Sustaining gains into Bahrain

After a ‘pointed’ weekend in Australia, Haas F1 Team seeks more in Sakhir

Kannapolis, North Carolina – Until Haas F1 Team took to the grid last weekend in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, it had been 30 years since an American team competed in the FIA Formula One World Championship. Simply showing up prepared and putting two cars on the track that made competitive lap times was the goal.

And for industry veterans curious to know what kind of organization Haas F1 Team would be, the professional appearance displayed during preseason testing in Barcelona and at the season’s first race in Australia belied an intent to surpass expectations.

Expectations were surpassed in a big way when Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean finished sixth – his best result since coming home third in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix in August. The performance earned eight points for Grosjean in the championship driver standings and eight points for Haas F1 Team in the constructor standings.

It placed the new kids on the block an unfathomable fifth in the constructor standings, buttressed by teams with decades more experience. The last time a Formula One team scored points in its debut race was in 2002 when Mika Salo finished sixth for Toyota at the Australian Grand Prix, a span of 14 years.

Grosjean’s teammate, Esteban Gutiérrez, proved quick as well at Australia, despite not having the results to show for his efforts. In the elimination-style qualifying format that debuted on Saturday, Gutiérrez was putting down a lap that would’ve placed him seventh in Q1, more than enough to vault him into Q2. But time ran out on his lap, and instead of being one of the 15 fastest drivers to advance into the second round of qualifying, Gutiérrez was left 20th.

The silver lining to the unsatisfactory result was that Gutiérrez knew his car was fast and capable of driving to the front come Sunday. Unfortunately, Gutiérrez’s race was over on lap 17 when Fernando Alonso clipped Gutiérrez’s left-rear tire as the duo entered turn three. The impact launched Alonso into the air and sent Gutiérrez spinning into the gravel trap. Both drivers walked away from the harrowing accident.

Gutiérrez’s travails and Grosjean’s point-scoring finish are now in the rearview mirror as Formula One packs up from the land down under to head to Bahrain, site of Round No. 2 on the 21-race Formula One schedule. Practice begins Friday, April 1, with qualifying on Saturday, April 2 and the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, April 3.

Grosjean has four career Formula One starts at the 5.412-kilometer (3.363-mile), 15-turn Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, with a best finish of third, earned twice in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013. And that third-place run in 2012 marked Grosjean’s first career podium finish. Gutiérrez has two Formula One starts at Bahrain, both with the Sauber F1 Team in 2013 and 2014.

Bahrain made its debut on the Formula One calendar in 2004, becoming the first grand prix to be held in the Middle East. The 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix marks the 12th in series history. The circuit is known for massive run-off areas, with substantial track width across its layout . This encourages overtaking, but has been criticized for not punishing drivers who make mistakes and stray off course. Since the track is located in the middle of the desert, sand can pose a problem – to the level of grip on the racetrack and to the performance of the car, with the engine’s air filters checked thoroughly and often.

These challenges, along with the raised expectations from Haas F1 Team’s performance in Australia, greet the organization in Bahrain.

Guenther Steiner - Team Principal

Haas F1 Team now has its first grand prix under its belt. Obviously, it was highlighted by Grosjean’s sixth-place result, but how did it go overall and what can you take from Australia and apply to Bahrain?

“We had our ups and downs. It started out with not being able to get enough testing in on Friday during practice. We tried to make up for it on Saturday morning during third practice, but we had an incident with a car colliding with Romain (Grosjean) as he was exiting the garage. It started off not too pretty, and then qualifying was not what we wished for, but the team bounced back and we got ready for Sunday. We showed a good race speed and we are ready to go racing. In the end it was all positive. It was hard to get to the positive, but with a lot of work with a lot of hard-working people, we got there. Now the biggest task is to replicate this, which won’t be easy, but for sure we will be trying again.”

Upon your return to Haas F1 Team’s headquarters in North Carolina, were you able to get a sense of how the team’s Australia performance resonated in the United States?

“I think it resonated in a very positive way in all of racing in America. Even those who don’t follow Formula One considered it a big achievement for a new team to finish in sixth place and to be from America, which hasn’t had a presence in Formula One in 30 years.”

From the outside looking in, it appeared Haas F1 Team was taking a very unorthodox approach to building a Formula One team. And while that is relatively true, did the team’s performance in Australia vindicate your methodology, specifically in regard to partnering with Scuderia Ferrari and Dallara?

“I think our plan is working, but we won’t finish sixth every weekend, so we need to be careful with our expectations. I think we showed that you can start a new team and end up in the midfield. We were not last in Australia, which was one of our goals, and I don’t think we will be last this year. How far we’ve come is a sign that our plan is working.”

Haas F1 Team came out of the gate strong in the season-opener in Australia. History tells us not every grand prix will bring that kind of success. How do you manage expectations, internally and externally?

“We are not being arrogant about our early success and we will have our races where we will underperform. Our sixth-place finish in Australia keeps the team going, working very hard and trying to do the best possible job we can. If we continue to do what we did in Melbourne, good results will come.”

The flip side to Grosjean’s sixth-place finish at Australia was Gutiérrez getting caught up in a crash. There was a good bit of damage to the left-rear of Gutiérrez’s car. What needs to be done to repair it and what kind of logistics are involved to get it ready for Bahrain?

“Some of the parts, for example the chassis, were sent back to Europe to be checked and fixed because we can’t do it onsite in Bahrain. We have enough spare parts to build up another chassis, so we will use that. Then the chassis that is repaired will be sent to Bahrain via air to serve as our spare. The guys will have to work day and night to get to Bahrain, but it’s all doable. Our spare quantity is down, but we have enough to get going again, so we will just keep on working.”

Haas F1 Team seems to handle adversity extremely well – be it with technical issues during the second week of testing at Barcelona and when you endured a pit lane collision in practice Saturday at Australia. From your perspective, how well is this new group of personnel working together?

“We chose good, quality people. Nobody gets down in adversity. Everybody gets up. They are working on the solution, not on the problem. They work together because they are professionals and they know they can get it done together as a team. It all comes down to the quality of people, and I think our quality is pretty high.”

With wet weather Friday at Australia, it compromised the team’s ability to work on the car’s setup for the race. The weather in Bahrain is usually pretty consistent, and that means consistently dry. How helpful will a full weekend of consistent weather be for you and the team?

“If we can get a good day of practice in with both cars and six hours of running, that will be fantastic just to learn more about this machine.”

With Gutiérrez’s lap-17 crash and Grosjean changing tires during the red flag, Haas F1 Team didn’t make any pit stops at Australia. How is the team preparing for pit stops and is there any worry that’s one element of the program that hasn’t really been tested?

“We didn’t complain that we didn’t have to do a pit stop in Australia, but we will have to do it in Bahrain, for sure. We will do a lot of things during practice in Bahrain to ensure that we are ready. We got away with not doing pit stops in Australia, but we won’t be able to in Bahrain. The focus will be on completing pit stops this weekend so the team goes into the race confident that they have trained properly.”

How did the addition of a third tire option impact your strategy for Australia, and what impact do you think it will have on your tire strategy for Bahrain?

“Everyone has the third tire option, so you just deal with it. I don’t think it has a huge impact because it’s the same for everybody. We just need to make sure we use the three options we’ve got to the best of our knowledge.”

Romain Grosjean - Driver No. 8

Haas F1 Team now has its first grand prix under its belt. Obviously, Australia went very well for you. What can you take from it and apply to Bahrain?

“It went better than expected, to be fair. It was a difficult weekend with the weather, and a tricky qualifying session for everyone. Sunday is the day you really want to perform, and we did very well. The car was reliable and it went to the end. The strategy was perfect. Since day one the car has shown huge potential. We showed that in Australia. With barely any setup work, we put it on the track and managed to hold on to sixth at the end of the grand prix.”

Haas F1 Team seems to handle adversity extremely well – be it with technical issues during the second week of testing at Barcelona and when you endured a pit lane collision in practice Saturday at Australia. From your perspective, how well is this new group of personnel working together?

“Very well. Since winter testing, everyone on the team has worked as if they’ve been working together for several years. That’s what people were seeing from the outside and that’s what I saw from the inside. FP3 in Australia was a good example. They changed the floor of the car in just over 25 minutes, which was amazing. They managed to get the cars on track every time. There were no mistakes. Of course, everyone can improve and get more used to everything but, generally, there’s a very good feeling in the team. It’s a good group of people.”

With wet weather Friday at Australia, it compromised the team’s ability to work on the car’s setup for the race. The weather in Bahrain is usually pretty consistent, and that means consistently dry. How helpful will a full weekend of consistent weather be for you and the team?

“It would be very helpful. We need to get more running. We need to get more mileage and further our understanding of the car. We have a long list of things we want to try and do, and things to improve. It’s a lot of work but, on the other hand, it means we can improve the car by a big chunk. I always like to keep things positive. If we can do a lot of that in Bahrain, the car will improve and that means we can keep working on better results.”

How did the addition of a third tire option impact your strategy for Australia, and what impact do you think it will have on your tire strategy for Bahrain?

“I think it’s pretty cool, actually. It opens more strategy, more thinking, probably more work on the pit wall trying to find out which is the best tire to go on. It’s more work on Friday to see the condition of each tire, to see the tire life. We could see different people at the front at different grand prix.”

From testing in Barcelona to your home in Geneva to racing in Australia, and then back home before going to Bahrain, what do you do to physically and mentally combat the fatigue that comes with being in so many drastically different time zones in the span of a month?

“Your body gets a bit of a shock. There are a few techniques, a few things you need to do. Of course, physical preparation is important. The rest is lots of sleep. You need to be prepared for your next time zone as early as possible. Bahrain is pretty close to Geneva in terms of time, so that’s cool. Australia is always a tough one because it’s 10 hours ahead, but you learn to live with it.”

Explain a lap around the Bahrain International Circuit.

“Bahrain is not a circuit that looks very technical from a paper point of view, but I love driving it every year. It’s a big straight into turn one. Big braking and a tricky exit to turn two, and then you head up the hill approaching turn four. It’s got tricky braking with long lateral g’s and acceleration going into the high speed section of (turns) five, six and seven. The wind can have a big influence at those corners.

Then you have the hairpin down the hill, going up against (turns) nine and 10 where you can easily have some front-locking because there’s a lot of g’s there under braking. Then the back straight takes you to turn 11, an uphill corner, then turn 12 where it can be flat out if you’ve got a really good car. Tricky braking into turn 13 because you’re coming from a high-speed corner. You really want to go early on the power to go down to turn 14, which is the last corner, again big braking before accelerating to cross the start-finish line.”

Esteban Gutiárrez - Driver No. 21

Haas F1 Team has its first grand prix under its belt. How did it go and what can you take from Australia and apply to Bahrain?

“As a whole experience it was a positive weekend, apart from the unfortunate incident we had during the race. We did a very good job as a team. Obviously, scoring points leaves a lot of confidence for the whole team, but still we have plenty of work to do. I think, in general, we can go to Bahrain making our next step forward as a team. In both organization and communication there has not been much time for the team to breath because of the hard work in building the car and testing in Barcelona and then the first grand prix. Hopefully, we can consolidate things and get everything done and try to make the best of our potential.”

Haas F1 Team seems to handle adversity extremely well – be it with technical issues during the second week of testing at Barcelona and when your teammate endured a pit lane collision in practice Saturday at Australia. From your perspective, how well is this new group of personnel working together?

“We can be very proud of what we have achieved and how we have reacted, considering that we are a new team, but still we have plenty of work to do. Those things will come with experience, and it’s something we’re improving on each time we’re on the track.”

With wet weather Friday at Australia, it compromised the team’s ability to work on the car’s setup for the race. The weather in Bahrain is usually pretty consistent, and that means consistently dry. How helpful will a full weekend of consistent weather be for you and the team?

“It will be very positive because we can finally work and experiment a little bit with the car and its setup. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do that. It’s quite impressive that even though we have not been able to experiment a lot, we have a very good base line. So, I’m really looking forward to get to know more of the car to experiment more and really work on the best direction for our setup. Bahrain will help us a lot to get more consistent running, more laps in practice and hopefully a smooth weekend.”

How did the addition of a third tire option impact your strategy for Australia, and what impact do you think it will have on your tire strategy for Bahrain?

“We keep experimenting a lot trying to get to know the tire compounds and how they act in different circumstances. It has made the races and the weekend interesting because there is more strategy from each team to choose its own tires that fit better for them.”

From testing in Barcelona to your home in Mexico to racing in Australia, and then back home before going to Bahrain, what do you do to physically and mentally combat the fatigue that comes with being in so many drastically different time zones in the span of a month?

“The most important thing to do is to continue with a rhythm of training. Experience has helped me deal with jet lag, so it’s not really a problem. I try to arrange my schedule the best way possible so I minimize the amount of travel and the amount of places where I need to go. I just try to find the best balance and the best compromise for all my responsibilities.”

Explain a lap around the Bahrain International Circuit.

“There is a very big braking into turn one, which I enjoy a lot after a very long straight. Then it’s a very tricky exit out of turn one into turn two with a lot of lateral load, trying to get on power having come from a very slow speed corner. Picking up the throttle, it’s pretty tricky. Then you go into turn four and there is a lot of change on the surface of the track. The angle is going off to the exit, so you really need to prepare a lot in order to have a comfortable exit and good balance in the car. Then you come into turns five, six and seven –the fast corners.

Then you arrive at the hairpin. Down into turn eight, it is very tricky because here the wind conditions are affecting the car a lot and sometimes you have a headwind and it makes it very easy to make that corner. But when you have the wind coming from the back, it makes it very tricky to brake downhill and then come around the hairpin and get a good exit. Turns nine and 10 are some of the trickiest and technical corners of the season. You brake with a lot of lateral load, so here the brake balance settings are very particular to any corner in any track on the calendar. Then you come down into the back straight, you have a medium, high-speed corner which I enjoy a lot – it’s turn 11.

You go up and you have a fast corner to the right which should be turn 12, then you arrive into turn 13, right hand corner, coming from very high-speed corner. It’s very important to find a straight line in braking and then go and throw the speed in because it’s quite high speed. I’d say it’s a medium- to high-speed corner where you can gain a lot of advantage with a good apex speed. Then you come down to the last corner, which is the preparation of the long straight straight. It’s a bit tricky because you have a nice angle on the exit, pretty different. When you come into the curb you have a small change of the track angle, which makes it very, very nice. Now, I’m looking forward to getting there and driving.”

Haas F1 Team

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Bahrain GP
Track Bahrain International Circuit
Drivers Romain Grosjean , Esteban Gutierrez
Teams Haas F1 Team
Article type Preview