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 fifth in a series.
I had the chance to chat with a group of Formula One fans at the tweetup this morning, and they gave me an education on the best way for casual fans to start getting more into F1.
First, you have to pick a driver or team from the top group — Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull — or you’ll likely never get the satisfaction of a win. Drivers from the top three teams have won all 16 races so far this season, with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel combining to win 12 of those.
But then fans also need to choose a driver or team from the second group — which is why those people were attending a tweetup on what’s known as Haas Hill.
Though most of them were wearing the gear of their primary driver, the fans said they’ve chosen Haas F1 Team as their underdog pick — and they find that makes the sport more enjoyable.
That jives with what Haas team principal Guenther Steiner and team owner Gene Haas told me Sunday morning when I asked what new fans should know about Formula One.
“The top three teams are typically going to be one to two seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field — but the rest of the field is within a second,” Haas said. “So you can find a lot of excitement watching the cars in the back dice it up, because they’re trying to beat the cars in that group.
“You really have two different races going on here at the same time.”
Steiner said new F1 fans need to pay attention to what’s going on at the front of the field and who is going to be champion. But when they look further down the running order, the appreciation of the mid-pack battle can really add to the viewing experience.
“They need to look at who we race,” Steiner said. “We are not racing for the win, we are racing midfield. There is a big fight going on in the midfield — with Renault, with Toro Rosso, with Williams — which for a new team is quite surprising.
“In the last 20 years, all the new teams who came in are gone already. And all together, they made maybe three or four points (points are only awarded for top-10 finishes in F1). In two seasons, we’ve gotten more than 70 points — and we keep on going. So they should cheer for us.”
In addition, Haas said the pit strategies and tire strategies (there are several different compounds teams use in the race, which are distinguished by color) enhance the experience once fans figure out the complexities.
“If you can start to understand a little bit about that, the whole sport really becomes very interesting,” he said.
But ultimately, one of the biggest differences between F1 and NASCAR is the fastest car almost always wins. And the 10 fastest cars are often the top 10 finishers.
So every single position gained is an achievement against the best of the best, with teams and drivers who travel around the globe to compete at the highest level of motorsports.
“Nobody here gives you a break,” Haas said. “Nobody here would give you a helping hand when it comes to winning a race. So you know when you beat these people, they gave it their all and you gave it your all, and at the end of it, whoever finished ahead wasn’t something that was given to you. You had to earn it.”