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Beyond "suck my balls" - Haas F1 team's 2020 driver line-up choice

Mercedes and Renault sorting their 2020 Formula 1 driver line-ups leaves Haas as the most significant missing piece in the silly season

That's not because of the team's competitiveness, but because all other potential vacancies on the 2020 grid are most likely to go to drivers who already have relationships with those teams via junior programmes and because the loser of the Romain Grosjean versus Nico Hulkenberg battle for the Haas spot has a strong chance of ending up outside F1.

The Haas situation is also in the spotlight because it is essentially a choice between keeping a driver pairing that has had multiple intra-team collisions or pairing two drivers who have also crashed into each other and had a spat made famous by the Netflix F1 series.

Adam Cooper heard the thoughts of Grosjean, Hulkenberg, team principal Gunther Steiner and the already signed for 2020 Kevin Magnussen on the key issues.

Is a Hulkenberg/Magnussen pairing viable?

Following an on-track clash during the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix, Magnussen famously told Hulkenberg to "suck my balls" on live television when they encountered each other in the media pen.

Their relationship was also a key subplot in the Netflix F1 series Drive to Survive's coverage of Renault and Haas's often fractious 2018 battle for fourth in the constructors' championship, which brought it to a wider audience still.

Hulkenberg indicated he'd be happy to partner Magnussen, suggesting that team-mates don't necessarily have to be friends.

"I'd love to see that," he said with a smile when asked about the prospect. "Honestly, the team-mate is the team-mate. You have to accept them.

"With some you get on, but you don't have to get on. Maybe it's better, I don't know. I don't think that would be a deal-breaker for me."

Magnussen also downplayed their rivalry, expressing exasperation when it was raised with him.

"It was dramatised massively, I'm getting really tired of this subject," he said.

"Between me and Nico there's really been only once incident in Hungary two years ago. It's incredible we are still talking about it.

"There's not many drivers who are friends off the track. We say 'hi' to each other when we see each other on the drivers' parade, but there's no issue between us."

But with Magnussen and current team-mate Grosjean having had multiple run-ins on track this season, Steiner joked that signing a driver Magnussen had previously clashed with wasn't especially daunting.

"I mean, we are running into each other even without history!" he said.

"We would manage. I don't think about that, it's not about [them] - it's about the team. We are all grown-ups, this is a business.

"I'm sure you have colleagues you don't like to work with. It's a business, I see it like this. You need to be practical with this stuff.

"But that is not a thing which would influence what we are doing. That is their problem, not ours, should it happen."

Grosjean - Pragmatic but confident

Grosjean insists that the 2020 driver announcements made at Spa make no difference to his future at Haas, and remains confident that he will have a seat next year.

"Obviously one's coming in the market, one's going to come out," said Grosjean, in reference to the fact that Esteban Ocon getting back on the grid with Renault makes it inevitable that at least one 2019 F1 racer won't be in the '20 field.

"Everyone was waiting to see what Mercedes is going to do, and obviously that was confirmed, and then Esteban.

There's only a couple of teams now that have got seats available. Here is one. We're going to hear every rumour, maybe even Jacques Villeneuve at one point!

"The pressure is always on in F1, even when you have a contract it's very easy to be put aside.

"We had a good example again this summer with Pierre [Gasly]. He didn't have any warning coming that he was going to be dropped.

"There's one guy that's not going to be on the grid next year. Who's it going to be? I don't know."

He was sanguine about the possibility of ending up outside F1 if that proved to be the outcome.

"As along as you are straight in your shoes and you think you've done what you had to do, it's life," said Grosjean.

"It will go on, there will be a lot of things to do, less travel definitely.

"As I said at the minute, I'm quite confident that I'll be on the grid next year.

"There are options in F1, and there are options also in other categories.

"Le Mans is one. There are other categories that I'm quite interested in. Formula E could be one, it's a nice championship and obviously very, very different from F1, but quite competitive, and with some good constructors coming in, it's always exciting. And maybe one or two others.

"Not IndyCar, I'm too scared of ovals!

"For now I still want to do F1 as the main plan. Obviously there are other things that are appealing for the future. For now I'm quite happy with F1."

What's Magnussen looking for in his team-mate?

Magnussen said he simply wants to have a competitive team-mate, be it current incumbent Grosjean or someone else, because that is the main way for him to prove his value to F1.

"Obviously there's no decision on that side so far," said the Dane. "But I'm happy either way, I'm happy with the team-mate right now, and I'd be happy with anyone really.

"I think when you're in a midfield team you need a strong team-mate, someone who is regarded strongly, rated highly, because that's the only way you can show yourself.

"And if you're not winning races, winning championships, you need someone strong alongside you to show what you can do otherwise it's hard to show what you can do.

"But I feel like I have that now already. So I'm not complaining."

How Haas's messy 2019 factors in

Haas started the season looking like it would have the fourth fastest car, but difficulties with tyres in particular have left it only ninth in the constructors' championship and having had to experiment with running its two cars in different development specifications to try to understand its issues.

Grosjean believes he's done a good job on track this year, and that those outside circumstances have affected his results.

He is only 17th in the drivers' championship, 10 points and one place behind team-mate Magnussen, with seventh in Germany his best finish.

"The season is not great, the reasons are what they are, but I'm happy with what I've been doing, I'm happy with what I've achieved," said Grosjean.

"I've had a terrible year, six DNFs and none of them are my fault, so reliability has not been on my side, the car performance hasn't been on my side either - whenever we were going to have good races we just didn't get it to the finish line. It's not a good season in that aspect.

"I'm happy with my performance, I'm happy with my feedback, saying since day one that the update from Barcelona was not so good, and then reverting to the old car and actually going faster and going twice in Q3 in three races, showing that the feedback was correct."

But he remains optimistic that Haas now at least knows what it needs to do to get back on track.

"I know the team has really found out what we need to do to improve," Grosjean emphasised.

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