How Magnussen pulled off a shock F1 pole in Brazil

Kevin Magnussen's pole position for the Haas Formula 1 team at the Brazilian GP will join other similar underdog achievements in the sport's history books.

How Magnussen pulled off a shock F1 pole in Brazil

The common denominator in such cases is inevitably rain, plus a team and driver that gets everything just right on the day when the usual frontrunners don't quite achieve their normal level of perfection.

Good fortune has to play a part, but it would be wrong to suggest that luck was the biggest factor in Magnussen's achievement. His team made all the right calls, and the Dane himself had to do the job on track in tricky circumstances.

This being a sprint weekend, there was one practice session before everyone plunged into qualifying, and that lack of preparation time probably served as something of a leveller. Magnussen was an unspectacular 16th in FP1, but his teammate Mick Schumacher was eighth, suggesting that there was some potential in the car.

Magnussen finished the difficult Q1 session in a very respectable seventh place after everyone switched to slicks on the drying track, and he then repeated that result in Q2 to ensure a place in the final part of qualifying. That wasn't an outrageous surprise given that he qualified fifth in similar conditions in Canada back in June.

Schumacher showed just how easy it was to be on the wrong side of fortune, doing some decent laps early on in the damp conditions he was perhaps overcautious and simply didn't get a quick enough lap in when it mattered at the end of Q1, and he was knocked out in 20th.

A top 10 was already a decent result for Magnussen, but with the rain threatening to return as Q3 approached, Haas made the crucial call that was to help earn him pole.

The team wanted him to be at the head of the queue at the pitlane exit, in order to give him the best possible chance of getting a lap in on a dry track before the rain arrived.

Having finished bottom in the 2021 world championship, Haas is the last team in the pitlane, and with neighbours Alfa Romeo, Williams, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri not participating in Q3, there was plenty of warning when cars started to emerge from their garages just before the green light.

That allowed Magnussen to nip out of his garage and park at the end of the pitlane ahead of the two Ferraris and Max Verstappen's Red Bull.

The fact that one of the Ferraris was on intermediates showed how easy it was to get the most basic call wrong in the circumstances.

"We knew rain was coming," said team boss Gunther Steiner when asked by Autosport about getting out first. "Do you take the risk to go out on dry, or is it better on intermediates?

Pole man Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team, celebrates with Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1

Pole man Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team, celebrates with Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

"That was the decision, but once the decision was taken to go on dries we knew that we need to get out first, because it starts to rain, so the earlier you get to the point of the rain, the better it is.

"So we took that risk and went out there. Also you don't want to go out [of the garage] too early, because it could start to rain, and then you're on the wrong tyre or the tyre cools down. So I think it all worked very well, because everybody was thinking the same."

Magnussen had to sit at the end of the pitlane for over a minute with his tyre temperatures fading. With a clear track ahead, but not knowing if he'd come across the first signs of drizzle, he just got on with the job and put in a perfect first lap to go fastest.

Ferrari harpooned Charles Leclerc's hopes by putting him on inters, and Sergio Perez's lap was compromised by getting stuck behind the Monegasque, but seven other drivers had the same as Magnussen.

"Obviously we took the opportunity to be the first one out there," said Steiner. "But it's not that the other ones were an hour behind us running, they were a few seconds behind.

"I think Kevin did a fantastic job, he put a lap down and he had no reference or nothing, he was on his own, the race track in front of him, and you need to pull it off. I think he pulled this stuff off at the right moment."

It was a case of team and driver in perfect harmony, and taking their chance.

"If you look at the whole qualifying today, I think we did very little wrong," said Steiner. "It was very difficult circumstances for everybody, and for the team, for us, to bring it always on the right tyre. And we think we did everything right."

As drivers headed into a second lap rain was threatening, but there was still a possibility that others would be able to go quicker than Magnussen on their second laps. Indeed Perez was particularly fast in the first sector.

Magnussen himself was on a fast-slow-fast schedule, and after crossing the line was told he was to do a "fast in-lap" before going again. However after a few corners, and having caught a big slide, he said, "It's too wet now, quali's over now."

He then asked what position he was, and was told by engineer Mark Slade, "You're P1, mate."

"You're kidding, you're f***ing kidding me," Magnussen replied.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22, in the pits during Qualifying

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22, in the pits during Qualifying

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Then George Russell went off into the gravel and brought out a red flag. Driver and engineer cautioned each other not to celebrate pole too early – there was still a chance people could go faster once action resumed.

However, it took a while to recover the Mercedes, and as time dragged on proper rain began to fall. With 8m10s left on the clock after the resumption, it became clear that no one was going to go any faster on the wet track. A pole for Magnussen and Haas was about to become a reality.

"I don't want to sound pretentious, but I could see that nobody could better the lap," said Steiner. "It started to rain, how you will better that time? It was quite obvious for me, it was more like, what else can happen?

"Maybe you could get a black and orange flag now or something, so the bone is taken away again. I went down and checked the front wing and kept the FIA away from it! Joking, I didn't do that. But that is more what you think about, what could still go wrong.

"George went out, and it seemed like it took them forever to take the car out. He didn't want to get out of the car, and things like this. But I was pretty calm about it, because I saw the radar, and it was like for the next 30 minutes it's raining."

When the session resumed the clock counted down, there was no hope of anyone going faster, and Magnussen was confirmed on pole position while sitting in the car in the garage.

"Obviously some people say we got lucky," said his boss. "But I think we didn't get lucky, we did a good job and then everything played to our favour, because we were at the right end of the pit lane and we used that position. We could have waited see what the other ones are doing, not to take a risk with the tyres.

"But we knew what we were doing, and then Kevin was out there first as I said before, and he needed to put the lap down without having a reference or nothing. For him it was just like, go."

Did the recently recruited Slade, a veteran of multiple race wins with Kimi Raikkonen and others, play a key role in how things unfolded? It terms of keeping Magnussen's head in the right place, it seemed to do the trick.

"I think everything helps," said Steiner. "I wouldn't give the credit to one person here, I mean I think the whole team played together, there was never any doubt what we should be doing, it was well decided.

"Obviously keeping Kevin focused it's very important in a case like this, because this strategy is not really made by the race engineer, but the race engineer is telling him the story of what is happening, and if you do that in a good way the driver has confidence, and can do a lap like this. We are talking tenths of seconds on a wet race track, which is difficult to achieve.

Pole man Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team, waves from Parc Ferme

Pole man Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team, waves from Parc Ferme

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"This is the Kevin we all want to see, I mean, he had a few tough races after the summer break, which he was not comfortable with. But when it counted today, he did what he can do."

Pole was more than anyone could possibly have expected, and now Magnussen and the team have to see what they can do in the sprint, where priceless points can be bagged.

"Tomorrow I hope we can stay in the points," said Steiner. "Obviously we will not win the race, I mean I'm not dreaming, but you never know. But if you stay in the points that is the important thing for us now, we need to be focused to try to keep eighth position in the championship, because that's very important to us."

Steiner said he was not worried about it being a sprint pole, without all the hoopla associated with the main event: "A pole is a pole. I mean, we knew it was a sprint race, you cannot now be bitter about something which you knew which is going to happen.

"For us being tomorrow in the sprint race on pole, we can score points, and if we do a good job, we then can be in a good position for Sunday's race. We have the two opportunities with one pole. So I think there are negatives and positives to it."

Could rain and a little mayhem around him give Magnussen a helping hand in the sprint?

"I don't want to get ahead of myself here," said Steiner. "I believe in myself, but I'm not arrogant, I'm not a dreamer.

"Obviously we will do the utmost, like we did today. If the opportunity comes we try to do a job that we can get whatever is there, and cash in on it, but I don't know if that will happen. But obviously it will be an even better story."

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