The Hungarian Games

After racing at the ultrafast and flowing Silverstone Circuit for the British Grand Prix, the FIA Formula One World Championship heads to the slowest permanent circuit in Formula One – the Hungaroring for the 24 July Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.

Slow, however, doesn’t mean easy. Despite an average speed of 190 kph (118 mph), which is 35 kph (22 mph) slower than the average speed around Silverstone, the Hungaroring requires precision and preservation. The 4.381 km (2.722-mile), 14-turn track has few straights. Likened by many to being a full-sized karting circuit, the Hungaroring is a physical track, demanding a lot from the drivers who, in turn, demand a lot from their tyres.

Hot weather is a hallmark of the Hungarian Grand Prix and combined with the technical nature of the Hungaroring, drivers are tested throughout the 70-lap race. There is seemingly constant and drastic steering wheel input and no reprieve from the ever-present heat since only a scant amount of air is able to flow through the car. Bearing the brunt of this hostile environment, however, are the tyres. A high level of traction, a lot of braking and significant lateral energy demands push the tyres to their limits, meaning tyre management is a crucial component of a team’s race strategy.

For those not qualifying up front – where the Hungarian Grand Prix has been won from the first two rows 28 times in its 30-year history – savvy strategy is a must to advance through the field. The epic drives of Nigel Mansell (12th to first in 1989) and Jenson Button (14th to first in 2006) prove that despite the lack of overtaking opportunities, tenacity and tyre management can ring up points at the Hungaroring.

Success on Sunday begins in free practice on Friday. This is where the track is understood and the working ranges of the tyres become known, allowing teams to fine tune their racecars to meet the demands of the day. The more track time, the more data that gets collected and the more likely a point-paying strategy will be formulated.

We haven’t heard much from the team yet but at Silverstone, Haas F1 had its best Friday to date with 671.574 km (417.297 miles) logged between its drivers – Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutiérrez and Charles Leclerc, the latter of whom drove in the weekend’s opening practice session and is slated to do the same in Hungary. The collective effort led to another productive practice session on Saturday, which resulted in a qualifying performance that led Grosjean and Gutiérrez to believe Sunday would yield their first double-points finish of the year. But a downpour just before the start of the British Grand Prix drowned those hopes.

With the race starting behind the safety car, a sound strategy crafted from two days of strong running went down the drain. Also going down was the power in the team’s pit perch, preventing the engineers from exactly knowing where their drivers were on the track and where they stood in relation to others. This led to a miscommunication that kept Gutiérrez on the track a lap past a planned pit stop on lap 16, which stuck him behind slower cars for 23 laps, allowing the rest of the field to open up a sizeable gap that couldn’t be overcome. Gutiérrez finished 16th while Grosjean suffered a DNF (Did Not Finish) when his transmission broke on lap 18.

After having an eye on eating into the point margin between itself and seventh-place McLaren in the constructor standings, Haas F1 was left starving at Silverstone. Knowing the progress it made and the strength the team showed on Friday and Saturday at Silverstone, the team is hungry for its next point-paying opportunity, and it just might come at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Q&A with Haas F1

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

Haas F1 now has its first grand prix under its belt. Obviously this 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’s headquarters in North Carolina were you able to get a sense of how the team’s Australia performance resonated in the US?
“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 the 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 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.”

You appear to have handled 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 set-up 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 tyres during the red flag, you didn’t make any pit stops in Australia. How is the team preparing for pit stops and is there any worry this is one element of the programme 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 tyre option impact your strategy for Australia, and what impact do you think it will have on your tyre strategy for Bahrain?
“Everyone has the third tyre 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.”

Australian GP post race: Haas F1

Wet nose

 

Haas F1 made history before and after the 32nd Australian Grand Prix Sunday in Melbourne. The organisation’s debut in Round 1 of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship marked the first time a US team had competed in Formula One since 1986. And after ending a 30-year drought for an American squad in Formula One, Haas F1 ended another drought for an organisation’s maiden F1 race.

After starting 19th, Romain Grosjean finished an impressive sixth, earning the team eight points in the constructor standings. The last time a Formula One team scored points in its debut race was in the 2002 Australian Grand Prix when Mika Salo finished sixth for Toyota.

The fortunate outcome was due in part by the misfortune of Grosjean’s teammate, Esteban Gutiérrez who was taken out of the race in a spectacular accident involving McLaren driver, Fernando Alonso. On lap 17 while entering turn three of the 5.303-kilometre (3.295-mile), 16-turn circuit, Alonso moved to the outside of Gutiérrez in an attempt to overtake.

Alonso’s right-front wheel touched Gutiérrez’s left-rear wheel. The impact launched Alonso into the air and sent Gutiérrez spinning into the gravel trap. Alonso clipped the outside retaining wall and then sailed over the gravel trap. His splintered car ended up on its side against another wall, whereupon Alonso climbed out. Gutiérrez quickly came to check on his fellow driver, and the two walked away unscathed from the harrowing accident.

With debris littering the track, officials displayed the red flag. The field came to the pit lane where the cars were stopped, and the only work teams could do to their cars was change tyres.

After starting the race on the Pirelli P Zero Yellow softs, the team took advantage of the red flag and changed Grosjean’s tyres to the Pirelli P Zero White mediums. While the mediums did not have nearly as much grip as the softs, they also did not wear out as fast. When the race went back to green, Grosjean was good to go the distance without pitting.

His strategy was to outlast and outrun as many of his counterparts as possible. He succeeded, with only five drivers finishing ahead of him, all of whom belonged to race teams with decades of experience. The sixth-place finish was worth eight points, placing Haas F1 Team fifth in the constructor standings.

F1 is back, and America is back in F1 in a big way.

Haas-Grosjean interview (long)

An important piece of the puzzle to Haas F1’s debut in 2016 is now in place. How did it come about?
Haas: “Well, you know, this is part of our long‑term strategy. I think we’ve always maintained that we wanted an experienced driver to lead our team into the 2016 season. You know, Formula One is a tricky business. It’s like any other kind of business. You have to learn it, and the best way to learn it is to learn it from other people.

“We were looking for an experienced driver, and Romain was one of several candidates. He’s been in Formula One for many years. He’s been an excellent driver for Team Lotus. I reviewed a lot of his video of his driving styles. One thing that was very impressive is the fact that he’s scored points almost every season, and that’s really what our primary goal here is – to be able to score points.

“I think as a piece of the puzzle, he’s going to have a lot of work to do. He’s going to be our lead driver and we’re going to depend heavily on him to help us with our strategies with the car, with the racetracks, and just the learning of the whole operations of an F1 team.”

Romain, you’ve had a very accomplished career in motorsports, winning championships in every series you’ve competed in as you’ve climbed the ladder to Formula One. What was it about Haas F1 that made you decide this was the place for you?
Grosjean: “Well, it’s a question I had to ask myself, first of all, and thinking about your future and your career is always important. I discovered the project a few years ago through the media, and then got to know a little bit more about what Gene and Guenther were doing and how it was nicely building up, and I like the fact that it’s a different approach to what a normal new F1 team would do. I think it’s an approach that can be pretty quickly successful and, if we’re racing in Formula One, it’s not to be last on the grid. It’s to always do our best as a team, as a driver, and what we’d like is to try to drink the champagne on the podium.

“I like the idea of the partnership with Ferrari. I like the way everything has been going. I like the fact that it’s going slowly but nicely and, as I said in the media recently, I’m very, very happy that I made that decision.”

Guenther Steiner, team principal, Gene discussed the overall reasoning for pursuing Romain, but can you talk about some of the details that make him the ideal fit for Haas F1 in its inaugural season?
Steiner: “As Gene said before, you know, we looked around a lot to find the right guy because we wanted somebody with experience but still hungry to do something, to go with us this long way. I mean, I started talks with the management of Romain in Barcelona to see if he’s interested and, you know, we spoke to quite a few drivers, and in the end I spoke also with technical people, what they think about Romain, how he develops a car, because we have got a steep mountain to climb here, new team, all new team members, so we needed somebody who knows what he’s doing.

“I think in the end we found the right guy because he has so much ‘want to drive’ now, and he’s still aggressive or still wants it, you know, but he’s not young (so) anymore that he’s inexperienced. We lose time by having accidents or doing rookie mistakes. I think we just picked the best one out there for what we are doing, and we focused on him and got him, and we are very happy and we are looking forward to working with him.”

Romain, what would you say is a reasonable expectation for Haas F1 going into the next season?
Grosjean: “That’s always a question you get at the beginning of the year. It’s a tough one to reply (to) when you know a team. It’s even more difficult when you know it’s going to be the first time the car is on track. But I think from what I’ve seen so far, we should be able to run straight away without I think the problems for new teams, which makes – which was part of my reflection for the decision, and I think it would be really good to score a few points early in the season for a newcomer American team, and I think a lot of support behind us.”

Gene, can you compare for us building a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team as you’ve done over the last 15, 20 years, and the last couple of years building an F1 team? What are the similarities and what are the differences between building the two types of operations?
Haas: “Well, I think if anything the main ingredient is just stubbornness, not giving up and just keeping your head pointed forward and just taking your licks as you go. NASCAR was certainly difficult. We spent five or six years in NASCAR and we were always in the back. It was a pretty gruelling, tough experience. I can sympathise with a lot of guys that run in the back and just how hard that is.

“We were one of the fortunate teams in that Joe Custer put together a deal with Tony Stewart, and that became Stewart‑Haas Racing, and I think in our first season we started winning races, so that was a real eye-opener. It takes the right people to make things happen. The same thing with Formula One. When we first started out, initially Guenther took me to I think Austin, and I met Bernie Ecclestone, and that was a real eye-opener there, too, because here’s the godfather of Formula One, and you get to meet him, and he’s a pretty coy person. It’s kind of like he almost dissuades you from wanting to start this business because he’s seen so many people attempt it and fail.

“But, like anything else, we kept banging away at it, and I think it was a couple years later he finally said, look, if you’re really serious about this, we’ll make a tender for you, and he had to open it up to various teams.

“You know, through the whole process, it really comes down to selecting the right people, taking your time, trying to analyse things, then adapting to what you learn. What we initially started with, say, two years ago has really kind of changed quite a bit, and our whole direction now has gone a little bit different than as opposed to say what some of the other teams are, where the other teams are looking at being a primary constructor, and we’re trying to just basically use as much as we can from our partners. So I think that’s the main difference between us and other ones, and I think that’s really going to be a difference in the way we run our team.”

When selecting Romain as a driver, did you also look at his commercial appeal to bring sponsors to the team in the future?
Haas: “You know, I’d have to say that we had a lot of pressure to hire an American driver, but the reality of it was that a rookie driver with a rookie team just isn’t a good fit. Our primary purpose here is to show that, as an American manufacturer, that we can compete in the most difficult, competitive series in the world of car racing, and that was Formula One.

“In order to achieve that goal, our direction was to do whatever it takes. I mean, it’s like, say, when we first started out, we’re not here to sit there and say: ‘Hey, we as Americans can do it the American way.’ Our goal is to race competitive teams and, basically, whatever it takes to get that car on the grid with the right people is what we’re looking for.

“I think with Romain, the difference is that there’s only 20 drivers that are currently now driving in Formula One. He fits that bill perfectly and we were kind of surprised, I’m a little surprised, that we got a driver with the experience that he brings to our team because it’s going to be a real challenge. He’s going to be working a lot harder than he thinks he’s going to be.”

The last three teams that entered Formula One failed, although one did revive. Where will Haas succeed where they failed, or how will Haas succeed where they failed?
Haas: “You know, I think our strategy is different than what those teams faced. I think they were under a real time constraint. They had probably almost six months to put together a whole team, and I think when people think about entering Formula One, at least from my point of view at that time, and even a casual observer, is that somehow these cars, you can go down and parts in cars are all readily available, but you really have to build everything from scratch. I think that’s what really tripped up the previous teams was, is, that they just didn’t allow enough time to actually build their cars so, when they got on the grid, they were really, really behind. Not only are you trying to develop and design your car, but you’re also trying to race, and trying to do those things simultaneously is probably impossible. That’s probably the biggest difference with us.

“We took a little – we’re taking quite a bit more time, actually, to get our car prepared and, at the same time, we’re also able to put together some very important relationships with obviously Ferrari and then Dallara, plus our UK operation. We were very fortunate to be able to obtain a race shop that had a lot of facilities that we really needed. If we had to do that in a short of timeframe, I don’t think any of that would have happened.

“I think that’s really the biggest difference is, just the more time you have, the more time you have to develop the relationships that you need and secure the people, equipment and other parts of the puzzle that just takes time, and time is what we need, and when we get to the grid, we won’t be developing a car, we’ll be ready to go. The car is fully developed, and I think even later this year we start to get to work on the 2017 car. So I think we’re a little bit ahead of where those other teams were.”

Romain: Can you tell us what specifically about Haas convinced you that this was a good move, or is it more of a situation where you saw things weren’t going the way you wanted them to at Lotus and you’re just looking for a change?
Grosjean: “Well, I think, as I say, I took my decision before – there was not decision A and decision B. I’ve met Guenther, I’ve met Gene. We spoke. They explained to me what was the project like, and I believe that it’s a new approach going on in Formula One and an approach that’s going to work. I’ve spent 10 years, and I know the guys very well, and it would have been easy to take the comfortable road and stay there. But, on the other hand, I want to try to win races, win championships, and I thought that coming here to Haas was a good step in a good direction to achieve that.”

Gene, besides Formula One experience, what were the additional qualities you were looking for in a racecar driver for your team?
Haas: “Well, that’s actually a very good question because that was the primary focus, was looking for a racecar driver. But I think some of the other qualities would be just the maturity of experience. You know, there’s always theory and then there’s actual experience. I think when you start out as a racecar driver, you have a tendency to be a bit aggressive so, hopefully with Romain, his maturity will lend itself towards us being able to progress as a team.

“I think other areas, too, is that he’s a bright young person, so I think he’s going to help a lot as far as promoting our machine tool brand in Europe. I mean, obviously he’s French‑Swiss nationality, so those are both very important countries to our business. So we’ll be looking forward to him representing our products over there. I’m sure that will open up marketing opportunities both here in the US and Europe.”

Haas F1 team selects Grosjean

Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean

 

Well, there you have it. Lotus F1’s immensely likeable and extremely capable Romain Grojean will be racing for the new US F1 team next season. The 29-year-old has competed in 78 Formula One races and scored 10 podium finishes, with the most recent being a third-place result in August at the Belgian Grand Prix. He is currently in his fifth Formula One season with Lotus F1.

Grosjean is highly regarded as a team leader and potential world champion. The Frenchman will get his first drive with the Haas F1 team during the pre season test 1-4 March at Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. A second test at Barcelona takes place on 15-18 March before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on 3 April in Melbourne.

“We wanted an experienced driver capable of developing our car and our race team into one that can score points and better itself each race and each season. We found him in Romain Grosjean,” said Gene Haas, founder and chairman, Haas F1. “I’ve been involved in motorsports for a long time and learned early on the most crucial component is the driver. Romain has strong credentials and he will be an important asset to us.”

“In addition to being an experienced Formula One driver, Romain is very technically minded,” said Haas F1’s team principal, Guenther Steiner. “He gives strong, specific feedback as to how the car performs. As we develop our car in testing and throughout the season, his insight will be crucial.”

Grosjean has won races and championships in every division he has competed as he advanced to Formula One. He transitioned quickly from karting to cars in 2003, winning all 10 races in the Swiss Formula Renault 1.6 championship, handily earning the series title. Another 10-win season in the French Formula Renault 2.0 championship in 2005 secured a second title.

Grosjean moved up to Formula Three in 2006 and competed in the full Euro Series schedule. He also drove in two British Formula Three races that year, taking the pole, the win and setting the fastest lap in both races. A second season in the Formula Three Euro Series in 2007 paid big dividends as Grosjean took four poles and six wins en route to the championship. He graduated to GP2 in 2008 and maintained his title-winning form by earning four wins in 10 races to take the inaugural GP2 Asia Series crown.

By 2008, Grosjean was in Formula One as a test driver for Renault. In August 2009, Renault named Grosjean to its race seat alongside two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

The experience garnered during that seven-race stretch of Formula One races was invaluable, and Grosjean augmented that experience in 2010 by tackling a variety of series. He won the Auto GP championship with four wins, seven podiums and three poles. He also earned two FIA GT1 World Championship wins and two GP2 podiums. Displaying his versatility, he competed in two 24-hour endurance races at Le Mans and Spa-Francorchamps, respectively.

In 2011, Grosjean returned to GP2, first winning the Asia Series championship in its final year of existence, and then the GP2 title with a season-best five victories. He also returned to Renault as its Formula One test driver.

With the Renault team under new management and rebranded as Lotus F1 for 2012, Grosjean was named to the race seat alongside 2007 Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen. Grosjean’s first podium came in the fourth race of the season at Bahrain. Three races later in Montreal, he finished second. A third podium was earned in the 11th race of the year in Hungary.

The 2013 season was an impressive one for Grosjean as he scored six podiums, highlighted by a second-place finish at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

The 2014 season saw the introduction of a new engine formula, with turbochargers returning to the sport for the first time since 1988. The development curve was steep for many teams. Grosjean recorded two eighth-place finishes in Spain and Monaco, but regularly outpaced his teammate throughout the year.

Fourteen races into 2015, Grosjean has shown the form he displayed in 2013, as evidenced by his podium at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

In 2016, Grosjean brings his experience and ambition to Haas F1 – the first American-led Formula One team in 30 years.

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