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Rosberg Rolls, Haas Wobbles In Chinese GP

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 19 2016
The Haas F1 Team found China not to its liking last weekend. (Alastair Staley/LAT Photographic file photo)

The Haas F1 Team found China not to its liking last weekend.
(Alastair Staley/LAT Photographic file photo)

Haas F1 Team’s two-race point-scoring streak ended with a pair of back-of-the-pack finishes in Sunday’s Chinese Formula One Grand Prix, on a day when Nico Rosberg provided the perfect reality check for the fledgling American organization.

Rosberg, of Germany, scored his third victory of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship and sixth in a row dating to last year’s Mexican Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver has compiled a perfect 75 points to open a 36-point advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton, the three-time/reigning F1 World Driving Champion.

“My teammate is Lewis Hamilton, and he has been the benchmark for the last two years,” said Rosberg, who scored his second victory on the 3.387-mile/5.451-kilometer/16-turn Shanghai International Circuit. “The points gap is like nothing, if you consider all the points still up for grabs this year. It’s a couple of races’ difference.

“It will always be a tough battle against him (Hamilton). He’s as focused and motivated as ever; he will never give up.”

Rosberg finished a runaway 37.776-seconds ahead of Scuderia Ferrari’s  Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion. In the process, Rosberg became only the third driver with multiple Chinese Grand Prix victories, joining Hamilton and McLaren/Honda’s Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion.

“It’s too early to make any summaries,” said Rosberg, aware that Hamilton overtook him for the 2014 title by erasing a 25-point deficit. “It’s three races now and they’ve gone really well for me, but it’s the longest season in F1 history with 21 races so that’s 18 to go. It would not make sense to make any premature conclusions. Of course I’m happy with the way it’s gone and I’m feeling good and the car’s there, but I don’t want to say more than that.

“I just take it race-by-race; I don’t think beyond that.”

Haas F1 _ which saw Romain Grosjean score startling sixth and fifth-place results at the Australian and Bahrain GPs, respectively _ finally looked like a start-up team. Esteban Gutierrez qualified 18th and finished 14th while Grosjean started 14th and finished 19th. Each was running at the end, albeit one-lap down (55/56) to the mercurial Rosberg. It did mark the first time both of team-owner Gene Haas’ drivers had finished an F1 race.

After celebrating his 30th birthday earlier in the day, Frenchman Grosjean started on the same Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tire as his Mexican teammate. That strategy, however, went awry when a first-turn skirmish on the opening lap sent Grosjean to the pits for a new front wing. A stack-up involving a number of cars saw the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson cut across the nose of Grosjean’s VF-16. Grosjean was forced to the pits for the new wing. Returning to the race in 21st, Grosjean gained back two positions to 19th.

“It was a horrific race,” said Grosjean, driver of the Ferrari 061 V-6 powered No. 8 VF-16. “The start was terrible when Ericsson turned into me and got my front wing. From there we had the safety car and I thought, ‘OK, we still have a chance to do something.’ But the balance in the car was nowhere near good. I don’t know what happened.

“Somehow, it’s positive that we had such a difficult race, because we can analyze what we did wrong, what we did right and what we could have done differently. From there, we can come back stronger. It’s a difficult one after the two first races. Not the birthday I was hoping for.”

Gutiérrez’s run came via a three-stop strategy. The 24-year-old started on the Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tire before switching on Lap 35 to the Pirelli P Zero Red super soft tire. Gutiérrez took another set of super softs on Lap 44 that carried him to the finish. It was his first full race distance of the 2016 season, as Gutiérrez suffered retirements in Australia and Bahrain.

“It was fun out there and to finish the race was a big step,” said Gutierrez, driver of the No. 21 VF-16. “I think we can now build on this performance as we prepare for Russia. I really want to thank the guys because they’re doing a great job. The pit stops were fantastic, really consistent. Unfortunately, we didn’t have DRS (Drag Reduction System), so it was difficult to overtake, but overall it was a solid race. We now need to finish inside the points and that’s what we’ll be focusing on, so I’m really looking forward to the next one.”

Despite not scoring any points in Shanghai, Haas F1 Team remains fifth in the Constructor standings, 11 points behind fourth-place Williams and one point ahead of sixth-place Toro Rosso.

The team headed by chairman Haas, founder of Haas Automation, is the first American-based organization to compete in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 30 years. Haas F1 Team is based at the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus as Stewart-Haas Racing, multiple champions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“A difficult race for us, but we took two cars to the finish,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas F1 Team. “The drivers did their jobs. Romain was unlucky at the start, losing part of his front wing. The car afterward was very difficult to drive. Good for Esteban finishing 14th. He finished his first race for Haas F1 Team. I think we learned a lot this weekend, and all that we’ve learned we’ll take to Russia and see what we can do there.”

Round 4 of the 2016 World Championship is the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. Practice begins on April 29, while qualifying is set for April 30 and the race will run on May 1.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 19 2016
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