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Haas F1 Drivers Are Heading In Different Directions

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 15 2018

Haas F1 driver Kevin Magnussen finished in the points again over the weekend. Teammate Romain Grosjean did not. (Photo courtesy of Haas F1.)

In a sport where your teammate is disguised as your greatest rival, Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen clearly one-upped Romain Grosjean during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.

Magnussen finished sixth Sunday after qualifying seventh at Circuit de Barcelona –Catalunya to deliver another point-paying performance for the American-owned organization. Magnussen’s effort also was a “best-of-the-rest” result in an event that saw Formula One powerhouses AMG Mercedes, Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer and Scuderia Ferrari comprise the top-five.

Meanwhile, Haas F1’s Grosjean saw his race implode courtesy of an opening-lap spin in Turn 3 of the 2.892-mile/4.655-kilometer/16-turn layout. Grosjean’s spin sent him across the racing line in a cloud of white tire smoke and into the paths of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault and Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso Honda. While all walked away unharmed, each saw his race prematurely end. Grosjean, who qualified 10th, was credited with an 18th-place finish. Gasly finished 19th and Hulkenberg placed 20th and last.

Four-time/reigning World Driving Champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes won the 66-lap event from pole position to secure his 64th career Formula One victory, his second consecutive win this season and third at Barcelona. The Englishman scored his second straight victory in the Spanish Grand Prix by a massive 20.593-second margin over runner-up and teammate Valtteri Bottas of Finland.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing was third, followed by four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.

“The car and myself, I felt that synergy today, which I haven’t felt this year,” said Hamilton, issuing a warning to Vettel and the rival Ferrari camp. “This is when we’re going to start to continue to apply the pressure.”

Hamilton extended his lead over Vettel to 17 points in the drivers’ championship (95-78). Recall that Hamilton had been 17 behind after the second race of the season in Bahrain. Spain, in fact, marked the first time this season that Mercedes dominated a weekend in a manner that had become commonplace over the last four years. Bottas sits third in the standings with 58 points, followed by 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari with 48 and Ricciardo with 47.

“You can only take it one race at a time,” Hamilton said. “This weekend, we got ourselves on the right path. The team did an exceptional job. I didn’t know what the pace would be. I was much happier with the car. I wouldn’t say I had perfect synergy, but almost. I’m really happy. I said I wanted to come and win in the way that I have won. Coming across the line, I’m happy I did it in the way I planned to.”

Magnussen’s drive to his third top-10 of the year was relatively straightforward, with the Dane inheriting sixth place when Räikkönen, of Finland, retired his Ferrari after 25 laps.

“This is where we should be fighting,” said Magnussen, 25, who is in his second full season with American industrialist Gene Haas’ team. “This weekend we have been very strong, we’ve been the fourth-best car and I think we should be somewhere around there every weekend.

“I had a really good start. I was alongside the Red Bulls, but I didn’t really want to fight them as I knew they were much faster. My job was to stay in seventh and settle down from there. I was able to defend well, keep out of trouble on the first lap, so I was happy.”

A scheduled pit stop on Lap 32 saw Magnussen swap the Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tires he started the race with for a new set of White mediums. Combined with Magnussen’s comfortable advantage over his nearest pursuer, his sixth-place position was secured along with eight championship points.

Despite a Virtual Safety Car period on Lap 42 which slowed the field, Magnussen’s gap over seventh place remained solid. He cruised home sixth to secure his second-best finish since joining Haas F1 Team in 2017.

“It’s been a strong performance and I think we deserved to get the kind of points we’ve scored in Bahrain and here,” said Magnussen, driver of the Ferrari-powered No. 20 Haas VF-18. “We should be able to score points at every race and we have had the car to do that. We’ve just had some mistakes and mishaps that meant we didn’t score points regularly.

“It’s good to get some points on the board. I’m happy we’re back more in our deserved position in the constructors’ championship, as well. We just need to keep this level up and continue to score regularly.”

Magnussen now has scored as many top-six finishes in the last four races _ two _ as he previously had posted during his F1 career.  “Yes, I’m gaining in experience,” Magnussen said. “I had a year out of Formula 1 straight after my first season so getting back in was a difficult situation and now just building momentum.”

However, Magnussen was labeled as “the most dangerous guy on the grid” by Gasly after an incident during a restart on Lap 48 of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 29. Magnussen was running 10th when he tangled with Gasly, dropping the Haas driver to 14th. Magnussen picked up 13th on the third-to-last lap when race-leader Bottas suffered a flat right rear tire on his Mercedes, ending his race and what would have been the Finn’s first win of the season and first since last year’s season-finale in Abu Dhabi. Gasly placed 12th at Baku City Circuit.

“I was just saying I’ve ended up in some trouble lately,” Magnussen said, “but I think sometimes you get into bad momentum and you just end up having incidents with other drivers. But I’m not intending it to happen. I feel like I’ve made some small errors, been a bit unaware and ended up in these situations. We’re performing well, scoring points and that’s the most important thing.”

Five rounds into the 21-race FIA Formula One World Championship schedule, Haas F1 Team is sixth in the constructors’ standings with 19 points, 21 behind fifth-place McLaren and one point ahead of seventh-place Force India Mercedes.

“We’re still behind on the points and those guys (McLaren) will be putting new stuff on the car all the time; we’re going to put some stuff on but not every race,” said Magnussen, who moved up three places to ninth in the drivers’ standings. “We’re going to put some packages maybe once or twice through the year and hope that they are good so we have something coming for Montreal, I think _ and we’re hoping that one will give us something.”

Frenchman Grosjean, Haas F1’s lead driver since the team’s launch during preseason testing at Barcelona in 2016, offered a semi-alibi for his race-ending drive into the spin cycle.

“I lost the rear end in Turn 3 and I just spun,” said Grosjean, driver of the No. 8 VF-18. “If you look at the footage, I had wanted to avoid contact with my teammate. Kevin had a bit of a wobble, I lifted off the throttle and then the car just went. I’m sorry for the others that were involved _ there wasn’t much I could do once the car went.

“Kevin had a good race, which is good for the team. I had wanted a steady race, but that wasn’t today.”

The World Championship resumes with F1’s crown jewel _ the Monaco Grand Prix _ on May 27 at Circuit de Monaco. Practice begins on May 24 with qualifying on May 26.

“A good day, but it could’ve been better,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas F1. “Romain made up positions at the start, but the car spun around and his race ended early. Kevin did a solid job. There was never a threat for his position. All in all, a good day, and again we showed that we’re in the top of the midfield at the moment. We’re really looking forward to going to Monte Carlo to get some more points.”

Haas F1 Team debuted in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2016, becoming the first American-owned F1 team since 1986. Haas F1 is based at the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus that houses Stewart-Haas Racing, the championship-winning NASCAR Cup Series organization Haas co-owns with retired three-time champion Tony Stewart.

Founded by Haas in 1983, Haas Automation, Inc., is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools and the team’s primary sponsor. Haas Automation employs approximately 1,300 at its 1.1-million square-foot/102,000 square-meter headquarters in Oxnard, Calif. Haas Automation exports its machines to more than 60 countries through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 15 2018
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