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Hamilton Dominates; Haas Scores At COTA

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 25 2016
Drover Romain Grosjean of the America-based Haas F1 Team had a points-paying day during the United States Grand Prix in Texas.

Driver Romain Grosjean of the America-based Haas F1 Team had a points-paying day during the United States Grand Prix in Texas.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Lewis Hamilton extended his uncanny mastery around Circuit of The Americas_ and momentarily put the brakes on teammate Nico Rosberg’s championship bid _ by recording his milestone 50th Formula One victory in Sunday’s fifth annual United States Grand Prix.

formula1logoThe three-time/reigning World Driving Champion, Hamilton scored his seventh victory of the season and fourth in five F1 races on COTA’s 3.426-mile/5.513-kilometer/20-turn circuit in Austin, Texas. Hamilton’s margin of victory was 4.520-seconds over Mercedes teammate/championship leader Rosberg, whose advantage was cut from 33 to 26 points with only three rounds of the FIA Formula One World Championship remaining.

Hamilton, of Great Britain, became the third driver in F1 history to reach 50 career wins, following Frenchman Alain Prost (51) and Germany’s Michael Schumacher (91).

I had completely forgotten that it was going to be the 50th (win),” Hamilton said post-race. “It’s been a long time coming. I know I’ve mentioned it before but I’ve been here for 10 years, I’ve had lots of ups and downs and lots of great opportunities to work with some incredibly gifted people who have helped me get here. Then my family as well, without whom I wouldn’t be here today. It’s kind of very surreal, for sure. I can’t believe that there are only three of us but hopefully onto bigger and better things.”

In addition, Hamilton matched Brazilian hero Ayrton Senna’s record of wins from pole position (29) and wins in the United States (5). Sebastian Vettel of Germany is the only other current driver to have won in Austin. 

Daniel Ricciardo finished third for Red Bull Racing, with Vettel fourth for Scuderia Ferrari and Fernando Alonso fifth for McLaren. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, Williams’ Felipe Massa, Force India’s Sergio Perez, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Haas F1 Team’s Romain Grosjean completed the top-10.

Meanwhile, the weekend played-out as a highly anticipated “home game” for Haas F1, the first American-owned Formula One team in 30 years. The organization founded by businessman Gene Haas and based domestically in Kannapolis, N.C., came away with a point-paying result when Grosjean drove his Haas VF-16 to a 10th-place finish.

Making his 100th career F1 start, Grosjean posted his fifth point-paying result in the No. 8 car this season and first since finishing seventh in the Austrian Grand Prix on July 3.

“It didn’t go too badly today,” said Grosjean, who jumped from 17th to 14th on the first lap. “It was a bit of a messy first lap, but I managed to get through everything. Then we went with an aggressive strategy trying to go for it. That worked out pretty well, so I’m happy with that. We were lucky that a few cars retired in front of us but, in the end, we needed to finish the race.

“It’s great to score a point in front of our home crowd. I’m very pleased with that and for the guys, as well. It’s been a long time since we scored. It’s obviously a great thing to score points at the end of the season.”

Grosjean passed teammate Esteban Gutierrez, who started 14th, for 11th on Lap 7 entering Turn 12 and held the spot until his first pit stop at the end of Lap 10. A set of new Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tires replaced the Red supersofts he used to start the race. The Frenchman then passed the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kyvatt for 12th on Lap 22.

Grosjean made his second and final pit stop at the end of Lap 27 for a set of White medium tires that would carry him to the end of the race. Quick work by the crew allowed Grosjean to maintain his 12th-place standing. When the Red Bull of Max Verstappen dropped out on Lap 29, Grosjean moved up to 11th; when Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari retired on Lap 39, Grosjean inherited 10th.

Gutiérrez’s run in the No. 21 car was cut short after 16 laps. A left-front brake failure relegated the Mexican to a 21st-place finish. “Quite a disappointing home race,” Gutierrez said. “It all started well, optimizing everything we had in qualifying, and we got off to a great start. Unfortunately, a brake problem ended our race. It’s not what we wanted or expected to happen, but we need to continue working very hard as we head to Mexico.”

Gutierrez will enjoy his version of “home cooking” this weekend when the Mexican Grand Prix is run at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City. Practice will begin Friday for Sunday’s race.

Eighteen rounds into the 21-race schedule, Haas F1 Team remains eighth in the Constructor standings with 29 points. Seventh-place Toro Rosso widened its gap on the American squad to 26 points, as Carlos Sainz Jr. finished sixth Sunday. But the point scored by Grosjean allowed Haas F1 Team to further distance itself from ninth-place Renault, as the French works team did not finish in the points. Haas F1 Team’s margin now is 21 points over Renault.

“Half a happy ending to a tough U.S. Grand Prix,” said Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team. “Romain in the points is fantastic, especially from where we started and how we were struggling at the beginning of the weekend. Very unfortunate race for Esteban. He was doing a good job when he experienced a brake disc failure again. We’ll be investigating what happened and see how we can move forward and sort these problems out, as they are not acceptable.

“Romain couldn’t race any better with the car we had, so congrats to him. The strategy, which the guys worked on overnight, was just right and it certainly paid off. The team worked hard and really pulled together. We had a difficult Friday and Saturday but we don’t give up. We are racers.”

Earlier in the weekend, Haas took part in a news conference featuring fellow team representatives Cyril Abiteboul (Renault), Maurizio Arrivabene (Ferrari), Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing), Monisha Kaltenborn (Sauber) and Toto Wolff (Mercedes). An edited version of the transcript follows:

Moderator: Gene, are you happy with how the season has gone? Twenty-eight points (now 29) in your debut season sounds really impressive, or is there a slight sense of disappointment that after such a strong start you weren’t really able to keep it going?

Gene Haas: “Yes, I think you hit that exactly. I think we were very lucky to begin with. We had almost a year to prepare for it, so I think we were well-prepared coming from Barcelona. Those first few races everything was brand new, everything was fresh out of the package, so we had a lot of good luck and I think with everything being brand new we didn’t have to worry about ‘Well, is this part timed-out or not?’ When you get midseason now you have to start worrying about your parts. You only have a week to prepare for the next race, so now all of a sudden you have this time crunch and it puts a lot more pressure on you. That’s where a really good team can show its worth and that’s what we’re building on.

“We’re struggling right now. It’s hard. When these events happen they come at you so fast, you have to respond and you have to respond in just the right way. The more experienced teams do a better job at that than we do.”

Moderator: The CEO of Liberty Media has spoken about adding more U.S. grands prix to the schedule and mentioned Las Vegas and Miami. What are your thoughts on that, and what’s the right number of races in this country do you think?

Toto Wolff: “First of all, it’s great to be in such a great place like Austin. Every year we are coming here, it’s really a fantastic venue, and having more grands prix in such an important market for Mercedes, it would be good and wherever we can help, we will do that.”

Question: Maurizio, we spoke with Sebastian Vettel here about the feeling of driving with Ferrari in America, given the following here over the decades. Is North America still as important for Ferrari as it was in the days of Enzo?

Maurizio Arrivabene: “I mean, USA is for Ferrari a super market. It’s very, very important for us and for sure to have a good result in Austin is very important for our house. But even so it’s important for us that we have USA as a market in general. I’m happy to be here, of course, and we will try to do all our best to deserve the support we have from the USA supporters here.”

Question: Mr. Haas, when you and Guenther Steiner put this business plan together to build this team planning to cut costs, are you pleased with how the business model is going, given where you’re placed in the Constructors’ Championship?

Gene Haas: “Very much. I think when we first had this plan, it actually goes back probably almost five years ago when they were talking about customer cars; where we are now has completely changed. It’s almost like running a race. You have to very, very quickly be able to change your strategy and change your focus and everything you do to get to the finish line. There was a lot of changes in terms of, do you build everything yourself as a typical constructor would or do you go, like some teams, where you buy  your engine and transmission from some people, or do you run a customer car? Those were the three decisions that early-on we had to make.

“Customer cars were eliminated by the teams’ agreement not to have one, so that went away, and then once we became a little bit involved it was pretty obvious that these cars are technically incredibly challenging and there’s no way you can build even a small portion of them in five or 10 years. Guenther developed a relationship with Ferrari and Dallara and that’s the direction we went in. I think we’ve actually, from a budget standpoint, have been rather economical in how we run our business.

“Just like everybody in this room tries to look at the regulations and tries to figure out ‘How can I make a car that will comply with the regulations but still give me an advantage over the competitors?’ _ our business model in terms of being a constructor has…the way we do things is substantially different than a lot of our competitors but we feel it gives us an advantage with the rules, too.”

Question: Gene, who or what has surprised you most in your first season of Formula One; and to the rest of the team principals, how would you all rate Haas F1 Team on a scale of 1 to 10?

Gene Haas: I think when we first got involved in here, what kind of surprised me the most was probably the fact that how easy it was for us to get these 28 points. And now that I’ve been involved in it for a while, I’m starting to realize how lucky we were to get those 28 points because it really put us in a position for the next year’s Constructors’. That I don’t think we could do that today. So that’s probably what surprised me the most.”

Christian Horner: “I think they’ve had a great first year. First of all, it’s super to have a credible team on the grid. Haas has got a great track record in motorsport in this territory and to come into Formula One is no insignificant challenge so, to have him come in, to have come in credibly and efficiently and gone about scoring a good portion of points, being competitive, I think it’s very, very positive. I think it’s good for Formula One. It’s a great addition for Formula One to have an American team. Hopefully one day they’ll find an American driver. We tried. No, overall they must be very satisfied with what they’ve done and I think the Formula One community enjoys having an American team as a fellow-competitor.”

Toto Wolff: “Yes, the track record of Gene in the States speaks really for itself and how they’ve done in the first year is impressive. Like Gene said, we’ve been around for many years and he’s competing against teams who have built-up infrastructure and capability over decades and doing as good in the first year is really good. Obviously taking an Austrian as a team principal was a good decision. The Austrian-American combination works well.”

Monisha Kaltenborn: “I agree with what Christian said. I think we all know how tough it is to come into this sport and the level is extremely high compared to so many years. So, I think the team has done a very good job there. And when you said that we’re planning to apparently have more races in the U.S., it’s so important to have some form of representation made through teams or through drivers. So I think it’s only good for the sport.”

Cyril Abiteboul: “I think they’ve done a great job and in particular because they are ahead of us so they are some form of nightmare to us, to the championship. Mostly I think it is interesting because they are showing that, as always, the points you are taking at the start of the season are very important. They almost count twice or three times more.

“Also, that in Formula One it’s important to have planning and preparation time. So it’s quite different and in contrast to our situation at Renault, where we sort of arrive in Melbourne in a bit of a panic mode. Unprepared. With more resources. So it’s all to the credit of Gene and his team, but I think they are compensating, through planning and a clever business model and the relationship with Ferrrari, the lack of resources that they have in comparison to other teams. The challenge obviously is to make that sustainable on the long run. That’s obviously what I wish to the team.”

Maurizio Arrivabene: “Of course I’m happy about our partnership with Gene. And also, I have to say, honored, to work with Haas. The reason why is that it’s an example to follow. In the way that they come in, they are investing in Formula One, they trust in Formula One, they are very serious, very committed. They have a long-term agreement and this is what I said many, many times that when we are talking about a new entry team, or when we want to define what they call a ‘small team’ _ first of all we need to make sure that they have a commitment to Formula One.

“In many, many years I saw people coming in, taking here or there some points, having the money in the pocket and leaving. Team Haas is not like this. It’s an example to follow in the way that they come in, they have an objective, they’re working for their objective and they have a long-term commitment. So, I’m more than pleased and I repeat _ honored to work with a team like this. Formula One needs serious people.”

Question: Gene Haas, Cyril Abiteboul said driver nationality is not really important any more. But how important is it for you to bring an American driver to Formula One in the near future?

Gene Haas: “I’ve heard that question quite a few times and when we started, to me it wasn’t really that important because in a global economy, especially in America, it seems like everybody sources the best products and people from all over the world. Even today, if you look at the number of people we employ in Kannapolis and we employ people in Banbury, U.K., and we employ people at Dallara (in Italy), we have people all over the world and that’s what makes Haas Formula One.

“So I kind of think of my team like the United Nations _ it’s just got people from all over the world. It would be nice to have an American driver but probably the most important thing for us, a new, inexperienced team, we need to have established Formula One drivers so it’s a little bit of a contrary problem for us in that there are really no American Formula One drivers that have experience that I think would work with us.

“As we become more experienced then maybe we could take the chances that some of the other teams do with an inexperienced driver because their cars are known, their teams are known, you put in an inexperienced driver you can help them. But until we get to that position, I think we have to be a little bit cautious about taking an inexperienced American driver.

“I think from a marketing standpoint it would be a home run to have one. But at the moment it’s not really that high on the agenda because we are more concerned about just being able to compete here every week with the current teams.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 25 2016
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