F1 2017 team review: Haas
After an incredible debut season it was always going to be difficult for Haas to make progress in 2017.
2017 expectations vs reality
Haas did extraordinarily well in 2016. Starting life back in 2014, the American team originally intended to compete in the 2015 Formula 1 season but ultimately delayed these plans until 2016 when they felt they would be more prepared.
This decision, as well as a technical partnership with Ferrari which saw F1’s newest runners carry the Scuderia’s power units, paid off handsomely and they hit the ground running, with excellent fifth and sixth places in 2016’s opening two rounds courtesy of Romain Grosjean.
This would be as good as it got though as the struggles of keeping up with the rest of the field’s development soon began to tell, and Haas would only score points another three times, again all courtesy of Grosjean. Despite this, it was enough to beat Renault, Sauber, and Manor, and the newbies finished their first season in F1 eighth.
For 2017, and its shakeup of the aero rules, Haas were perhaps expected to struggle a bit more given their limited resources and the expected improvement of those around them, especially the likes of Renault.
Against all these odds though, Haas were actually able to improve their general performances, and scored points a whopping 13 times compared to five from 2016. The midfield battle this year has been an incredibly tight one though, so unfortunately Haas finished once again in eighth position in the constructors’ championship despite improving their points haul from 29 to 47.
Development record and constructors’ performance
Haas struggled at the start of the year with a double retirement in Australia, but a couple of eighth places at the next few races helped them get off the mark and ahead of the likes of Renault, McLaren and Sauber.
They brought their first big update of the season to Spain and were rewarded with their first double points finish of 2017 in the next event in Monaco. Points may have been more plentiful around this time but for the team’s reliably poor reliability, with both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen being forced out of races with a myriad of issues, from hydraulics to suspension problems.
A big issue for both drivers that continued to rear its head throughout the season was that of the brakes. The team tried changing their suppliers, giving their drivers free choice over what type to use, but were still left tinkering with solutions well into the back end of the season which no doubt affected their potential at many of 2017’s races, and were the source of many moments of frustration from Romain Grosjean on the team radio.
Despite their many ongoing issues, the team scored a strong double points finish in Suzuka, and with Renault still behind them and Toro Rosso in their sights, confidence was high that they might be able to snatch sixth in the standings before the season was over. This optimism was further increased when they brought their last big update of the year in time for their home race in Austin.
Sadly, this final update didn’t provide the boost needed and Haas only scored once more, and were not only unable to catch Toro Rosso, but were overhauled by decent points finishes from Renault’s two drivers and had to once again settle for an eighth place finish in the constructors’.
Given the driver situation at Toro Rosso where two rookies had essentially been thrown in at the deep end, Haas will no doubt feel frustrated that they could not capitalise on this to leapfrog the Italian outfit for seventh.
Driver head to head
In 2016 all of Haas’s’ points were scored by Romain Grosjean with none going to Esteban Gutierrez, so the Mexican was out, and Kevin Magnussen was brought in from Renault to provide more competition for the Frenchman, something he accomplished admirably in his debut year with the team.
It was the Dane who put the first points on the board for Haas with an eighth place in China, but Grosjean soon got back on top with four points finishes in five races between Bahrain and Canada. Magnussen hit back with a strong seventh in Baku, but it was Grosjean who began to open up a lead over his teammate after the summer break.
Magnussen did his best, and managed two eighth places towards the end of the season, but bad luck with reliability cost him a few chances of points and he ultimately finished nine points, but only one position, down on his teammate in the final standings.
In terms of the qualifying battle, Grosjean also came out on top here with a score of 12:8, which is actually one of the more even splits on the grid, and does Magnussen no disservice given that this was his first year with the team.
Haas are clearly happy with their driver lineup as they have retained the same pairing for 2018. I would expect Magnussen to give Grosjean a harder time of things next year though.
Best & worst weekends
Without a doubt the Japanese Grand Prix was Haas’s strongest performance of the year. After qualifying a somewhat lowly 13th and 16th, the Haas pair managed to take eighth and ninth on race day to score their best finish of the season.
This achievement was made even more impressive when you remember that Grosjean had crashed out of qualifying the day before, making the result ample reward for all the hard work of the Haas mechanics.
In terms of worst weekends, it doesn’t come much worse than a double retirement in Australia, but I think for this team, Austin must have hurt even more.
Coming into the weekend with their final upgrade package of the year, Haas were confident of giving the home crowd something to cheer about in Texas. They were still in a tight fight for sixth in the constructors’ championship and a strong team result here could help propel them to the kind of position that many would have scoffed at two years ago.
Sadly, this wasn’t to be and the team’s final upgrade package didn’t do the trick, and it was instead Renault that took a strong finish, with Sainz in seventh, to begin the fightback that would eventually see them finish ahead of Haas in the standings.
Haas themselves were only able to secure one more points finish after this, and will surely look back at Austin, especially following so hot on the heels of the joy of Suzuka, as being a demoralising low point.
Looking to 2018
Despite a relatively static rule change for 2018 and the same driver pairing, factors that would normally encourage a steady push on from the previous year’s performance, I do worry for Haas next season.
This year they finished ahead of McLaren and Sauber, but will that be the case next year? McLaren have finally ditched Honda in favour of Renault and are expected to move up the grid, and with Sauber’s recently arranged partnership with Alfa Romeo (and therefore Ferrari), a deal that was originally touted for Haas earlier in the season, staying ahead of these two teams will likely be a massive challenge.
Let us not forget that Sauber, without a doubt F1’s worst team in 2017, have massive facilities from their BMW days, but just lack the money to operate many of them at full capacity, or at all. With Alfa Romeo’s investment, this won’t be the case any more, so Haas will be keeping a constant look over their shoulder as the 2018 season gets underway.
If you then look ahead of where Haas finished this year, things look a little rosier. I can’t see Haas beating Renault next year, especially given the French team’s improvements this season, but Toro Rosso should be perfectly beatable in 2018.
The Italian Red Bull sister team has taken on Honda power for next year, so unless Honda accomplish something they have failed to do for the last three years and produce a competitive engine, Toro Rosso have to be Haas’s main target to beat next year.
Given all these changes, if Haas can repeat their eighth place of the last two years in 2018, then they will have done very well indeed.