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USA In F1: After ‘Win’, It’s On To Bahrain

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 23 2016
America is on the Formula One map, thanks to a stunning finish in Australia. Next up is the race in Bahrain.

America is on the Formula One map, thanks to a stunning finish in Australia. Next up is the race in Bahrain.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

After a stunning, sixth-place point-finish in his team’s Formula One debut, perhaps it’s already time for Gene Haas to consider revising the graphics package on his No. 8 and No. 21 cars.

“There’s a new F1 team on the block and it’s an American F1 team, so we’re real proud of that,” the formula1logofounder/chairman of Haas F1 Team said after Romain Grosjean’s lead-lap/eight-constructor point result in Sunday’s 32nd annual Rolex Australian Grand Prix. “But these other teams are pretty dang good at what they do. I wouldn’t sit here and say we’re going to be in front of them all the time, but today was a good day.”

It truly was a day for flag-waving. That said, the rather small American flags on the sidepods of the VF-16s driven by Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez…they need to be enlarged two, three times. Better yet, prominently place the Stars and Stripes on the engine covers of both cars in a sort of a chest-bump salute to Grosjean’s workmanlike drive in the 2016 season-opener at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne.

“Guys listen to me _ this is a win for us. This is a win,” Grosjean screamed into his radio moments after taking the checkered flag. “Welcome to Formula One, Gene. This is the day. This is history, guys!”

With headquarters in Kannapolis, N.C., Haas F1 Team became the first American-based organization to compete in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 30 years. Grosjean’s result stamped Haas F1 as the first start-up team to score points in its grand prix debut since Mika Salo finished sixth for Toyota in 2002, also at Albert Park.

Additionally, Haas F1 became the first American team to score points since Team Haas and owner

Gene Haas has brought America back into Formula One. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

Gene Haas has brought America back into Formula One. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

Carl (no relation to Gene) Haas finished sixth with Alan Jones at Monza in Italy in 1986. Grosjean, incidentally, only finished in the top-six once last season for Lotus F1 Team.

“A French driver and an American team, never-say-never,” Grosjean said post-race. “Yeah, we are serious. We had a good pace. There’s a lot of potential. I didn’t make a wrong decision when I signed for the team, as we proved today. I hope we get a lot of American followers now.”

Starting 19th on the 22-car grid, Grojean took advantage of other driver’s pit stops to methodically move up the order ahead of a red-flag stoppage prompted by a spectacular crash involving teammate Gutierrez and Fernando Alonso on Lap 18 of 57. The downtime allowed Grosjean’s crew to effectively make a “free” pit stop and execute a one-stop strategy.

“The key was the strategy, the red flag,” Grosjean said. “We had a pit stop and then stayed on those tires to the end of the race. It wasn’t easy because we had no reference (of the Pirelli P Zero White medium compound) but we kind of got it right and made it work. A very good day at the office.”

Grosjean and Gutierrez, who started 20th, emerged as victims of Saturday’s convoluted and confusing new qualifying format that apparently will be scrapped before the Bahrain Grand Prix on April 1-3.

“For all the guys who worked so hard over the last few weeks, this is unbelievable,” Grosjean said. “We were unlucky (Saturday), but got a bit lucky with the red flag. Still, we were able to hold off the Williams (of Valtteri Bottas of Finland) and the Force India (of Nico Hulkenberg of Germany). We didn’t have much set-up (time) on the car. It was a case of…off you go and see what happens. The guys did an amazing job and I told them, this is like a win for all of us. First race and here we are, P6.”

Gutierrez, of Mexico, saw his race ended by a horrific accident involving Alonso and his McLaren/Honda.  Entering Turn 3 of the 3.295-mile/5.303-kilometer/16-turn circuit, Alonso moved to the outside of Gutiérrez in an attempt to overtake. Alonso’s right-front wheel touched Gutiérrez’s left-rear wheel, the impact launching the Spaniard’s car airborne and sending Gutiérrez spinning into the gravel trap.

Alonso clipped the outside retaining wall and then sailed over the gravel trap. His splintered No. 14 car ended up on its side against another wall, where Alonso miraculously climbed out. Gutiérrez quickly checked on his fellow-driver, and the two walked away unscathed.

A two-time F1 World Driving Champion, Alonso insisted neither he nor Gutierrez was at fault.I think it is a racing incident,” Alonso said. “I took the slipstream as late as I could, until the braking point, and in the last moment it was a combination of factors that we ended up with a crash. We are both here talking _ that’s the really important point.” After examining video and speaking to both drivers the race stewards declared “no driver was wholly or predominantly to blame.”

Alonso said he was lucky to have escaped unhurt, adding, “It was a scary moment, a scary crash. You see the sky, the ground, the sky, you want to stop…I saw a little space to go out and went out quickly _ my mum will watch TV so I want to be out quickly and say I am OK. But yeah, it was quite a big

Frenchman Romain Grosjean and American team owner Gene Haas. (File photo courtesy of Image Net)

Frenchman Romain Grosjean and American team owner Gene Haas. (File photo courtesy of Image Net)

one. I’m thankful to be here, especially to the FIA and continual safety. I’m probably alive because of that.”

Gutierrez reiterated he was grateful Alonso was able to walk away from what was left of his car, albeit with a slight limp. “It’s not the race I was hoping for,” Gutierrez said. “The car was handling well and the results show we can be very competitive. Romain did a great job for the team. To achieve points in our first race is fantastic. I’m now looking ahead and focusing on Bahrain. I can’t wait to get back out racing.”

With debris littering the track, officials displayed the red flag. The field came to pit lane where the cars were stopped, and the only work teams could perform on their cars was change tires. After starting the race on the Pirelli P Zero Yellow softs, the team changed Grosjean’s tires to the Pirelli P Zero White mediums. While the mediums did not have nearly as much grip as the softs, they also did not wear out as fast. When the race went green, Grosjean was good-to-go the distance without pitting.

“Grosjean had a heck of a challenge there,” Haas said. “They made the decision to go on the mediums for 39 laps, so that was really pushing it. He basically didn’t chew up his tires initially, so he was able to get 39 laps out of them. I think near the end he was starting to pick up time on the person behind him. Tire strategy, saving your tires _ those are the kinds of things that make a driver a legend.

“Grosjean just drove his heart out and did everything he could to keep it up there and it worked out. When Hulkenberg was behind him I thought he might catch him, but he held him off and we actually started to make some time. He was saving fuel near the end, so I think once we got to the last few laps and we started to push a little harder, the car really responded.”

Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Lewis Hamilton _ the three-time/reigning world champion from Great Britain _ finished 1-2, with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany rounding out the podium for Scuderia Ferrari. Rosberg’s victory was his second in Melbourne, two years after his first and 31 years after his father, Keke, won the first race on Australian soil in Adelaide. Nico now has won four consecutive races, while Mercedes has been victorious in seven straight events.

Australian native Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull was fourth; Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams was fifth.

Haas F1, meanwhile, exited Australia fifth in the constructors’ standings, four points behind Red Bull and two ahead of Force India. “A lot of people have contributed to this, so we have to thank all the people, starting with Guenther Steiner (team principal) who put all this together and kept pushing me to go out and try this,” Haas said.

Haas F1’s technical partnership with Scuderia Ferrari includes its turbocharged 061 V-6 power unit, gearbox and mechanical components such as suspension and brake systems for the VF-16. “The Ferrari people have been excellent,” Haas said. “They’ve helped us a lot. Dallara helped us build the chassis. We’ve got a great sponsor in Haas Automation. It’s all great.

“Obviously, the chassis, aero, engine _ they all work. That’s what’s really important. That’s why we took the extra year to work on that. The car is a very stable platform. We’ve kind of known that since (testing in) Barcelona. There’s been a lot of little gremlins and technical issues, but I think the fundamental chassis will be awesome for us.”

Haas F1 is housed on the same campus as Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup team Haas co-owns with three-time series champion Tony Stewart. From the outset of this project, Haas emphasized that while F1 is a high-tech and politically complicated form of the sport, it’s still racing. “It’s what we do for a living and, you know, it’s cool,” Haas said. “There’ll be some bad days too, so we’ll enjoy this one.”

Steiner echoed that sentiment after overseeing the team’s teething during final assembly of both cars followed by eight preseason test days at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya beginning in late February.

“Romain and the team did a great job and a big thanks goes to everyone for working so hard in the months leading up to our first race,” Steiner said. “I said (Saturday) I was looking forward to the race, but to finish it in the points is a dream come true. Now we move forward and on to Bahrain.”

Round 2 on the longest-ever 21-race schedule is the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir. Practice begins on April 1, with qualifying on April 2 and the race on April 3. NBC Sports Network will provide domestic TV coverage.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 23 2016
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