Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. Up next: Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen, who returned to Formula One this season after a one-year hiatus and is currently 10th in the point standings.
1. How do you feel about people reclining their seats on airplanes?
Don’t do that. At least on short flights, no way. Keep it upright. That’s how I feel.
If somebody does lean back on you, do you feel obligated to have to do it yourself?
(Laughs) No, I leave my own upright. Especially if the guy behind you is eating on the table, it’s just impossible to eat if the seat in front is reclined.
2. How often do you get recognized at the grocery store?
Depends where I am, I guess. How often? Well, it happens.
Do people come up to you or do they mostly stare?
There’s some staring for sure. And some people come up and ask for a photo or just to chat.
And you’re good with that?
Yeah, I’m OK. It’s all part of it, you know?
3. On a scale of one to 10, how good are you at replying to text messages in a timely manner?
They. (Nearby, press officer Stuart Morrison breaks into laughter and nods.)
Oh, you’re not a good at texting?
Come on, I’m not. I’m really bad.
Do you see them and then just be like, “No, I’m not gonna reply?” Or do you just not see them?
I get a lot. The thing is, around Formula One races, I get so many text messages from people who were watching. And then I get behind and I feel like I have to reply to people. And then I just give up. (Laughs)
4. What is the best way to get out of a conversation with someone who will not stop talking?
I don’t know, but I feel like kids have it all figured out. They just turn around and walk away. (Laughs)
Since you’ve been a parent, you’ve noticed this observation?
Yes, exactly. I’m trying to learn from that and try to practice doing the same.
5. If you could only pick one form of social media to use and drop all the rest, which would it be?
I use Instagram a little bit. I don’t have the app. So I log on to my profile on the browser because I feel like that makes it a little harder for me to spend time on Instagram. It’s so easy to be dragged into it. You take your phone out, go on Instagram and an hour passes in five minutes. So I don’t have the app intentionally to try to stop myself from spending a lot of time on it. And also, it’s definitely different having Instagram when you’ve got a lot of followers to when it’s mainly just friends and family.
6. What advice would you give someone who is having a hard time getting over a mistake they’ve made?
It’s hard to give good advice, because the best thing I can say is just to get over it. Move on. And in F1, everything you do is analyzed as if you made a mistake. I’m sure even when Mercedes or Red Bull are winning races – or Ferrari – they go through every little detail of their race looking for mistakes. So what I’m saying is mistakes are normal and it’s part of making progress. So don’t feel down about it; just learn from it.
7. This next one is a wild card question where I’m mixing it up for each person. In 2017, we did this interview at COTA and I asked you: Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers? And you said no. But since then, there’s been “Drive to Survive” and all the social media clips of you guys at the press conferences where they’re trying to get you to say something funny and they put it out there. So do you still feel like drivers are not entertainers? How do you view all that?
Well, we are entertaining people. There’s a lot of people watching us and being entertained by us driving around. So in that sense, I guess we are entertainers. But I don’t see myself (like that). I don’t go out on track trying to be entertaining. It’s just a consequence of what we’re doing. My focus is on trying to make a good result, to be fast. And that’s entertaining to a lot of people – which is good. That’s what runs the sport.
8. If you felt that you got blatantly taken out of a race, like somebody ran into you on purpose, how do you handle that? I know in F1 there would be a penalty, but do you go confront them? What how do you deal with that?
That specific situation is very unlikely to ever happen. Someone just taking you out in Formula One, that doesn’t happen. These cars (have) the slightest little contact and they explode. They’re so fragile. It’s not like in sports cars or in NASCAR, where you see them taking each other out and still being able to finish the race themselves. It’s different here. So when you get touched or bumped out, it’s usually because the guy made a mistake. I don’t confront anyone.
9. What movie do you think you’ve seen the most times in the last year?
I don’t know if I’ve watched a movie in the last year.
Not a movie guy?
I am, but I had a kid (daughter Laura, born last January). I watched some on the plane and I can’t remember which one it was. I was probably sleeping.
How do you do screen time with kids? Will you let them see Cocomelon and stuff or do you try to keep them away from it?
She’s a year and a half, so it’s not a problem yet. But I’m sure when she grows up and realizes what an iPad is, she’ll want to spend time on that. But I think it’s best not to spend too much time on these devices.
10. When you think about F1 five years from now, what are you the most optimistic about and what worries you the most?
I’m optimistic because I see the momentum that Formula One has with the public and there’s a lot of attention, especially in the US We’re at the Miami Grand Prix now and you can see the buzz there is around this race and the attention that it gets.
I’m way more optimistic than I am nervous. I don’t know what I would be nervous about for the sport, at least. It’s going in a very good direction.
11. A magic genie appears and offers you the chance to go back to the beginning of your racing career and start all over. But you get to keep all the knowledge that you have now and all the lessons you’ve learned. So would you want to go back and start over or just stay where you are?
Because I’ve been very lucky many times, I wouldn’t dare to go back. I’d be too afraid that I wouldn’t get lucky the same way I did. So I think I’d stay as it is.
12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next person. And the last one was Kyle Larson from NASCAR, and he was fascinated by this video that was out there of you testing one of Tony Stewart’s sprint cars. He watched the onboard of this and he had heard that you were really good and up to speed. So he wanted to know what you thought of the sprint car. How was the power-to-weight ratio compared to F1? And would you ever consider racing a dirt race?
It was probably one of the most fascinating and thrilling experiences I’ve ever had in racing. It was so crazy and so different. Like I was on totally different territory. And I really loved it, you know? It was a shock how fast this little thing is and how much grip it had on the dirt.
In my mind, every time I’ve gone on the dirt in my career, it’s been because I made a mistake and there’s no grip out there. But then with this car there was a lot of grip, had a lot of downforce. When you’re sliding through the corner, there’s so much downforce and grip and you’ve just got to keep the throttle in. Totally different. I had Tony there showing me the ropes and giving me advice. And it was great. You know, I’d love to do it again.
The next interview I’m doing is with Jimmie Johnson from IndyCar. Do you have a question I might be able to ask him?
I’d love to know if now that he’s driving on ovals, if that is a more familiar environment to him. Is there a lot more from his past experience that he can apply or use on ovals with the IndyCar?
I know it’s a completely different world to him, racing IndyCars at road courses. It must be like starting from zero, like learning to walk again. He was a legend in NASCAR, but I have a lot of respect for what he’s done to step into such an unknown territory. He has had the guts to try and go in there at that level in IndyCar and tackle the challenges. Huge respect for that. So yeah, that would be my question: On the ovals, is there some of his past experience that is similar or useful there?
(Photo: Chris Graythen / Getty Images)