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No. 2 Haas F1 Driver Magnussen Is On The Rise

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 28 2018

Kevin Magnussen is making a run at a top-10 finish in F1 world championship points this season. (LAT file photo)

American-owned Haas F1 Team will mark its milestone 50th grand prix start Sunday in Spielberg, Austria, in the midst of a balance-of-power makeover that has seen Kevin Magnussen clearly distance himself from teammate and de facto lead driver Romain Grosjean.

Magnussen added to his breakout season Sunday with a sixth-place finish in the French Grand Prix. Eight races into the 21-event FIA Formula One World Championship schedule, Magnussen has accumulated 27 points. That’s good for 10th in the driver’s championship led by French GP winner Lewis Hamilton, the four-time/reigning World Driving Champion from Mercedes AMG.

Hamilton won the French GP from pole to score his 65th career F1 victory and third this season. His margin of victory over second-place Max Verstappen of Red Bull was a massive 7.090-seconds. The win also allowed Hamilton to retake the championship lead by 14 points ahead of Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who began the day with a one-point advantage over the Brit.

To put Magnussen’s point total into perspective, the Dane already has eclipsed his scoring from the 2016 and 2017 seasons combined. Magnussen is only one point behind ninth place Carlos Sainz Jr. of Renault, five behind two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren in eighth and seven behind Nico Hulkenberg of Renault in seventh.

Intramurally, Magnussen is nine places (and 27 points) in front of Frenchman Grosjean _ one of only two F1 regulars to have not scored a point this season.

As a result, Haas F1 Team sits in sole possession of seventh in the constructors’ standings, one point behind sixth-place Force India with an eight-point margin over eighth-place Toro Rosso.

Despite being the youngest team on the grid, Haas F1 is battling the Formula One establishment, some of which competed at the previously known Österreichring 42 years ago. Armed with an upgrade that has made the Ferrari-powered Haas VF-18 even faster, Haas F1 is looking at the Austrian Grand Prix as another opportunity to score points.

“You don’t realize it’s already our 50th grand prix with Haas F1 Team,” said Guenther Steiner, team prinicipal. “Time goes by quick in life in general, but in F1 I think it goes even quicker. We can be proud with what we’ve achieved. We just need to get more points from this season. We have a very good car where we can be the best-of-the-rest, and we need to convert that into points so that at the end of the season, we are the best-of-the-rest.”

Magnussen’s sixth-place result at Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet equaled his second-best finish of the season, earned earlier this year at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya in Spain. It was the aforementioned best-of-the-rest result behind only F1 heavy-hitters Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

“We got everything right,” said Magnussen, driver of the No. 20 Haas VF-18. “It was a good race for us, and very happy to come back from the disappointment (of qualifying ninth). We knew we were still standing in a position of where we could probably do something good in the race, and it was our day.”

Magnussen and Grosjean are competing with an upgraded Haas VF-18 that has proven quick since its introduction two races ago at the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. The car has proven to be at its best on F1’s power circuits, evidenced by the team’s fifth-place finish in the second race of the year at Bahrain followed by Magnussen’s two sixth-place drives _ on May 13 in the Spanish Grand Prix and last Sunday in France.

Both Haas F1 drivers survived a chaotic start to the 53-lap race around the 3.63-mile/5.842-kilometer/15-turn track that saw incidents through Turns 1 and 2 and again in Turns 3 and 4. Magnussen rose to fifth and Grosjean, who started 10th, climbed to eighth.

Grosjean, however, did not escape the opening-lap skirmishes unscathed. Race stewards served him with a five-second penalty for contact with the Force India of Esteban Ocon just past the start/finish line as the field barreled into Turn 1. The penalty was served on Grosjean’s only pit stop on Lap 34, where he swapped the Pirelli P Zero Purple ultrasoft tires he started the race on for a new set of Yellow softs. Grosjean fell to 16th but rallied over the final 19 laps to place 11th after completing 52 of 53 circuits.

Magnussen, meanwhile, scrapped to stay in the top-five. But after the race restarted on Lap 6, Kimi Räikkönen maneuvered his Ferrari by on Lap 8 to drop him to sixth. Magnussen held the spot until Lap 17, when four-time World Champion Vettel, Raikkonen’s teammate, made his way past to put Magnussen in seventh.

Grosjean had lost eighth to Vettel on Lap 14 and soon was under threat from the Renault of Hulkenberg, who got past Grosjean in Turn 8 on Lap 16. Racing in 10th, Grosjean began to see Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes in his mirrors. Bottas passed Grosjean for position on Lap 19, jettisoning him from the top-10.

Leaders began making their scheduled pit stops on Lap 25, and when Sainz brought his Renault in on Lap 26, Magnussen moved to sixth while Grosjean returned to 10th.

Magnussen made his scheduled pit stop on Lap 28, swapping his ultrasofts for softs that would carry him to the finish. The stop dropped Magnussen to 13th while Grosjean rose to ninth. Between the pit stops of others and Magnussen’s tenacity _ highlighted by decisive passes of Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley on Lap 31 and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne on Lap 37 _ Magnussen was eighth with 16 laps to go.

Sainz was running ahead of Magnussen, but in the waning laps the Renault driver reported a loss of power. Magnussen was able to seize on the mechanical issue, passing Sainz on Lap 50 and then holding off Bottas. That bit of work included a half-lap dash to the finish after the race returned to green following a Virtual Safety Car period for Lance Stroll’s crash in Turn 10.

When we put the softs on, I kind of started out looking after them a little bit,” Magnussen said. “Then when I got under pressure from Bottas, I really started pushing and then the tires came alive even more and I found four-tenths, half-a-second more. It was just what I needed.”

Still shy of the season’s halfway point, the midfield battle will resume at Red Bull Ring. The 2.683-mile/4.318-kilometer track in the foothills of the Styrian Mountains operates on a condensed version of the Österreichring, which held Formula One races from 1970 through 1987. It is a relatively short circuit with only Monaco, Mexico City and Interlagos (Brazil) being shorter. It has just 10 turns _ the fewest in Formula One _ but covers a wide range of conditions.

Sunday’s event is the final stop of an unprecedented three-race stretch of consecutive starts. Scheduled for 71 laps, the race will be televised on ESPN2 Sunday at 9 a.m. (EDT).

The Red Bull Ring essentially is made up of four straights, each ending in tight corners. The layout puts a premium on traction and strong, straight-line speed. The prime overtaking zone comes at Turn 3 (Remus), where after heavy braking drivers navigate the sharp corner in either first or second gear. Juxtapose that section with the high-speed Turn 9 (Rindt), which drivers take in sixth gear, pushing the limits of their car and resolve.

Historically, Red Bull Ring is the site of the last Formula One victory by an American team. It was 1976 _ coincidentally during the United States’ Bicentennial Celebration _ when Irishman John Watson drove a Penske PC4 to a win over the Ligier of France’s Jacques Laffite with a convincing 10.79-second margin of victory. Speeds in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix eclipsed 136 mph/220 kph while speeds in last year’s edition breached the 150 mph/240 kph mark.

Steiner’s prediction that Haas F1 Team’s race pace in Canada would carry over to France proved spot-on. “We saw the potential of the upgrade in Canada, but we literally just couldn’t use it at its full extent because of the start positions,” Steiner said. “On the data though, we saw that the upgrade was working and, obviously, we proved that in France by qualifying with both cars in the top-10 and in the race with Kevin finishing sixth. Going to Austria, we are confident that it will work like it did in France.”

Magnussen reiterated the Haas VF-18 has been solid on higher-speed circuits. “We’ve shown our weakness is the lower-speed tracks, like Monaco and Canada, and probably Singapore will be challenging as well,” Magnussen said. “We’ll just have to work on those weaknesses.

“The Red Bull Ring is a good little circuit. It’s a little bit unique. It’s a very small area. It kind of reminds me of a go-kart track in that you can basically see the whole track from the grandstands. When I’ve raced there, it’s been entertaining. It’s a fun little track. It’s like a short rollercoaster ride.”

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 Gene 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 Thursday, June 28 2018
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