Haas knew from the outset that 2021 was going to be a tough season. And so it proved: For the first time in the team’s short, six-year history, it failed to score a point and sank to last place in the constructors championship.
That marked a nadir for a team which surprised some and infuriated others when it scored points on its debut in 2016, thumbing its nose at F1 convention as it did so.
Owned by Gene Haas and run by Guenther Steiner, Haas took maximum advantage of recently-introduced rules which allowed teams to source certain parts from rivals. It leant on its association with Ferrari as heavily as the rules permitted, and prompted debate over so-called ‘B-teams’ even before it recorded sixth and fifth place finishes in its first two events.
At the end of its first season, Haas was eighth in the points. Two years later it rose to fifth, aided in part by Force India losing the points it scored over the opening half of the year after being sold to Lawrence Stroll (it now competes as Aston Martin).
But in the following years Haas lost its way. It laboured throughout 2019 trying to get a handle on persistently poor tyre performance. Then in 2020 Ferrari’s power unit was outclassed by the competition and Haas suffered by association; the manufacturer team, with vastly greater resources, could only finish sixth in the championship, while Haas took ninth.
Its financial situation was also increasingly strained. The loss of its energy drink brand title sponsor in 2019 didn’t help, then the pandemic struck. Steiner said the team’s greatest achievement in 2020 was merely survival.
That was achieved by releasing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, hiring a pair of rookies who brought backing to the team, and doing virtually no development work on their 2021 car beyond that which was needed to make it comply with the revised regulations for last year.
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While Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin learned the ropes during 2021, Haas regularly brought up the rear in qualifying. Schumacher in particular improved as the year went on, and even made rare forays into Q2, but a points finish was never a realistic possibility.
Heading into 2022, Haas expects to benefit partly through how its connection to Ferrari has evolved. “The relationship I wouldn’t say has changed dramatically,” said Steiner last week, “we always had a good relationship.”
However part of the Haas design team is now found at Ferrari’s base and has experience of working on the Scuderia’s cars. Their technical division is headed by Simone Resta, a former Ferrari man.
Steiner explained how the arrangement arose and how it is done in accordance with FIA rules which police the extent of co-operation between teams. “You cannot do more just because we are now sitting in Maranello, that was convenient. There were offices available because of the budget cap coming in and Ferrari had planned already the building. So we took advantage of that, that there was office space available.”
The new financial regulations introduced last year tipped the balance in favour of smaller teams, and Haas is the smallest. It also meant larger teams like Ferrari had to reduce its headcount, and in their customer team a ready solution was found, one which even allowed the staff to remain in Maranello.
“We have about 30 to 35 people from Ferrari which moved over to us because of the budget cap in F1,” says Steiner. “But the relationship, the collaboration hasn’t changed better or worse, it’s very much the same. It’s that we are sitting now inside Maranello with a large group of people.”
This is partly an evolution of what went before. “We always had people in the wind tunnel office because we have got two offices now in Maranello, one in the wind tunnel and one where the designers and the others sit in the week,” said Steiner. “But when we are in the wind tunnel session, we always had an office that our people could sit down and didn’t have to stand around just in the control room of the wind tunnel.”
The most eye-catching changes in the much-vaunted new 2022 technical regulations are the dramatic new bodywork, simplified suspension and larger wheels. However the definitions of several car parts have also been revised and altered, and as a consequence Haas cannot rely quite as heavily on Ferrari as it used to.
What remains unchanged is Haas’s strategy of obtaining the maximum available from the manufacturer, as Resta explained. “From a supply perimeter point of view, we try to maximise all the opportunities with Ferrari,” he said.
“We are the smallest team on the grid, so therefore for us it’s important to try to maximise those opportunities. The regulations have changed in a measurable way between last year and this year with the new components specification, et cetera.
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“So naturally, you can purchase from Ferrari fewer things and slightly different perimeter. But in short we are trying to take everything that is possible within the technical regulations.”
The new rules are also expected to narrow the performance gap between the teams. This is unlikely to be the case from the outset as teams grasp the full possibility of the new rules for the first time, but as Resta notes, “the amount of freedom that the new technical regulations have left to the designers is reduced is compared to the past.”
Haas have given themselves the best possible chance to exploit them fully by focussing their efforts on 2022 from the outset. Under the aero handicap rules, having finished second-to-last in 2020, they have also enjoyed the benefit of more development resources than any of their rivals bar Williams.
The team also goes into 2022 knowing Ferrari’s 066/7 power unit is much improved. They never ran the upgraded version introduced by the Scuderia at the Russian Grand Prix last year, and further developments are planned in time for the new season.
So, after a gruelling couple of seasons, Steiner believes he can see a path back to competitiveness for his team. “I cannot judge how the car will perform because obviously I haven’t seen the other cars,” he offers as a caveat. “But what I see is we had good cars, for example in ’18 – even ’16 and ’17 for a new team we had pretty good cars – I just see similarities to that time. That is the only thing I can judge the performance what I expect from the car.
“I always say I’m cautiously optimistic because I see this, how Simone and his group developed the car over the last year, how hard they worked on it and the results from the wind tunnel, the improvements they do each session. It’s the only thing I can compare and that makes me cautiously optimistic.”
“In the end I am pretty happy,” he adds. “We had two tough years but what kept me going was actually what the people did in ’21 back in the design office and in the aero group.”
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