Formula 1 – The Curious Case of the Haas F1 Team

The young Haas F1 Team has had a very topsy-turvy start to the 2018 Formula 1 season. Even going by the rather fickle nature of racing form, the acute crests and abysmal troughs in the performance of Haas has added a new twist to the championship this season. Let us have a look at their season so far…

The Curious Case of the Haas F1 Team in 2018

The expectations for a strong performance from Haas F1 started gaining ground even before the onset of the first race of the season. The winter testing had revealed that the Haas cars were more than a match for the mid-field contenders. The Australian Grand Prix further validated the strength of their cars where they battled the Red Bulls on merit. They had firmly snatched the unofficial position of “best of the rest” on the grid.

A theory had started gaining ground that their technical partnership with Scuderia Ferrari was giving an unfair advantage to the modestly funded team. The Force India COO – Otmar Szafnauer – went to the extent of saying: “I don’t know how they do it, it’s magic. It’s never been done before in Formula 1. I just don’t know how it can be right that someone who’s been in the sport for a couple of years with no resource could produce a car… does it happen by magic? If it does, I want the wand.

Even Fernando Alonso labelled the car a “Ferrari replica“. But both Gunther Steiner, Haas Team Principal, and Gene Haas, their founder, defended their performance vigorously.

Potential not translating into results

All the adulations and calls for investigations notwithstanding, the potential shown by Haas has not translated into points. Both their drivers – Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean had to retire in quick succession after a costly double pit-stop blunder, resulted in a zero points haul in Australia.

In the following Bahrain Grand Prix, though Magnussen brought home the points, Grosjean was far behind. At the Chinese Grand Prix, the team struggled for pace, ending with a mere 1 point. In the chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the team again returned empty-handed even though Grosjean was running in a strong position before the SC period. The Spanish Grand Prix brought back a haul of points for the team, but not before the ugly and unforgiving spin and crash for Grosjean.

So, the team touted as the fourth best package has only 19 points to show for all the hype. Even in the constructors’ standings, they are only in sixth place. The engines from Ferrari and chassis from Dallara with a tacit knowledge transfer through the sharing of the same wind-tunnel as Ferrari have given them a competitive package, but hardly the matching results to show for.

The team as a whole has buckled up and gelled well after the first race pit blunders. But the drivers’ side of the story has remained enigmatic. The two drivers in their stables have contrasting personalities, driving styles and mindsets. Let us look at them one by one…

Magnussen “in the zone” for 2018

Kevin Magnussen has racing in his DNA, being the son of former Le Mans and F1 racing driver – Jan Magnussen. The Dane has come up the ranks as a fighter even though McLaren supported him through their young drivers’ programme. He had a dream start to his F1 career with a podium for McLaren, but his form petered out later. After getting released by McLaren he had only modest results to show at Renault. He joined Haas F1 in 2017 with reasonable success but was outperformed by Grosjean in the points tally, owing in large part to the car’s reliability.

The 2018 season has shown a new vigour in Magnussen with a competitive car adding a spring to his step. He has outperformed Grosjean 4-1 in qualifying and has beaten him in all the races so far. He has put down his head and is being seen as working with a single-minded dedication, without any distractions.

Grosjean struggling with his confidence

As with Magnussen, the improved competitiveness of the 2018 car was expected to improve Grosjean’s fortunes, but sadly, the opposite has come true for him. The Franco-Swiss driver has a good pedigree, having won the GP2 series title en route to F1. He had been raw and error-prone in the early part of his F1 career, but had blossomed well, racing alongside Kimi Raikkonen and Pastor Maldonado in the Lotus team. Taking a leap of faith, he had joined Haas in their debut year in 2016 and delivered some standout performances for them.

In 2018, the emotions seem to have got the better of him after a solid start in Australia ended with heartbreak for the team. He spun and crashed at Baku while following the safety car, then again spun and crashed heavily in Barcelona. This sequence of crashes was in follow up to a sequence of below-par performances in Bahrain and Shanghai. The picture of his lonely contemplation after the latest crash was a tell-tale sign of his state of mind.

Grosjean and the Haas Team need Better Results

The talent of Grosjean deserves a better deal and a more supportive hand from Gunther Steiner. He just needs to reboot his season from the Monaco GP onwards and show the paddock his mental strength and character. With Magnussen measuring up well this year, the latent potential of the Haas package is waiting to be unlocked fully. They need to be on the tails of the front-runners on a regular basis.

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