Is Nico Hülkenberg's F1 return a step forward or backward for Haas?


Nico Hülkenberg will join Kevin Magnussen to form the oldest F1 driver pairing in 2023. But will the promise of experience outweigh Haas's lack of youth in guaranteeing its future?

Nico Hulkenberg inspects Haas F1 car at 2022 Abu Dhabi test

Businesslike start for Hülkenberg at Haas

Experience versus youth. It’s a topic of never-ending debate in Formula 1, as teams decide between drivers of known quantity or risk gambling on potential. In 2023, Haas has chosen the former.

Its refreshed driver line-up is arguably more interesting than the new-season Haas livery reveal that took place today.

The fruitful return of Kevin Magnussen in 2022 has prompted Haas to hire the similarly experienced talents of Nico Hülkenberg, who replaces Mick Schumacher for the 2023 F1 season. But with a combined age of 65 years (the highest on the grid), does Haas’s new driver line-up signal a step backward, as the only team with both drivers over the age of 30?

Williams, AlphaTauri and McLaren have chosen a path of potential, with all three driver pairings hosting two young and developing talents they will hope flourish over time. Elsewhere, teams such as Mercedes and Aston Martin have combined approaches, choosing to house one young driver and another full of experience and knowledge that can eventually be passed across.

Haas has gone in a different direction, with team principal Guenther Steiner identifying the key factor that prompted Hülkenberg’s signing: “Experience. He was in F1 for a long time, he was with teams in the midfield for a long time so he knows how they work, how to make them better.”

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This is in direct contrast to the team’s previous approach, which saw it cast aside Magnussen and Romain Grosjean in favour of Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin just two years prior. Haas ultimately paid dearly for the decision, with inexperience causing a host of errors that led to millions spent on repairing damaged cars.

In an attempt to learn from its mistakes, it has decided to commit to a path of consistency and stability – a combination that has produced mixed results in the past.

Last season, experience was the key factor which made the difference in the midfield battle, with Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas massively outscoring their junior teammates. But in the other cases, some drivers have campaigned for too long. In his final years at Ferrari, Kimi Räikkönen was unable to keep pace with Vettel, despite their similar title winning backgrounds, forcing him to be replaced by Charles Leclerc in 2019. His disappointing form followed him to Alfa Romeo, where he only scored six top ten finishes in two years.

So the future for 35-year-old Hülkenberg, returning from a three-year F1 hiatus, is uncertain

Mick Schumacher crash Monaco GP

Steiner is hoping to reduce errors, like Schumacher’s 2022 Monaco crash, by hiring Hulkenberg


The German entered the series in 2010, showing early promise after racing through an impressive junior career that included title wins in karting, F3 and GP2. In 181 GP starts, Hülkenberg gained an unfortunate reputation for never reaching the podium – an F1 record he will undoubtedly hope to correct in his time at Haas.

Nevertheless, his reputation for consistently outperforming the car underneath him has stood the test of time, epitomised in three fourth place finishes, nine fifth place finishes and 20 sixth place finishes – all in a span of just eight seasons.

Since losing his full-time drive at Renault in 2019, Hülkenberg has acted as a reserve driver for Racing Point and Aston Martin, with impressive performances in both cars when asked to step in. But in both circumstances, the bar set for reserve drivers was naturally low, given that Hülkenberg was only required to drive within the limits of the car. In 2023, this will not be the case.

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With Magnussen outperforming the Haas at times in 2022, even securing a pole position for the sprint race in Sao Paulo, Hülkenberg will be expected to perform to exactly the same level, otherwise the team might as well have chosen youth over experience.

Whilst the German certainly has the credentials to meet this demand, it’s still a massive task to undertake. Having spent three years on reserve duties, it’s not unfair to say that Hülkenberg may need some time to adapt to racing in an full-time F1 seat again – in search of the pace that earned him his F1 return.

But if he follows a similar path to Räikkönen, a returning driver unable to regain past form, Haas may begin to question why it ridded itself of Schumacher at all.

But even if he does succeed, it will only ever be a temporary solution for Haas, given that both drivers are racing towards the later end of their careers in F1. The departure of Schumacher effectively signalled the end of Haas’s attempt to future proof its franchise, with only Pietro Fittipaldi, the team’s test and reserve driver, left as a natural successor.

Failure to promote Fittipaldi to a full-time F1 seat during driver-switch turmoil suggests that there are better options that the team wanted to explore, forcing further speculation over the team’s F1 future that has been seemingly thrown into jeopardy.