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Haas F1 Doubles Up At Spa

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 28 2018

The Haas F1 driver lineup of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean both finished in the points in Belgium over the weekend. (File photo courtesy of Haas F1)

American-owned Haas F1 Team earned a double-points result for the second straight race and the third time this season during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, in the 13th round of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship.

The 10 points from the collective result of Grosjean and Magnussen at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps after 44 laps allowed Haas F1 to solidify its fifth-place standing in the constructors’ championship. The team owned by American businessman Gene Haas now has scored 76 points and trails fourth-place Renault by just six points while holding a 24-point advantage over sixth-place McLaren.

“A good end to a solid weekend,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas F1. “Starting off on Friday, we were not where we wanted to be, but we worked our way up. We brought home both cars in the points and made a good step in the championship. We need to do more of that and we’ll be fine.”

Magnussen, of Denmark, is eighth in the driver’s championship with 49 points. Frenchman Grosjean is 14th with 27 points.

“We scored points with both cars, which was the goal,” said Magnussen, driver of the No. 20 Ferrari-powered Haas VF-18. “We did everything we could. In the race, I lost a lot of time around the pit stops, which was unfortunate. But even so, I don’t think I could have fought the Force Indias. It would probably have just been a swap between me and Romain. We’re catching up on Renault, and that’s the target. I’m really just happy for the team. We can be pleased with the result. Scoring 10 points on a day when Renault didn’t score any points _ that’s important.”

Sebastian Vettel  of Scuderia Ferrari tallied his 52nd career Formula One victory, placing the German in sole possession of third on the series’ all-time win list, ahead of Frenchman Alain Prost and behind only Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes (67 wins) and Germany’s Michael Schumacher (91 wins). Vettel’s margin of victory over second-place Hamilton was an impressive 11.061-seconds with native Belgian Max Verstappen placing third for Red Bull Racing.

A four-time World Driving Champion, Vettel posted his fifth win this season and third at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

“Well, more wins than Alain. I think…wow!” said Vettel, who overtook pole-sitter Hamilton shortly after an aggressive move off the starting line and a massive crash.”First lap: Yeah, I had a great start and then I’m not sure Lewis saw me. He pushed me quite far to the left, but I knew my chance would be later on, up the hill. I think I timed it quite well. Obviously last year I was always ending up short, so yeah, it seems like it was better this year. Obviously we had a little bit less wing. Timing is crucial and I managed that perfectly, I thought, but then the Force India came as well.

“But as soon as I was ahead I was quite relieved. Obviously, with the Safety Car it was the other way round. So I thought, ‘Well, I got that done, and now I get the Safety Car.’ But I had a very good restart; I had a very good exit out of the first corner, kept it clean, it was tricky with the tailwind braking for the first turn. After that a very smooth race. Lewis pushed very hard, especially in the first stint, towards the end he was very fast. In the second stint I could turn everything down a little bit and control the pace. But yeah, a great weekend.”

The 1-2 finish tightened the championship battle between Vettel and Hamilton, with Vettel cutting seven points from the Brit’s lead. Hamilton, who began the Belgian Grand Prix with a 24-point advantage over Vettel, exited with a 17-point margin.

Ferrari earned its first victory at Spa since 2009 with Kimi Raikkonen. But with both Ferrari and Mercedes unveiling their Spec 3 engines at Spa, the Scuderia boasted a technological defeat of its rival. A slightly dazed Hamilton confirmed as much during the post-race press conference, giving a clear assessment of Mercedes’ deficit.

“We did everything we could, I did everything I could in the race and I think we ultimately performed quite well this weekend,” Hamilton said. “But he drove past me like I wasn’t even there on the straights. So we’ve got to keep pushing as hard as we can to try to catch up.

“They’ve got a few trick things going on in the car…and we’ve just got to keep working.”

The start was marred by a massive incident that looked eerily similar to the infamous 2012 first-lap crash. Nico Hulkenberg locked up his Renault’s tires going into the tight first corner, sending the German careening into the rear of Spain’s Fernando Alonso, whose McLaren was launched over the Sauber of Monaco’s Charles Leclerc. All three drivers were eliminated, with Alonso later remarking that the new-for-2018 halo head protection had been “a very good thing today.” The scrape marks of Alonso’s McLaren MCL33 on Leclerc’s halo backed-up the two-time World Champion’s assessment.

Further around La Source, Daniel Ricciardo _ squeezed by the Toro Rosso of Frenchman Pierre Gasly  _tagged the Ferrari of Raikkonen, leaving the Finn with a puncture and rear wing damage that would see him forced to retire on Lap 8. Ricciardo, meanwhile, was called back into the Red Bull garage to have his front and rear wings changed. The Australian re-entered the race two laps down, managing 31 laps before Red Bull decided to end his day.

Capping the action, Valtteri Bottas was guilty of rear-ending Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams off the line. The Russian escaped major damage, but the Finn was forced into an early pit stop for a nose change and fresh Pirelli rubber. 

The Safety Car was deployed, but crucially not before Vettel had out-dragged Hamilton down the Kemmel Straight _as well as rebutting a challenge from the Force India of Frenchman Esteban Ocon _ to claim the race lead in a moment that would define the outcome.

The Haas F1 teammates earned their finishes by avoiding the opening lap chaos at La Source, the tight first turn that empties drivers down the straight into the renowned Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners. Grosjean’s fifth-place starting spot kept him well ahead of the multi-car accident that ultimately knocked four drivers out of the race, while Magnussen picked off Ricciardo and Räikkönen to climb to seventh from his ninth-place starting spot.

Verstappen powered his Red Bull past Grosjean on the Kemmel Straight just before Turn 7 at Les Combes, placing Grosjean sixth and Magnussen seventh when the Safety Car was deployed to clean up the mess at La Source.

Racing resumed on Lap 5, and the Haas F1 teammates held their positions for the next 16 laps around the 4.352-mile/7.004-kilometer/19-turn track in the Ardennes Region of southeast Belgium. Bottas, who started 17th in his Mercedes, overtook Magnussen for seventh on Lap 22.

Grosjean was able to stay ahead of Bottas until pitting on Lap 23, swapping his Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tires for a new set of Yellow softs. He returned to the race in 10th.

Magnussen, meanwhile, stayed out on the track until Lap 26, rising to sixth as others ahead of him made their pit stops before finally making his scheduled stop. Magnussen copied his teammate’s strategy, switching from supersofts to softs, and emerged from the pits in eighth. That allowed Grosjean to leapfrog Magnussen, as he picked up seventh.

From that point forward, Grosjean and Magnussen held their seventh- and eighth-place positions. As the longest track in Formula One, Spa allowed drivers to stay full-throttle for 70 percent of each lap. That provided both with the opportunity to significantly extend the margins between themselves and those around them en route to a relatively stress-free double-points finish.

“That was about what we expected,” said Grosjean, driver of the No. 8 Haas VF-18. “We knew the Force Indias had the same pace, if not a bit quicker, so it was difficult to stay with them. They were quick on a straight line. I’m pretty happy with how the race went, and I’m happy Kevin was there as well. We did the best we could. Two cars in the points _ in seventh and eighth _ that’s really good for the constructors’ championship. It was a lot of points for us and zero for some others, so that’s a positive from this race.” 

Eight races remain in the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship, with the Italian Grand Prix at Autodromo Nazionale Monza next up on Sept. 2.

Haas F1 Team debuted in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2016, becoming the first American F1 entrant 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, August 28 2018
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