At 21 races it is the longest season in Formula One history, yet it has moved through the calendar so swiftly that the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 27 November at Yas Marina Circuit is nearly upon the inhabitants of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Perhaps the pace of the season and the quickness of calendar pages turning is par for the course in Formula One, but for the Haas F1 team there was neither par nor course.
It’s the first American Formula One team in 30 years, and 20 races into its debut season it is very much a part of the Formula One paddock. But before cars began turning wheels in anger during preseason testing back in late February and early March at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya, the main question facing Haas was: “Are they for real?”
It was a question first asked in January 2014 when team founder and chairman Gene Haas responded to the FIA’s expression of interest. When the FIA granted Haas a Formula One licence in April 2014, the question persisted.
The frequency of the query ebbed in September 2014 when Haas formed a technical partnership with Scuderia Ferrari. And a year later when drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez were signed for the team’s inaugural season, it injected another dose of reality that Haas F1 was, in fact, for real.
Yet for those outside the team, there was no car to see. No transporters. No tangible evidence that this new team with a headquarters in NASCAR country would be on the grid in 2016.
But then preseason testing at Barcelona happened. Way down at the far end of the paddock, an immaculate trio of transporters sat with a large, red circle “H” emblazoned across shiny, grey paint. Behind the transporters was a sharp-looking entrance to a garage area, further emulating the colours of Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. Inside that garage, attended to by a phalanx of crew members in uniforms matching the team’s branding, was the VF-16, Haas F1 team’s very first racecar.
At 10am CET on Monday, 22 February, the VF-16 roared to life. With Grosjean at the wheel, it pulled out of the garage and on to the pit lane at Barcelona. The Ferrari 061 turbo V-6 ran flawlessly around the 4.655-kilometre (2.89-mile), 16-turn track, providing a valuable reconnaissance lap for the team to check all the car’s systems. Haas F1 had arrived. Proving it was the final testing tally of 474 laps (2,206.47 kilometres, 1,369.86 miles) during the eight days of track time.
It was a very good first impression, but testing is not racing, so the questions about Haas F1 persisted. But then came a sixth-place finish in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix followed by a fifth-place result in the second race of the season in Bahrain. And now as the season finale beckons at the 5.554-kilometre (3.451-mile), 21-turn Yas Marina Circuit, Haas F1 has 29 points and sits a solid eighth in the constructor standings.
The 29 points Haas has earned so far this season are the most of any new team in this millennium. When Jaguar debuted in 2000 and when Toyota came on the scene in 2002, each entity managed only two point-paying finishes in their entire first seasons for a combined total of six points.
It’s a significant piece of history that Haas F1 now owns.