Why 'absolutely worst' Haas needs to address 'very serious' problem
Haas secured fifth position in Formula 1’s Constructors’ Championship in only its third season last year, rattling more than a few cages, but this campaign has been a head-scratching one for the team.
Haas’ VF-19 caught the eye during pre-season testing and the car was rapid in Australia, taking 'best of the rest' in qualifying and the race, only denied a double points finish through a repeat of its 2018 pit stop dramas on Romain Grosjean’s side of the garage.
Kevin Magnussen delivered another strong display beneath the lights on Saturday in Bahrain – almost dislodging the Red Bull of Max Verstappen – ostensibly cementing the view that it was one of, if not the, strongest midfield team.
But since then its pace has largely evaporated.
Magnussen raced to a lacklustre 13th across the past three grands prix while Grosjean took 11th in China, sandwiched by retirements in Bahrain (due to a clash) and Azerbaijan (due to brakes).
It has left Haas only eighth in the Constructors’ Championship, courtesy of Magnussen’s Australia result, in spite of its drivers’ beliefs that the VF-19 is a fundamentally strong package.
The manner in which drivers and teams utilise Pirelli’s notoriously tricky tyres is becoming a primary talking point as the 2019 season continues to unfold.
Haas – across the past three grands prix at very different venues – has fallen behind in this department, with its predicament accentuated in race trim.
Magnussen described Haas’ Bahrain performance as “hopeless” and was despondent post-race in Azerbaijan, delivering short and terse answers in the wake of another dismal result.
Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner stressed that “we know the cause” – though was coy on precise details – before stressing that “we just need to find out how to fix it.”
“Other people can get it [the tyre window] to work so we need to get it to work,” said Steiner, who was reluctant to pin the blame on Pirelli's altered tread depths compared to what it brought to most 2018 events.
“There’s no point saying ‘Oh, it’s not working’. Nine teams can get it to work. Who’s better? Who’s worse? We are absolutely the worst one to get it to work. I’m very conscious about that one
“It’s very serious, it’s disappointing because you go slower. That’s what it is.
While unwilling to divulge in-depth details Steiner nonetheless provided an insight as to where and why Haas is struggling in race trim more than in qualifying.
“Everyone has got issues with the tyres, you can see it,” he said.
“You go into the graining phase, and then when we go into the graining phase we cannot get out of it anymore because our tyre then gets too cold and then we are done. Then we slide around.
“We’ve got four or five laps, we go fast, then the graining starts to go and then other people recover after the graining but we don’t, because our temperature is too low and we just cannot get it to work anymore once the graining clears.”
“When Kevin went out on the new Mediums [in Azerbaijan] he was pretty competitive for five, six or seven laps and then the graining happens and then we just keep on… But I can tell you our lap time on the temperature graph of the tyre! I don’t even need to look at the lap time, I can tell you where the tyre goes, that is we go slow.”
Tired of tyres? For some fans it can be a gripe that the rubber is so dominant, and it is a view shared by Steiner.
“It’s so disappointing because we’ve got a good car,” he commented. “We shouldn’t always be talking about whether a tyre works or not. It’s interesting but it’s not Formula 1 in my opinion. ‘Did you get the tyre to work?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Oh, then I’m fast.’ ‘My tyre didn’t work so then I’m slow…’ We spend millions and millions to develop these cars and then you’re out of the window and we cannot get going.”
Haas has so far been fortunate that so far none of its midfield rivals have yet stolen a march on the opposition, with fourth-placed McLaren only 10 points up the road. But if Formula 1’s newest team cannot get a grip on its tyre usage soon it can wave goodbye to its hopes of matching its stellar 2018 season.