Haas F1 Riding High Into Shanghai
Haas F1 Team enters the third round of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship an impressive fifth in the constructor standings thanks to back-to-back point-scoring finishes by Romain Grosjean.
Not since Shadow Racing – another American team – debuted in 1973 with consecutive point-scoring finishes by Californian George Follmer has an organization earned two top-six finishes in its first two races.
Now Haas F1 Team – the first American F1 team in 30 years – has the opportunity to create even more history when it arrives in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. Sunday’s 56-lap race around the 5.451-kilometer (3.387-mile), 16-turn Shanghai International Circuit will mark Haas F1 Team’s third career start, and beyond Grosjean earning another point-paying result, the ultimate goal is getting his teammate, Esteban Gutiérrez, to the finish and into the points as well.
While Grosjean earned a sixth-place finish in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and then backed it up with a fifth-place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix, Gutiérrez has seen bad luck derail his chances to contend in similar fashion. Despite a pace in line with that of his teammate, Gutiérrez was collected in an accident not of his making in Australia after 16 laps, and in Bahrain, a mechanical issue sidelined him after only nine laps.
A glimpse of Haas F1 Team’s collective strength was seen in qualifying at Bahrain, with both drivers advancing out of Q1 and solidly into Q2, with Grosjean qualifying ninth and Gutiérrez qualifying 13th. It was the first time in Haas F1 Team’s history its drivers advanced to Q2 – another milestone achievement in the team’s nascent season.
Achievement in China means solving the conundrum presented by Shanghai’s “snail corners” and its massive backstraight. The snail corners both look like a snail and force drivers to take a snail’s pace around them – at least by Formula One standards. These corners, which comprise turns 1-4 and turns 11-13, are juxtaposed with the 1.4-kilometer (.869 of a mile) backstraight – the longest in Formula One. There, drivers eclipse 200 mph before heavy braking into the turn-14 hairpin. Securing the downforce needed to maximize these vastly divergent elements, along with the other in-between aspects of the track, is akin to balancing on a razor blade.
With the 13th Chinese Grand Prix serving as Round No. 3 on this year’s Formula One schedule, Haas F1 Team eyes a third-straight point-paying finish in its third race of existence. For Grosjean, the opportunity to score more points comes on his 30th birthday. And for Gutiérrez, a point-paying finish would come in his third career Chinese Grand Prix.
The numerology bodes well for Haas F1 Team, as three is an important number in Chinese culture. Pronounced “sān”, it is similar to the character of birth. Of course, immediately after birth comes growth, and since debuting in Australia, Haas F1 Team’s stature has grown at a considerable rate – a rate it plans to continue in China.
Guenther Steiner: Team Principle
Two grand prix for Haas F1 Team, two very strong races for Haas F1 Team. Did you think this kind of success would be possible this soon?
“No, not realistically. We always said we would like to score points and make a difference. We wanted to be midfield, but to finish sixth and fifth in our first two races was, for sure, not in the plan. But, we take it and we are very happy about it.”
During each grand prix race weekend, you learn more about the car. But what are you learning about tire strategy and how the different tire compounds affect the car in different ways?
“It’s always grand prix-specific. You go out and test on Friday and Saturday and you learn tire degradation, mainly, and grip levels. I think in Australia we used the data we gained in Barcelona because we didn’t run a lot in Australia due to the weather. Every race is different and every track is different. Each tire reacts differently with the track and we always try to learn as much as possible during the race weekend. But again, we have to choose the tires before the race weekend. Our team has made good decisions and picked the right tires, for the right time, for each race weekend.”
With the qualifying format used in Australia and Bahrain, how advantageous was it to make it to Q2 but not Q3?
“In Australia, we were far from making Q2 because we had some issues in Q1. In Bahrain, we were very happy not to be in Q3 because it allowed us to start the race on a brand new set of tires. With brand new tires, you see a lot more grip on the start. Both drivers took that to their advantage and had very good starts.”
For the first time in Haas F1 Team’s young history, both drivers advanced to the second round of qualifying. How important was that for the team?
“Advancing to Q2 really helped our confidence. We wanted to show that in Australia and couldn’t, but we did in Bahrain and this is what we will try to achieve every race weekend.”
Haas F1 Team has begun its debut season by surpassing expectations. But how hard is it to stay ahead of the curve in Formula One, as everyone is constantly developing their car?
“It is very difficult, but we will continue to develop. We’ll continue to test in the wind tunnel and bring new developments to our car, and that will lead to gains in our aerodynamic program throughout the season. I think we’ll bring new developments like the rest of the midfield packs are doing, or aiming to do.”
Bahrain saw the team’s first live pit stops. How were they, and how does it feel to finally have performed live pit stops?
“I would say two out of the three pit stops were good. We still can improve, but we were in the ballpark. In the third one we had an issue with one of the wheel nuts. I give credit to the crew member because when he went to put the wheel on, he realized something was wrong and took it off again. Had he not fixed it, the car probably would have been stopped after the first two corners from the wheel being loose. So we had an issue, but we solved it and maybe lost two seconds and it didn’t make a difference anyway. The mechanic and his actions stopped us from making an even bigger mistake.”
While the team is performing well and Grosjean has the results to prove it, bad luck has hampered Gutiérrez’s efforts and he’s had back-to-back retirements. How do you balance the success of one driver while working to help the other driver overcome the adversity he’s faced?
“With Esteban’s incident in Australia, you look at it with the mindset of, ‘What can you do when a guy runs into you?’ In Bahrain, we had an issue with his brake disc and are still investigating why it actually broke. We are working with the brake manufacturer to have a better understanding of the issue and avoid it in the future. I spoke with Esteban after the race and he said, ‘Guenther, these things happen. There’s nothing we can do.’ He understands why he’s had to retire from each race and now he’s more determined to get to the end and earn points.”
Explain the level of sophistication with today’s Formula One car. Why can’t a problem be fixed in the garage during the race in the same manner a problem with a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car can be fixed during the race?
“If something breaks in a Formula One car, they are so highly sophisticated that it’s quite a process to determine all that’s wrong and then, normally, there’s not enough time to fix it. Plus, your mechanics are involved in all the pit stops, so when something goes wrong, you can’t pull three or four guys to fix an issue because, by regulation, they’re needed for the pit stop with the other car that’s still running on the racetrack. To try to fix the car just to come in last, 20 laps down, doesn’t make any sense.”
Two races in and you’ve already reached some preseason goals, namely scoring points. What do you want to achieve in China?
“One of our goals is to take two cars to the finish, because we haven’t done that one yet. You always want to get better, and the next thing for us to do is take two cars to the finish and, hopefully, both score points.”