Kevin Magnussen has finished no higher than 15th in the last nine grands prix.
While his Haas team has been generally uncompetitive in race trim, Magnussen’s team mate Nico Hulkenberg has at least been able to qualify well. But Magnussen admits he’s found it difficult to wring the best out of the VF-23 over a single lap.
With 12 grands prix in the space of five months, then a month-long summer break before Formula 1 returned to action two weeks ago, there has been plenty of track time and then also off-time for Magnussen to build his understanding of where he and the car are not meeting eye-to-eye, and then to think about ways to rectify that.
“I think I understand what it is,” he told media including RaceFans at Monza. “I can see what it is I need to do, but it’s such fine details. It’s very, very difficult to do.”
Going into the last race weekend Magnussen said he was beginning to see signs of improvement. “I think actually – nothing to show for it, but – I have a feeling that if you look at the practice times and stuff, I think in the last two events, it’s been better. Maybe even three, from Hungary.”
Magnussen described how the car has forced him to rethink his approach to corners. Drivers often use the letters ‘V’ and ‘U’ to describe cornering styles. ‘V’ describes braking in a straight line followed by a sharp turn-in and opening up the steering fully before accelerating away in a straight line. In contrast a ‘U’ approach to a corner would feature the car turning under braking and spending more of the corner rotating as the driver switches from the brake to the throttle pedal.
Those two different approaches affect the G-forces experienced by the car and its tyres. Turning under braking means there is lateral force being applied to the tyres perpendicular to the direction of travel of the car, in addition to the downforce that is pushing downwards on the tyre (generating traction) and the longitudinal force as the car moves forward.
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Magnussen believes grasping this is key to sorting out his trouble with the VF-23. “You can’t really combine Gs much with these cars,” he explained. “I think also a big part of it is the tyres. They don’t allow you to combine G so you can’t do a lot of rotation and braking at the same time. You kind of have to ‘V’ the corners more.” He describes himself as more of a ‘U’ driver naturally.
He suspects the differences in performance between the cars also plays a role, saying that if he was “in the Red Bull I think I could do it easily”. However adapting in the Haas is proving difficult.
“It has to be automatic,” Magnussen explained. “It’s like a golf swing, at the end of day. Trying to change the angle of your wrist just a couple of degrees, at like at this exact point in the swing, [very quickly] it’s gone. You’ve done it.
“It’s very hard to adjust these things. It takes 10,000 hours and then you’ve done it. It is really something so in our central nervous system, it’s in there, being done very automatically.”
He is conscious of not ‘over-thinking’ the problem. “Often it’s best not to try too hard to change those things, but actually find ways around it. I’ve changed some things in the car, some simple things, that I feel like helped a lot. So that my driving style starts to work a little bit better. Stuff that that can kind of allow me to drive more in a ‘V’ style in an easier way.”
Magnussen doesn’t believe adaptability is a shortcoming of his. “I think I’m a driver who can drive many different cars,” he said. “I’ve driven sports cars, Indy cars, F1, all these things, and it’s always been easy for me to adapt. So I think this car, it’s unstable in just the worst part of the corner.”
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While Magnussen’s problems are amplified in qualifying, he continues to race well. Although Hulkenberg has outqualified him at 11 of the 14 grands prix held so far this year, Magnussen has scored in more races.
“That one-lap qualifying where sometimes he seems to drive around the issue, or the problems of the car, it’s good to have someone with that much experience when you’re trying to develop a car,” said Magnussen. “And when you have an issue and you need a new direction, then it’s good to have all this experience in the team.
“In terms of the pace, it’s not like I have this problem like I just can’t drive this car, as on Sunday it’s always fine. It’s just that one lap that sometimes I struggle to get it out of. I have had good qualifying [sessions] this year, I qualified P4 in Miami, so it’s not like I can’t do it ever. But he seems to somehow be able to drive around the issue a bit more often. But I think I’m turning it around.”
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