Mid-season F1 review: Haas perplexing, confusing, frustrating

Haas F1 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean

Haas began the year looking to build on a top-five finish but instead it has slumped to the rear of the midfield, confused by a car whose performance over one-lap cannot regularly be converted into race pace, its plight accentuated by scrapping drivers. In the latest mid-season team reviews Motorsport Week takes a look at Haas' plight.

High point: Australia, when everything looked fine and dandy

Low point: Many, many of the races afterwards

Haas picked up in 2019 where it left off in 2018. It was – just about – best-of-the-rest in Australia, denied only a double points finish by a loose wheel, with sixth for Kevin Magnussen surely signalling the start of another promising campaign. But since then it has added only 18 points to its tally, leaving it ninth in the championship, despite being in possession of the fifth-fastest one-lap package. That predicament first arose in Bahrain, where Magnussen came within a fraction of beating Red Bull in qualifying before tumbling rearwards in the race. His demeanour post-race was one of total confusion at the “hopeless” situation in which he found himself. Such an expression has been worn more than once since then. A dismal experience in Azerbaijan prompted suggestions that the VF-19’s use of tyres was the root cause. “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,” speculated team boss and Netflix star Guenther Steiner. “Then we slide around.”

But while there was truth in the tyre trauma it was too simplistic to be the sole cause. Haas’ pace fluctuated somewhere been outstanding and appalling as it continued its head-scratching exercises, its plight exacerbated by the minimal resources at hands. “What is bizarre to me… a car that was good enough to qualify seventh and eighth in the first race is then all of a sudden second-last,” said a baffled Steiner in France. “Don’t ask me what it is, I don’t know. Don’t ask me please because I wouldn’t know. We need to find out, it’s very disappointing, ending up in this situation but also not having an understanding of it, that’s the worst of it all… If you don't know that one [the problem], how can you work on solutions? Because you work on everything, then the best thing is you make a new car.” At the next event in Austria Magnussen qualified fifth but by the first stint of the race was struggling to stay clear of a Williams.

Drastic measures were adopted. Grosjean reverted to a Melbourne-spec car while Magnussen stayed on the current-spec car. Grosjean conceded the update package brought to the Spanish GP immediately felt regressive and left him lacking rear-end confidence. That it took several events for the change to happen was far from ideal. That the drivers’ performance kept fluctuating clouded the picture further. Grosjean faster. Then Magnussen. Then Grosjean. Then Magnussen. How much was down to track temperature? Which car provides the best baseline? Is it track specific? All valid questions. No clear answers. “I think we get closer and closer to understanding more,” said Steiner in Hungary. “But the thing is you get more data and more data and to put that into getting it always is difficult. You get an understanding but then you need to fix it, which is still not easy. But the first thing is to understand what is happening and some of it we understand but some of it is so random, between Q1 and Q2 it is like ‘I don’t know, what can you say’. We didn’t change anything on the car so it cannot be the car. The temperature changed and that changed everything.”

Its warring drivers have not assisted the cause, clashing in Spain, Britain and Germany – the Silverstone swipe leaving Steiner a level of irate that would lead to at least a 9.6 Drive to Survive episode rating on IMDb – though this can be the natural consequence of two similarly-paced drivers squabbling over the same piece of tarmac. The Rich Energy saga was a bizarre sideshow that came at an inopportune time, though at least a responsible adult now appears to be running that company. #OnlyBetterThanWilliams.

Haas’ drivers have spent much of 2019 lumbered with confusing machinery though that does not mean they haven’t had opportunities to shine, or to have mistakes punished. Magnussen has largely had the edge in qualifying and on occasion has grasped the chance to put in an exceptional lap. His Q3 displays in Bahrain, Monaco and Austria were superb, the latter effort coming seemingly out of nowhere as he finished fifth. Only Lando Norris has a better average qualifying result among the midfield contingent. That Magnussen has only three top 10 finishes in the races owes much to the VF-19’s weaknesses, though in Monaco he can consider himself unfortunate to have been hamstrung by Haas’ ineffective strategy. A hefty qualifying shunt in Canada wrecked a weekend that was unlikely to yield much but his exasperated radio message in the race – “this is the worst experience in any car, ever” – did not go down well at Haas. He later apologised. His elbows-out racecraft can also border on the dangerous though until it causes a plane crash he can continue to cite non-punishment by stewards as justification for his approach.

This has been one of Grosjean’s worst seasons in Formula 1 points-wise, his eight so far (four of which are provisional) equalling his tally in the unloved and barbaric-looking 2014 Lotus. He was unfortunate not to score healthily in Australia – where for the second straight year the wheels fell off the wagon – while in Spain Magnussen’s aggression contributed to his fall to the foot of the top 10. Qualifying efforts in Australia and Germany were strong. His assertiveness led to a return to a Melbourne-spec car for the last three races, his experience outlining to Haas that, somewhere, it has gone wrong this year.  There is always one embarrassing moment – for 2018’s Baku Safety Car crash read his FP1 pit lane prang at Silverstone – while his radio messages can remain a source of amusement. He is without a 2020 contract and a handful of drivers have been linked to the team. The next few events could be crucial for his Formula 1 future.

What have you made of Haas' 2019 season? Let us known in the comments section below!