In 2021, Mick Schumacher was pretty much given a free hit as he made his Formula 1 debut with Haas.
So dreadfully uncompetitive was the car that he and teammate Nikita Mazepin would only be fighting for P19 and P20.
This gave Schumacher - the then reigning F2 champion - a year in which to incubate in F1. To learn how to be an F1 driver, to make mistakes and gel with the team in a relative pressure-free environment.
2022 then, would be a decisive year for the German - especially as he would be now benchmarked against a known-quantity in Kevin Magnussen armed with equipment capable of fighting for the odd Q3 appearance and regular points finishes.
Only, it didn't quite turn out like that. A dreadful start to the season involved destroying one chassis in Monaco and doing a good job of denting another a few races earlier in Saudi Arabia qualifying that ruled him out the race.
Granted, he did score his first F1 points with an eighth and sixth in Britain and Austria, respectively, but he has firmly been in Magnussen's shade this term - and that has put his F1 future in doubt.
The drive alongside Magnussen is believed to be Schumacher's or Nico Hulkenberg - who has been the 'Covid supersub' since losing his Renault drive at the end of 2019.
Although Hulkenberg is the right choice for Haas if they seek to replace Schumacher - he is also the wrong one.
The case for Hulkenberg
It is a feature of Haas seasons that they tend to front-load their season, points-wise.
By launching with a sensible, clean design, the team usually capitalises on rivals fumbling at the early stages - evidenced by Magnussen scoring points in three of the first four races this year - including a fifth in Bahrain.
This was about the time Schumacher was going around hitting everything and using up some of the credit in the Haas bank - and while his performances improved towards and after the summer break, it intersected a fall-off in performance from the team.
In short, Haas need a driver capable of banking solid points whenever the car is capable. That is one positive in Hulkenberg's favour.
For all the hype around him in his early career, Hulkenberg is now the archetypal midfield F1 driver.
Where there is a job to be done, he will get it done. Nothing more, nothing less. Where the car is capable of a sixth (18 finishes) or seventh (17), he will deliver that result and harvest the points.
He provides a solid platform for Haas - which as a team can often struggle to understand upgrades - on which to build foundations.
The House of Haas has been shook over recent years with rogue sponsors (and drivers). The team is never going to turn into a front-runner and for someone like Schumacher was only ever a stepping stone to what he hoped would be better things.
Deep in their hearts, both Magnussen and Hulkenberg know they will not get a shot in a top car, and as the former found during his year off, nothing can quite scratch the itch like F1 can.
A grateful Hulkenberg would provide Haas with a reincarnation of its most successful driver line-up: Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. Quintessential midfield drivers, for a quintessentially midfield team.
It would also provide some comedy gold content after the infamous comment post the 2017 Hungarian GP where Magnussen told Hulkenberg to "suck my balls, mate" after an on-track incident...
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Hulkenberg is not for Haas
On the flip side, Hulkenberg is not the right choice for Haas.
His ability to bank a sixth or seventh is also a weakness as he can't turn that into a fourth or even a podium - yes, we nearly got to the end of an article on Nico Hulkenberg without mentioning the p word.
Since he calmed down in the car, Schumacher found his feet, probably from Canada onwards where only a car failure denied him points on what was his strongest F1 weekend to that point.
Take for example Schumacher's defensive and attacking driving against Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in Austria and Britain.
He handled himself comfortably alongside the two pre-eminent drivers of the past couple of years - racing fairly before ultimately ceding position when he realised he could not hold them behind or pass.
It's nothing Hulkenberg couldn't do either but why change what isn't broke? By retaining Schumacher and Magnussen, Haas will have kept the same line-up for the first time since 2018/19.
With teams set to take leaps forward in 2023 as the technical rules get a year more mature, keeping the same bums on seats is vital for forward progress.
Schumacher certainly hasn't done enough to be dropped by Haas - and while he has not quite made a clear cut case to be kept either, he is a much stronger proposition than Hulkenberg whose time in F1 has come, and gone.
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