Haas F1 - redemption or last chance for Esteban Gutierrez, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nico Hulkenberg?
Esteban Gutierrez, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nico Hulkenberg are the leading contenders for race seats with the US-based Haas F1 squad when it makes its...
Esteban Gutierrez, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nico Hulkenberg are the leading contenders for race seats with the US-based Haas F1 squad when it makes its Formula 1 debut in 2016, according to team founder Gene Haas.
Speaking at the recent opening of a new Haas factory outlet in Portugal, Haas acknowledged that as moves in the F1 driver market begin over the summer; his potential driver line-up will become clearer.
He said: "We have a list of drivers in which we are interested in, but in the next few months there will be many moves in the (existing) teams' lineups and we will wait to see who is interested in the project we are developing."
Haas told assembled journalists that Ferrari reserve drivers Vergne and Gutierrez were already on his squad’s shortlist of potential drivers and suggested that Hulkenberg, who came close to joining Ferrari ahead of the 2014 season, could be also be a candidate for a 2016 race seat.
He said: "Two of them are reserve drivers from Ferrari, so they are certainly a possibility. As far as the other name that you mention, he is a driver from another team, so the possibility of him driving for us depends of his position with his team.
"Anybody who is driving in a Formula One team right now, certainly, is someone that we would be interested in, if he becomes available."
Could Haas be a second F1 chance for Vergne and Gutierrez?
A move to Haas for 2016 is a clear way back into the F1 fold for Vergne and Gutierrez, who are both on the side-lines in 2015 – Gutierrez has had some test outings for the Ferrari team this year, while Vergne has raced in Formula E for the Andretti squad.
Their established relationship with Ferrari puts them in pole position to slot into the Haas line-up as the American squad has close ties to the Italian marque – Haas Automation has been a Ferrari sponsor since 2014 and Haas F1 will use Ferrari engines and widespread technical support when it makes its championship debut.
Speaking at the FIA sport conference last month, Haas explained that it had been Ferrari’s interest in the US team, as well as its F1 technical programme, that had appealed most to him when considering a partnership with an existing F1 enterprise.
He said: “When we started off, Gunther Steiner made enquiries to various suppliers and various suppliers had various programmes. Ferrari seemed to have the best overall programme [and] they had an interest in what we were doing, more so than other ones, and that relationship seemed to work best for us.”
Gutierrez is handily placed with a number of Mexican sponsors to bring to Haas, which will come in handy before the team earns any F1 prize money in its early days. But Vergne has a reputation as a very fast driver - he stacked up well against Daniel Ricciardo when they both raced for Toro Rosso and the Frenchman came close to a becoming Red Bull driver for 2014. Vergne’s speed could potentially lead to more points and high championship place for the fledgling Haas F1 operation.
Is Haas a last chance saloon for Hulkenberg?
Hulkenberg was being considered by Ferrari for a race seat alongside Fernando Alonso ahead of the 2014 season before it decided to resign Kimi Raikkonen. Before that, the 27-year-old German had also been linked with McLaren before missing out when the Woking-based team signed Sergio Perez for the2013 season and going back even further he was dropped by Williams at the end of 2010 in favour of cash-flushed Pastor Maldonado, despite clinching his maiden pole position at that season’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
Those disappointments for Hulkenberg have led to a suspicion that a move to one of F1’s premier teams might never happen for the highly-rated German, but a switch to Ferrari-backed Haas for 2016 could be put him back on the Scuderia’s radar for 2017 and beyond. With Ferrari’s recent upturn in form thanks to it producing a much improved engine for 2015, there is no guarantee Haas will simply stay at the rear of the field and could therefore offer Hulkenberg a chance to put in more eye-catching performances.
However, such a switch could potentially be viewed as a backwards step for the Force India driver, particularly after his recent win the in the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours for Porsche, and similar moves by the likes of Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock to Caterham (then Lotus) and Virgin for the 2010 season did not pay off.
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