“I never lose, I either win or I learn.” Straightforward and candid, Dennis Hauger isn’t one to dwell on things for too long. Beneath the smile lies a will of steel and even when events haven’t fallen in his favour, his frustrations continue to fuel him to become the best version of himself.
It’s been a remarkable rise through the junior ranks for the 19-year-old. Firmly in the spotlight as Norway’s newest star on the motorsport scene, Hauger admits he’s still not quite used to the attention his success has brought him.
“In the last year, I’ve been going to Oslo quite often with sponsors and it’s crazy to see how many people recognise me – also at the airport as well. It’s a bit weird, but I love to see that kind of support.”
Reminiscing fondly on his earliest memories trackside, he could be found toddling around in a baby race suit after his rally driver father. Whilst he didn’t quite follow in his footsteps, drawn to racing on asphalt rather than the Scandinavian snow and ice, the drive and competitive streak ran deep.
And as fate would have it, the seeds would be set for a lifelong passion. Climbing into his first go-kart aged five, he went on to shine locally before, as he notes, a “random” test for some new engines saw him make the jump up to the fiercely competitive international karting stage – catching the eye of the Red Bull Junior Team at only 14-years-old.
“With racing and everything being so professional and intense throughout your whole life, you really figure out what you want and what you’re working for,” remarks Hauger when contemplating how those pivotal years shaped his identity.
Claiming the 2019 Italian F4 crown in an impressive fashion, alongside his vice-champion finish in ADAC F4, earned him a step-up to the FIA Formula 3 grid for the following year with Hitech Grand Prix. Living away from home for the first time certainly had its challenges. For one, Hauger’s not a fan of the UK’s love for fried food, but it was on track where he faced his greatest test yet.
Highlights were few and far between, with a P8 finish and a maiden podium at the third round in Budapest his only points-scoring finishes of the year. Reflecting on one of the low points in his journey so far, Hauger doesn’t shy away from the fact that moments of doubt began to creep in.
“It was definitely a tough year,” he summarises. “There were quite a few hard weekends, and I was always trying to refresh myself and try to stay positive. At some point, I think those downfalls in your career really make you stronger in the end and I learned a lot from it, especially mentally.
“I learned that now I don’t have to doubt my own skills and always believe in myself. When you’re working hard and really pushing to try and get better, but nothing seems to work out, you’re obviously starting to ask yourself questions about what’s happening.
That was a really hard moment, when you’re pushing for your life, pushing to become better and nothing works.”
Instead of being weighed down by negativity, he emerged out the other side of his rookie season with a new-found resilience and a dogged determination to prove himself a second time around. Switching over to PREMA Racing immediately began to pay dividends, storming to victory in Round 1 Race 3 of the 2021 campaign.
Sitting at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, it was a position he refused to relinquish all season long, with his rediscovered self-belief and speed, carrying him to glory.
“I think after the season, getting the test with PREMA and showing what I could do, I found a driving style that works for me to become quicker. That was a big confidence reset for me, having had such a hard season and then coming in and working things out a bit more.
“Before the season started, I knew I had the pace, but there were still some things that needed to be put together. Then that first Qualifying in 2021, when I got pole by 0.006s was such a good relief. From then, I just had to try to take the experience I had from the previous year, remember what I’ve done in the past and what I want to do in the future – that was a good learning curve for me.”
I never lose, either I win or I learn."
His efforts left no question as to whether he would earn a promotion to Formula 2 for 2022. Frankly summarising his rookie season as an “up and down” campaign so far, Hauger has stood out on several occasions. Victory on his debut on the streets of Monte Carlo was swifty followed by a return to the top step in the Baku Feature Race. After a mistake saw him crash out of the Sprint Race, the PREMA driver turned the frustration and anger he felt into a story of redemption come Sunday.
Now as his rookie campaign draws towards its conclusion, he acknowledges that he hasn’t been in the fight for as many victories as he had hoped, but he knows that in this game, it’s never too late to turn your fortunes around.
“I’d say I’m still learning and progressing, still not completely where I want to be, especially for Qualifying. I think that’s been the main issue for us so far, as in race pace we’ve always seemed to be decent,” he says.
“A lot more stuff is happening during the race with pit stops and everything, so there are so many factors that come into play compared to F3, where you have to just do the job, save a bit of tyres and play it smart. Sometimes it’s not easy trying to maximise everything, so it was definitely a bit of a surprise how much those factors come into play over the weekend.
“You can see with the Championship how close it is from third to 11th, and some people have had some good rounds and brought back some good points lately, so it can turn around very quickly. Obviously, as a driver that’s sometimes frustrating, but at the same time really cool. From then on, I’ve just had to keep developing. It was a confidence boost for me to get those wins, but it’s still not fully where I want to be.”
With all the heightened pressure of being a Red Bull junior and the weight of his and others' expectations on his shoulders, Hauger knows that his dream of becoming the first Norwegian Formula 1 driver sits just out of reach for the moment.
Yet if his experiences have taught him anything, there’s no point concerning himself with all the noise because all that matters is the here and now – either winning or learning along the way.
“In the end, I want to be fighting for the wins all the time – that's the goal anyway, no matter what people say or think. I have to just focus on myself and what I can control, and not think too much about everything going on around me.”