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Haas’ History-Making F1 Assault Has Launched

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 18 2016
America is back in the Formula One business.(Photo by LAT Photographic)

America is back in the Formula One business.(Photo by LAT Photographic)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

With a combined 32 official practice laps in their laptops after Friday, Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez began preparing for knockout qualifying at the 2016 season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

formula1logo“We became an official Formula One team today (Friday),” said Grosjean, first driver hired by American businessman Gene Haas. Led by chairman Haas, the founder of Haas Automation, Haas F1 Team is the first American-based organization to compete in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 30 years.

A third free practice around the 3.295-mile/5.303-kilometer/16-turn Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne was scheduled Saturday before introduction of the FIA’s revised qualifying format. The new elimination-style procedure will see the field of 22 drivers whittled down to just two, with those two battling for the pole during the final 90 seconds. NBC Sports Network will air 90 minutes of qualifying coverage Saturday at 2 a.m. (CDT).

“It’s amazing to finally be in Melbourne, running out on track and making history for the team,” said Gutierrez, former test driver for Scuderia Ferrari and F1 regular with Sauber. “The guys have done a fantastic job to get everything ready. The conditions have been variable. However, we ran as much as we could to get as much data as possible to prepare for Saturday. We’ve obviously got some work to do to get everything sorted (for qualifying), but I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”

Lewis Hamilton, the three-time/reigning Formula One World Driving Champion, established himself as the pole favorite after leading both practices Friday under wet and overcast conditions. Hamilton set a quick time of 1-minute, 29.725-seconds in his No. 44 Mercedes in the opening practice. The Brit topped the grid at 1:38.841-seconds at the close of a rain-plagued second session.

Both practices were run amid intermittent showers, forcing drivers to primarily navigate the course on either the Pirelli Cinturato Blue full wet tire or the Pirelli Cinturato Green intermediate tire. However, the first few minutes of the first practice were dry, allowing Hamilton to set fast lap using Pirelli’s P Zero Yellow soft slick compound.

Grosjean and Gutierrez combined to log 14 laps in the first practice and 18 laps in the second. While not ideal racing conditions, Friday’s track time could prove helpful for qualifying as rain continues in the forecast.

Gutierrez, a native of Mexico, turned the quickest overall lap for Haas F1 at 1:41.780-seconds in his No. 21 VF-16 during the first session, placing him 18th on the grid after eight circuits. Grosjean ran six laps in the session with a best time of 1:43.443-seconds in the No. 8 car. Neither driver could improve his time during the second practice. Gutierrez ran 10 laps and was 11th-quickest in P2 at 1:42.891. Grosjean, a native of France, ran eight laps with a best of 1:43.731-seconds that placed him 13th on the chart.

“We had tricky weather for our first official practice sessions,” said Grosjean, formerly of Lotus F1 Team. “It was a very good effort from all the guys to get out there on time at the beginning of P1. It was a very strong moment as well for Gene and Guenther (Steiner, team principal), who have been working on the project for a long time.

“We did a few laps on inters, but we just missed the opportunity to run the slicks. It looks like we could have a dry P3, so we can try to catch up and go from there. I’m very proud of everyone and very proud to officially enter our name into the classification. I’m looking forward to a drier day (Saturday).”

Englishman Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 world champion, completed 16 laps in his McLaren/Honda to lead all drivers in the first session. Rookie Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Manor Racing ran 25 laps in P2.

Haas F1 Team is based at the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus as Stewart-Haas Racing, multiple champions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Hass F1 is a technical partner with Scuderia Ferrari, an arrangement that includes the turbocharged Ferrari 061 V-6 power unit, gearbox and mechanical components such as suspension and brake systems in the VF-16.

Steiner said the conditions definitely limited the on-track activity for Haas F1 drivers eager to record laps and data while sorting out new cars and a team needing to coordinate logistics in the pits. “However, we made the best out of the situation and made some progress,” Steiner said. “The second practice was very similar to the first one. We didn’t achieve as many laps as we wanted in the session, but we’ll utilize all the data we have and keep working hard as we head into (Saturday).”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 18 2016
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