Kevin Magnussen secured a stellar fifth place for his first race back in Formula 1, after a year and three months away from the sport racing in other series.
The Danish driver, who presumed his F1 career was over, returned to F1 just two weeks ago as he was helicoptered in to replace the ousted Nikita Mazepin before the Bahrain pre-season test.
Taking to the Haas VF-22 with aplomb, Magnussen qualified for the season opener in seventh place and, despite a few mistakes during the Grand Prix, came home in fifth to match his best-ever results for Haas back in 2018.
"I enjoyed it a lot. It's so good to be back in this position," Magnussen beamed as he spoke with media, including RacingNews365.com, after the race.
"A massive well done to the team for getting this car into this position. We were the strongest car in the midfield; I could actually see the Mercedes for almost the whole race.
"I know we got the Safety Car at the end, so that helped a little with that, but it was just a different story to in the past."
Having not had much time to prepare for the physical demands of a Grand Prix, despite racing in other series during his year out, Magnussen said he could tell his fitness wasn't quite there, but that he wasn't feeling too much pain afterward.
"No, my neck is pretty stiff," he said, when asked about whether he felt fully fit.
"But I was better than I thought I would be. I was worried that I'd be way more tired but, sometimes, when you're in a good position you get some extra energy, and I was fine."
Magnussen remaining realistic about the midfield battle
While Magnussen was able to stay close enough to the two Mercedes drivers ahead to be taken into their consideration throughout the race, he explained that his more realistic fight in 2022 will be trying to stay at the head of the midfield.
"I think we've just got to focus on that midfield," he commented.
"We know that we got lucky today with the two Red Bulls (which both retired). If we can finish P7 in Jeddah then it's the same as today.
"We were just lucky today with getting four more points than we should have."
Magnussen showed some rustiness in the early stages of the race, locking up into Turn 1 on a few occasions and allowing other drivers through with easier moves than they should have been.
He added that he had made the decision to push hard, which ultimately proved to be the wrong choice.
"It was a hard decision, should I try and keep these people behind?" Magnussen said.
"It's a Mercedes. I didn't know how much faster they were, so maybe I could keep them behind for the stint. I just started pushing really hard, which wasn't a good idea.
"Looking back, I should have just gone
easy on the tyres, because we had to pit two laps earlier than planned,
because I used the tyres too hard. But then, in the second stint, we
were able to extend that and get back on track."
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Magnussen still can't believe his late Haas opportunity
Just a few short weeks ago, Magnussen was gearing up for a season racing in America's IMSA series with Chip Ganassi Racing, as well as joining Peugeot's Hypercar programme for Le Mans.
Now faced with a completely different challenge for the season, he explained that he's still finding his feet in the sport again.
"I'm certainly getting more into it, but I think everyone is now with these cars," Magnussen continued.
"Just learning more, getting more on top of it; it's always like if you put a shoe on that actually fits you, when you start walking in it, it still gets better."
Having raced for Haas between 2017 and 2020, Magnussen expressed his gratitude to the team for the hard work they've done in his absence to create a much more competitive machine.
"I'm so thankful again; I keep saying this all weekend that I just can't believe this opportunity that I've got here and got P5 today – crazy," he said.
"I'm just so happy, so thankful, and the team has done an amazing job – this is all down to them. I had nothing to do with this car; I just came in and drove it when it was done and it's a great car."
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