As Mercedes and Scuderia Ferrari battle for the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship, there is another spirited battle behind these two juggernauts where teams’ fortunes rise and fall with each grand prix.
Forty-two points separate fifth-place Williams from ninth-place McLaren, with Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas F1 Team sandwiched in between. These three organizations are separated by a scant 15 points, and their proximity to one another in the constructors standings is emulated on the racetrack, where the Haas VF-17, the Renault R.S. 17 and the Toro Rosso STR 12 are often nose to tail and sidepod to sidepod.
Haas F1 Team comes into the Malaysian Grand Prix Oct. 1 at Sepang International Circuit fresh off its ninth points-paying drive of the year in the preceding Singapore Grand Prix, where Romain Grosjean rallied from his 15th-place starting spot to finish ninth. The performance was indicative of the tight midfield, where even with points being tallied, Haas F1 Team fell to eighth in the constructors standings as a resurgent Renault leapfrogged the team for seventh thanks to a sixth-place run by Jolyon Palmer.
Entering Round No. 15 on the 20-race Formula One schedule, Haas F1 Team trails Renault by five points and sixth-place Toro Rosso by 15 points. It has a healthy 20-point advantage over ninth-place McLaren.
Haas F1 Team’s sights are now set on Sepang, the purpose-built Formula One facility outside Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Sepang is home to what will be the 19th and final Malaysian Grand Prix, as the venue comes off the 2018 Formula One schedule. The track’s layout, which consists of two massive straights bookended by tight corners, should complement the Haas VF-17, raising expectations that another points haul is in the offing.
Constructed in an astonishing 14 months, Sepang was the first Formula One track noted designer Herman Tilke built from scratch. When the 5.543-kilometer (3.444-mile), 15-turn circuit opened on March 9, 1999, it was considered revolutionary, with modern facilities and a unique, twisting design that challenges drivers and their engineers.
The track’s width allows for numerous overtaking opportunities, but the incredible speed that can be attained on the straights is actually restricted by the fast, flowing corners where teams have to sacrifice outright speed for aerodynamic grip and balance.
This places extremely high loads on the tires. Heavy braking increases the load, as drivers spend 17 percent of their lap under braking. Add an abrasive track surface and high ambient temperatures and you get a cauldron of punishment for the four tires carrying the driver and the sophisticated car beneath him.
But with weather often impacting practice, qualifying and the race, expect to see Pirelli’s Cinturato Blue full wet tire and Cinturato Green intermediate tire at some point during the race weekend.
Torrential rain storms are a frequent occurrence at the Malaysian Grand Prix as its tropical environment and mid-afternoon start time conspire for unwieldly conditions. This was especially evident in 2009 when the race was forced to end after only 31 laps when rain inundated the track. This prompted the FIA to award half points to the drivers participating, the first time half points had been distributed since the 14-lap Australian Grand Prix in 1991.
Rain played a major factor in the outcome of the Singapore Grand Prix, where teams’ well-crafted strategies had to be thrown out as rain introduced a new variable that hadn’t been seen in the practice and qualifying sessions in the days prior to the race.
Whether the Malaysian Grand Prix ends up being wet or dry or a combination of the two, Haas F1 Team is ready. Grosjean has five career starts at Sepang with a best finish of sixth in 2013, and teammate Kevin Magnussen has two career starts with his best being a ninth-place effort in 2014.
Points are the name of the game in Formula One, and another points-scoring execution would be the 10th of the year for Haas F1 Team, doubling the team’s tally from its inaugural season in 2016. And a double-points finish would greatly aid the organization’s cause in the constructors standing, something that has only happened once in Haas F1 Team’s history – the May 28 Monaco Grand Prix, nine races ago.
As the mercury rises in Malaysia, so does the level of competition in the midfield. With the silver and red cars duking it out at the front of the field, the grudge match amongst the blue, yellow and gray machines continues, with Haas F1 Team’s battleship gray an appropriate scheme for its midfield matchup.