I’m following the American-owned Haas F1 Team through its weekend at the only Formula One race in America: The United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin. This post is the third in a series.
For an organization in only its second year, Haas F1 Team is doing quite well. Twice this season it has had double-points finishes — where both drivers finish in the top 10 — and that’s extremely rare for new teams in an ultra-competitive sport.
The paddock has noticed. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said Thursday that “what Haas has managed to do in the last two years is quite impressive.”
“Two consecutive years in a very demanding sport like F1, competing at a good level, is a great achievement,” Alonso said, also calling Haas’ success “a very good thing for the sport.”
But there are also growing pains for a young team, and one such instance was on display during a rough practice session on Friday afternoon.
In Formula One, teams are allowed to design fancy-looking pieces that help generate downforce. They are attached to the nose, the sides, the floor and even the rear to redirect the exhaust. Unlike NASCAR, there’s no template to measure such things, so creativity rules.
One such instance was a new design tweak Haas brought this weekend. As I mentioned in the Friday morning post, Haas made a big change to a piece of the car called bargeboards, and the enhancement had created some buzz amongst the media this weekend.
The thought was Haas’ design could help its cars perform better in the race. And while that still may be the case eventually, it’s not what happened in practice.
After Romain Grosjean spun early in the second practice session, he told the team via radio it had a “massive, massive, massive” aero problem.
“I don’t think I can do anything,” he said. “(Another run) is not going to work. It’s pointless.”
So what was the issue? Well, after he came back into the garage, the team discovered part of the bargeboard actually fell off. One of the team members thought they saw it on TV sitting somewhere in Turn 20.
That meant the team had to spend valuable time replacing the brackets that held the bargeboards in place — not just on Grosjean’s car, but also Kevin Magnussen’s.
Grosjean said later it was unclear whether the bracket just couldn’t handle the additional load or if the bargeboard fell victim to one of the track’s many curbs. Either way, the team will need to come up with a solution to secure them better.
But that wasn’t even the most dramatic part of practice. After Grosjean spun out, Magnussen almost ran into the back of him while trying to pass later in the lap — and had to dart to the inside of a corner to avoid contact.
“Get out of the way, please!” Magnussen said on the team radio (though Grosjean couldn’t hear him).
“Extremely intelligent there from Kevin,” Grosjean said sarcastically.
Magnussen, who also spun out later in the session and flat-spotted his tires, said in an interview afterward the near-incident was just a “miscommunication.”
“There’s no problem there,” he said twice.
“It was a bit close, but that was fine,” Grosjean said in a separate interview, adding the two drivers didn’t discuss it. “Not a big deal.”
Ultimately, Grosjean finished the session in 20th — last — and Magnussen was 14th. Fortunately, there’s one more practice on Saturday before the all-important qualifying later that afternoon.
“Yeah, it wasn’t our best Friday,” Grosjean said.