would tick off any driver.

Grosjean has been here throughout the highs for Haas – he kicked off their Formula 1 days with P6 and P5 at the 2016 Australian and Bahrain GPs, while he led the way with P4 at the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix with Magnussen crossing the line P5 to score Haas’ best result in the series.

So theory would dictate that Grosjean would be the option more likely to drag Haas back up the order – if they went with Hulkenberg, they risk his negativity following.

The German hasn’t been shy when it comes to calling out Renault for their shortcomings this season – do Haas really want someone like that coming into the team when they are at such a low point? If their 2020 challenger remains a tricky customer, surely Hulkenberg would be more of a destructive force.

Hulkenberg isn’t perfect, but Grosjean is error prone

In keeping with Haas’ difficult season, Grosjean has also made some rather ridiculous errors like his pit-lane crash during practice for the British GP.

We also can’t forget about the habit that he and Magnussen have developed for hitting each other throughout 2019.

It all started in Spain, hit a new level of stupid in Britain where both were forced to retire as a result of the contact, and even in Germany, where all they had to do to score points was finish, they still managed to hit each other but luckily escaped disaster and got the job done.

So signing Hulkenberg may well stamp out these moments of madness, but remember he hasn’t been without error in 2019 either.

Nico Hulkenberg

Take the German GP as the biggest example. Hulkenberg holds that ever-increasing record of most starts in Formula 1 without a podium – 170 to be exact at the time of writing. But, at his home race, the opportunity was glaring at him to end that run and maybe even take his first victory, such was the chaos.

But, Hulkenberg sent his Renault into the barriers as the rain fell, he certainly wasn’t the only one to do it that day, but it was a golden opportunity lost.

Of course when all goes smoothly the Hulk is a force to be reckoned with and arguably he is less likely to drop a clanger at any given moment than Grosjean.

Grosjean and K-Mag’s relationship is strained, but Hulkenberg would bring a new level of tension

He did it, no he did it – that has been the motto for both Grosjean and Magnussen throughout this season as they tried to throw each other under the bus for their various clashes.

It isn’t really the dynamic that you want between team-mates, but Hulkenberg’s arrival would have the potential for disaster.

Hulkenberg and Magnussen aren’t the best of friends. Magnussen’s ‘suck my b****’ comment aimed at Hulkenberg back at Hungary 2017 certainly stung, and even though both drivers have said they are capable of being civil should they be partners for 2020, putting them together is still a risk considering the stress a Formula 1 season can put on team-mates.

Principal Guenther Steiner has grown tired of managing the squabbles of Grosjean and Magnussen this season, so could signing Hulkenberg just be a way of inviting something even worse? Remember though Steiner has said that he has no problems with a potential Hulkeberg/Magnussen line-up.

Grosjean is open to other series, Hulkenberg isn’t

He did say that IndyCar isn’t an option due to a fear of racing on ovals, but Grosjean isn’t against taking his craft elsewhere.

The Formula E series has been one that has caught his eye, whereas Hulkenberg has made Formula 1 his exclusive focus.

For Haas that is significant, do they really want a driver who is having their head turned when the other option is set on staying in Formula 1?

The verdict…

The decision which awaits Haas is arguably bigger than just 2020 – they must look to build for 2021 when Formula 1 is expected to undergo a total overhaul.

And when it comes to a stronger long term option, you have to say that is Hulkenberg.

There isn’t much between them when it comes to age – at 33 Grosjean is just under a year older than Hulkenberg, but the German racer appears more focused on Formula 1.

Grosjean is growing increasingly frustrated with life in the series and, at a struggling Haas team, his outbursts over team radio have painted a clear picture, and it’s probably time for a change for both parties.

Hulkenberg is a risk should Haas’ woes continue into 2020 but, let’s be honest, after this season can it really get any worse?

Jamie Woodhouse

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Grosjean ‘quite confident’ of 2020 seat

Although Guenther Steiner says Haas’ second seat is up for grabs, Romain Grosjean says he is “quite confident” of remaining in Formula 1 next season.

Earlier this week, prior to Renault announcing Esteban Ocon as one of their 2020 drivers, Steiner spoke of three candidates to partner Kevin Magnussen at Haas.

“There’s not many drivers [available], we always said that our dream was always to have a driver with experience, so for sure there’s interest [in Nico Hulkenberg],” said the team boss.

“There’s interest in Ocon, I always said that they are the two. And there’s interest for Romain as well. So we just need to decide who we go with.”

Steiner’s comments were put to Grosjean, who conceded that either he or Hulkenberg will be out of Formula 1 next season – although he doubts he’ll be the one losing his seat.

“Obviously there’s one guy that’s not going to be on the grid next year,” he told RaceFans.net.

“Who is it going to be? I don’t know.”

He added: “I’m quite confident I’ll be on the grid next year.”

The 33-year-old reiterated his belief that he hasn’t done a bad job this year, unlike in 2018, he’s just had a lot of bad luck and reliability troubles.

“Honestly last year I was in a very different position and I could understand that I was going to [be] put aside.

“This year, yes the season is not great, the results are not what they are.

“But I am happy with what I’ve been doing, I am happy with what I’ve achieved.

“I’ve had a terrible year. Six DNFs and none of them are my fault.

“Reliability hasn’t been on my side, the car performance hasn’t been on my side either.

“Whenever we were going to have good races we didn’t get it to the finish line. It’s not a good season in that aspect.

“But again I think I’m happy with my performance I’m very happy with my feedback.”

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Who’s next for the chopping block?

Pierre Gasly got the axe last Monday, but thanks to the Red Bull programme, he’s making a soft landing as he is still in F1, back with junior team Toro Rosso.

The Frenchman, though, is by no means the only driver not performing this season; he’s just the only one to lose his seat mid campaign.

While the other under-fire drivers will see out the season, PlanetF1 looks at the four most likely to be dropped by their teams come Monday morning after the Abu Dhabi GP.

Romain Grosjean, Haas

Romain Grosjean

Surprisingly Grosjean feels his Haas seat was more under threat last year, when he was making mistakes and crashing left, right and centre, than this year despite still crashing – but now into his team-mate and still making mistakes with his team-mate – and also not scoring.

Such was Guenther Steiner’s fury with his drivers, who have made contact four times already this season, that the Haas team boss reportedly phoned team owner Gene Haas after the British Grand Prix asking for permission to sack one of them.

Grosjean was set to be the one.

According to the rumour mill his insistence that he revert to Haas’ Australian GP spec VF-19 is all that saved his bacon as it proved to be a good call and it’s helping Haas figure out where they went wrong with this season’s updates.

But, out of contract at the end of this year, and with Steiner publicly admitting that Haas are looking at other drivers, Grosjean can expect a “thank you, there’s the door”.

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault

Nico-Hulkenberg-eyes-PA

Hulkenberg is a strange case. He arrived in Formula 1 with a mountain of promise on his shoulders and success in junior formulae but, 168 starts later, he has yet to achieve a single podium finish never mind a race win.

The German in fact holds the record for most starts without a top-three finish.

Ask Hulkenberg and he’ll explain that there are “a few” reasons this never happened from bad strategy calls to driver error.

The latest driver error to cost him a spray of champagne was at this year’s German GP where, at a time when Renault had revealed they are looking at their options for 2020, he binned it on the Hockenheimring’s slippery corners.

Out of contract with Renault at the end of this season, there are rumours that Hulkenberg’s days at the Enstone team are numbered with Esteban Ocon knocking on the door.

Hulkenberg has stated he wants to remain in F1 and not head to Formula E, the F1 retirement club, but at 32 he is nearer the end of his F1 career than he is the beginning.

He could be saved by Haas, who have the German on their list of candidates to replace Grosjean, while Mercedes signing Ocon to replace Valtteri Bottas could also yet prolong his Renault stay.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes

Valtteri-Bottas-DNF-Germany-PA

That Toto Wolff is speaking about ensuring Bottas has a “soft landing” should Mercedes not retain him for 2020 says everything.

The Finn started 2019 in incredible form as Bottas 2.0 won two of the opening five races and finished the other three runner-up to Lewis Hamilton.

His porridge-fuelled form meant that after race four he was leading the Drivers’ Championship and after race five, Spain, he was only seven points off the pace.

But seven races later, he is now 62 down and it is safe to say that barring a disaster for Hamilton, there is no way back for Bottas.

His fall from grace, which in the last two races has included a crash at the German GP and losing yet another wheel-to-wheel fight against Hamilton in Hungary, saw Mercedes opt not take up the option on the driver for 2020 (it expired in July).

That doesn’t mean the door is completely closed for the 29-year-old but even Bottas admits it is time to break out the B-plan.

With Mercedes expected to sign Ocon as Hamilton’s 2020 team-mate, it is bye bye to Bottas, who may yet say hello to any of the above mentioned three teams… or take up rallying.

Robert Kubica, Williams

Robert_Kubica_PA

Kubica’s return to the Formula 1 grid this season with Williams was the stuff of fairytales but it soon become the source of nightmares.

While first and foremost it must be noted that Williams are awful this season, the FW34 is a painfully slow car, Kubica is the slowest of the two drivers – and by some margin.

The Pole has been trounced by his rookie team-mate George Russell in qualifying, 0-12, and on grand prix Sundays where the score is 2-10.

Ironically it was Kubica who was in prime position when the chaotic German GP played out and he bagged the team’s only point of 2019.

That, though, won’t be enough to save him.

Kubica has given it a shot, his best we’re sure, as have Williams, but it is not working out.

After just a handful of races rumours began that he would not see out the season, although that was counteracted by his sponsor’s millions.

However, 2019 is where the return begins and where it ends.

Michelle Foster

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