Kevin Magnussen doesn't care if you like him or not

Delight for Magnussen, disaster for Grosjean (1:38)

Jonathan Legard reflects on more mixed results for Haas, as Kevin Magnussen gets in the points while Romain Grosjean remains without one in 2018. (1:38)

Kevin Magnussen doesn't read what's written about him and doesn't care what others think of him.

The Danish driver has forged two different reputations since joining Haas at the start of 2017: one for hard-nosed, elbows-out racing and another for ticking off his rivals on track and off it. Haas boss Guenther Steiner feels the latter has led to rivals "making a meal" of incidents with him and it has become common to hear drivers complaining about Magnussen blocking during free practice or qualifying sessions.

But the two reputations go hand-in-hand. The complaints aimed at Magnussen have not just stemmed from his car occasionally being a roadblock in practice sessions.

Last year after the Hungarian Grand Prix, following a tense wheel-to-wheel battle with Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, came the most notorious flashpoint. As the post-race TV interviews took place, Hulkenberg sought out Magnussen, slapped him on the back and sarcastically congratulated him on the fight: "Once again, the most unsportive [sic] driver on the grid." Magnussen immediately flashed back with what became a viral sensation, captured by the waiting Danish press: "Suck my balls, mate!"

Magnussen seemed pretty puzzled by the huge attention that quote garnered at the time, but it gave a good insight into the mindset driving one of F1's most exciting young talents. As long as he's not driving beyond what he feels is on the limit of fairness, he has little time for criticism.

"I don't care what the other drivers think of me," the Dane tells ESPN. "They can say what they want."

He then paused, to reference an incident before the Spanish Grand Prix, where he felt compelled to clarify a quote given before the previous race in Baku which had circulated after that race, and after Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly had labelled him "the most dangerous" rival he had ever faced.

"To a certain extent, of course. If there's something like that where a story came out wrong, it depicted me as something that I didn't like and it was wrong -- completely wrong -- and it looked like I wanted to die in the car, which is crazy. But unless it's something like that, something which is incorrect, I don't care what anyone thinks."

Magnussen had started our chat by saying Thursdays -- the day traditionally set aside for media commitments -- was the worst part of being a Formula One driver. Even after a good result, his guard always seems to be up during press sessions, like a boxer wary of receiving a sudden low blow from an opponent. Danish journalists, who spend far more time with the Haas driver than most of us, often speak of the challenge they encounter in breaking down his defensive wall and speaking to the real Kevin Magnussen.

Some drivers thrive in front of the media, something which can help a driver if he's facing a negative torrent of headlines over an incident or mistake. It may have even helped Magnussen garner a different image in the last few years.

Our discussion ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix is friendly, cordial, occasionally good-humoured, but throughout it the caution lingers -- Magnussen is a man unwilling to play the game which accompanies the business of racing.

"I focus on the team and I block out all the outside media stuff, because it's so irrelevant and uncontrollable. There's so many different medias on the internet, taking it from the big medias and making their own little article out of that and changing it into something that it isn't. There's never one story from an interview, there's always so many different stories.

"Generally I stay out of it. I don't look at social media, I have some people who look after it so whenever I want to post anything I send it to those guys so I don't have to look at the apps."

He then stops before continuing, with a half-smirk, gesturing vaguely in my direction: "I don't look at websites, what they're writing and all that. It's a distraction, unnecessary, because you cannot change it. So that part is really something about this job that is very irrelevant for me because it can be really frustrating if you really let it enter your mind."

Fair enough, and no offence taken. It's clearly a tactic that is working for him. Like all his rivals, Magnussen is a man who feels truly comfortable in one environment -- visor down, tyre blankets off, engine on, sitting in the cockpit ready to race.

"I feel like that's the only way to do it. It's all out of my control anyway, I find it so difficult to control what goes out into the media and how it goes out that it's better for me to just speak my mind on track and let them talk."

Magnussen is enjoying what is, by his own estimations, the best form of his career. For the first time he is at a team for a second season. He was harshly cut adrift by McLaren at the end of his rookie campaign when it signed Fernando Alonso for 2015 and retained Jenson Button. After a season waiting in the wings he landed at Renault, but the team failed to offer him the multi-year deal he found waiting for him on Gene Haas' desk and he jumped ship for 2017. It's a decision he feels invigorated by.

When asked if the atmosphere at Haas -- the grid's newest team -- has made him feel more comfortable in the car, he said: "Definitely... it's a nice environment to be in and you have a lot of trust from the team and some commitment that I haven't had before. That makes you more relaxed in your racing.

"I don't feel restricted, I feel like I'm free to explore limits and that's different to the other teams I've been. I felt too much under pressure at other teams, for different reasons, especially at McLaren. I feel in a really good place at this team, in my second year."

There is clearly a good environment in the team. Magnussen signed off his drive to sixth at the Spanish Grand Prix with a message to the pit wall impersonating team boss Guenther Steiner, something the pair joked about after the race during the latter's media session. Magnussen's calm and content feeling at the team is in stark contrast to the frustrated figure cut by struggling teammate Romain Grosjean.

While Magnussen joined Haas because of the long-term commitment the switch provided him, for Grosjean the move to America's F1 team was to put himself in the shop window for Ferrari, the team's engine and technical partner. If you were to bet between them now, you would wager that Magnussen, not Grosjean, had the better chance of propelling himself to one of the grid's premier teams on current reputation and form.

Talks about his future at Haas are yet to start properly. When I ask him about the next step, he looks around the Haas hospitality in which he feels so at home and admits it's a place he is no rush to leave.

"I don't know what the expectation is or anything, but I'm happy where I am at the moment. You never know what's going to happen in the future but I feel very comfortable with my team and I feel like they appreciate the job that I do and I really appreciate the environment that we have here.

"Of course we also have a competitive car, so let's see... of course if I ever get a chance in a top team to fight for the championship then of course any driver with ambition wants to take that opportunity. Unless that happens, I'm pretty happy actually."