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Haas F1 Earns Respect In ’17 But Wants Much More

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 3 2017

Haas F1’s 2017 sophomore season saw it collect a respectable pile of points. (Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Haas F1 Team completed its sophomore season with a repeat and respectable eighth-place finish in the FIA Formula One World Championship constructor standings. And to paraphrase Major League Baseball muse Casey Stengel, Gene Haas’ American-owned organization now will have an excellent chance of becoming juniors.

Haas F1 drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished 11th and 13th, respectively, in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Nov. 26. Both drivers rallied during the 55-lapper around the 3.451-mile/5.554-kilometer/21-turn track that is F1’s life-sized version of a video game.

Yas Marina, a purpose-built facility on a lavish man-made island, is one of the many new Formula One circuits designed by Hermann Tilke. Grosjean started 16th and Magnussen recovered from a first-lap spin that put him last in the 20-car field on a layout widely believed to be the most expensive Formula One track ever built, with some estimates topping $1 billion.

Haas F1’s eighth-place finish in the constructors standings outpaced the storied McLaren organization (ninth) led by two-time F1 World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso and Sauber (10th) in a battle of the mid-pack teams. While Haas F1 failed to reach its preseason goal of 50 constructor points, the 47 earned in 2017 were 18 more than the total posted during its debut season in 2016 _when “Gene’s Team” became the first American Formula One entrant in 30 years.

That inaugural season netted 29 points, most of any new team in this millennium. When Jaguar debuted in 2000 and when Toyota came on the scene in 2002, each organization managed only two point-paying finishes during their entire first seasons for a combined total of six points.

“We didn’t gain a position, but still, we finished eighth like last year,” said Guenther Steiner, Haas F1’s pragmatic team principal. “With a little bit more we could’ve finished sixth, but ‘if’ and ‘when’ _ it didn’t happen. We fought to the end and we provided a lot of the race action. I think for the sport, we did well. We were always providing entertainment. Thanks to everybody, and we’re looking forward to next season.”

Frenchman Grosjean, who has competed in every race in the team’s history, placed 13th in the championship standings with 28 points. “We have our ideas where to work on the car for next year,” said Grosjean, driver of the No. 8 Ferrari-powered VF-17. “It’s been a good year in general, and only our second in Formula One. We’ve learned a lot and know where to improve for our future.”

Magnussen, a native of Denmark, finished 14th in the driver standings with 15 points in his first year with the team. “It’s not been a bad year,” said Magnussen, driver of the No. 20 VF-17.  “Obviously, it’s frustrating to get so close to P7 in the constructors championship and not get it. We just weren’t strong enough to do it, but we’ll come back stronger next year. We can take a step forward. We’ve got a baseline now that we can work on over the winter. We know the weakness of the car and we want to improve it by a big margin for next year. We’ll see how we go. I think we can do it.”

Finland’s Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes Petronas AMG scored his third career victory from pole at Yas Marina by a margin of 3.899-seconds over runner-up and teammate Lewis Hamilton _ the newly minted four-time World Driving Champion. Hamilton, of Great Britain, secured the driver’s championship three races ago at the Mexican Grand Prix while Mercedes clinched the constructors title four races ago at the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

In addition, the season-ender marked the final F1 contest for Brazil’s Felipe Massa, one of the sport’s most popular stars. Massa ended his 15-year Formula One career with 269 starts, 11 wins, 41 podiums, 16 poles and 937 laps-led. He drove his Williams to a 10th-place finish in the Abu Dhabi GP.

With the 2017 World Championship officially completed, teams are turning their full attention to 2018. The season-opening Australian Grand Prix is set for March 25, with preseason testing booked for Feb. 26-March 1 and March 6-9 at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya providing the first glimpse of where teams stand prior to the 69th Formula One season.

Haas F1 Team started developing its next-generation car while simultaneously running its 2017 car months ago. Despite the dual workload, Grosjean posted two double-point results _ May 28 in the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix when he finished eighth and Magnussen came home 10th, and Oct. 8 in the Japanese Grand Prix when Magnussen took eighth and Grosjean crossed the stripe in ninth. Haas F1 Team came away with points 11 times in 2017, more than double its amount of point-paying finishes from 2016.

Founded by industrialist Haas, Haas F1 Team is based at the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus as his championship-winning NASCAR Cup Series organization, Stewart-Haas Racing. Haas co-owns his NASCAR team with retired three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart. Haas is the founder of Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool-builder in North America, and chairman of Haas F1 Team. 

As was the case during its inaugural season, Haas F1 Team was a technical partner with Scuderia Ferrari, F1’s oldest and most glamorous organization. That arrangement with the factory in Maranello, Italy, included the power unit, gearbox and mechanical components such as suspension and brake systems on the second generation VF-17.

Steiner provided this overview of the team as it heads into its second offseason:

QUESTION: Abu Dhabi was the season-finale, and the finale of Haas F1 Team’s sophomore year. After having to build brand new race cars in back-to-back seasons under two sets of very different rules packages, how did this year compare to last year?

GUENTHER STEINER:  “It was very similar. The first year we had to build a new car completely, and the team, but we had a little bit more time. This year, again, we had to do a completely new car _ we already had the team built up _ but we still had to optimize it. The intensity was almost the same, but when I think about our 2018 car, the intensity is the same again. I don’t think there’s a lot of change in whatever you’re doing in Formula One. Everything is always on the edge, everything goes to the last minute and it’s all at the highest level.”

QUESTION: Were there any key insights learned last year that you applied to this year, be it in car construction, personnel or even race weekend protocols?

GUENTHER STEINER: “You need to better yourself in every little detail. There is not one big thing that I would say we would do completely different, but there are a lot of things you optimize with hindsight.”

QUESTION: Haas F1 Team surpassed its point tally from 2016 by 18 this season. Are points-scored the surest, most tangible examples of progress, or are there other elements of progress not everyone is able to see from the outside?

GUENTHER STEINER: “I think points tell something, but not everything. Even if we race the same teams, there are different levels of performance. I wouldn’t have said we’ve gotten better if we had less points, but looking in from the outside, I think we’ve made progress at all levels. We wanted to better our position, but at this moment in time we are equal. I was hoping to better our end-of-season position by one spot.”

QUESTION: Prior to 2017, there were those who proclaimed that your second season would be harder than your first. Was this accurate, or were the challenges just different?

GUENTHER STEINER: “The year-to-year challenges are different. We have to adapt as we do this. If you cannot keep up with the challenges, you shouldn’t be working in Formula One. The second year is always more difficult, but we knew this in Year One. I think we successfully worked in Year One so we didn’t fall back in Year Two.”

QUESTION: What were the team’s challenges this year?

GUENTHER STEINER: “The challenge is just to optimize everything and find the weak spots where we can gain performance with the least amount of changes.”

QUESTION: What were the team’s strengths?

GUENTHER STEINER:  “We’ve been working together now for over a year _ over two years with some people _ so it’s just like we know each other better and we know what to expect. We know each other’s limits. That helps a lot when you do things. We’re well-covered personnel-wise. We have enough people who are part of the team that we can lean on.”

QUESTION: The way Haas F1 Team is set up is unorthodox, at least by Formula One standards. Does the team’s success in its second year validate Haas F1 Team’s approach?

GUENTHER STEINER: “It shows this is a model that is, at least, not wrong. If there is a better model out there _ for sure, there is always something better _ but our model works. What we set out to do, we’re doing.”

QUESTION: Was there a particular moment from this season that stood out the most for you?

GUENTHER STEINER: “I think finishing with two cars in the top-10 in Japan, where a lot of people had written us off already in the season. Finishing eighth and ninth wasn’t so bad.”

QUESTION: When the season starts, Abu Dhabi seems very far away. Has the season gone by quickly?

GUENTHER STEINER: “Life has gone by quickly this year, not only the racing season. It’s an intense schedule. We do a lot of work and a lot of travel, and that’s not only for me, that’s for everybody on all the teams. Everybody puts in a lot of effort to put this show on the road. The season goes by quickly, and life goes by quickly.”

QUESTION: As you head into the offseason, how much “off” is there, or is that just a misnomer because preseason testing tends to arrive quickly?

GUENTHER STEINER: “It arrives so quickly. Looking at my personal schedule, I’ve got just one weekend off between now and Christmas. The rest still involves traveling and doing things to get ready for next year. That’s part of the job. This season is done, but 2018 really started three months ago. We just keep on going. I hope some of the race team, like the mechanics, who for sure work a lot harder than I do, can get a few weeks off so they’re ready to go for next year.”

QUESTION: As we look ahead to 2018, how different is next year’s car in terms of design with the addition of the halo?

GUENTHER STEINER: “The addition of the halo is new to Formula One, but all the rest of the car stays very similar. The regulations have changed very little. Aesthetically, it’s almost nothing, except the halo and the sharkfin. I think it will look different, but we’ll get used to it pretty quick.”

QUESTION:  What are the implications for the halo in terms of weight and the car’s overall aerodynamics?

GUENTHER STEINER: “The weight of the halo is the same for everybody. On the aero development, it’s just one more part the aero group has to get into their development program to try and get the best out of it. It’s nothing too special. They’re used to the challenge. It’s just a new element introduced into their playing field. They will play with it to try to get it as efficient as they can.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 3 2017
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