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The hard lesson of 2019 behind Haas’ cautious development of its best car in years RaceFans

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Red Bull Ring, 2019

The risk Haas took last season to forgo development work on their 2021 car to focus all their efforts on their new car before the radical rule changes in 2022 was a risky gamble.

But it was one that paid off immediately as Kevin Magnussen put the VF-22 seventh on the grid during the first qualifying session in Bahrain.

With 15 points over the first four rounds for Magnussen, it was a promising start to the season for the team. However, while their rivals continued to improve their cars with upgrades, Haas kept their car essentially in the same specification as at the opening race, with only minor track-specific adjustments. meanwhile, many of its closest rivals have made major changes to their cars.

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner sat with the media ahead of the French Grand Prix and said he is “as sure as I can be” about the team’s first major upgrade package to be introduced this weekend for the Hungarian Grand Prix – even if he was silent about what would change.

Haas got off to a brilliant start to 2022 in Bahrain

“I can’t tell you anything,” Steiner insisted. “I don’t want to tell you – I want to surprise you! It’s like when it’s your birthday next week – when I tell you what I’ll be gifting you, there’s no surprise…

“It’s quite a big upgrade,” he continued. “You can see it in the car without having to investigate ‘is this different?’ There will be changes. It’s quite a big package.”

After starting the year with fifth place in Bahrain, Haas scored more points in Saudi Arabia and Imola. A pointless weekend in Melbourne, where they were off the pace, seemed like a blip.

But then came five scoreless races between Spain and Canada, dropping Haas to ninth place in the Constructors’ Championship. Steiner says their weakness of the car is getting to know them at high speed.

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“In Australia we don’t really know,” he said. “We were way off with the set-up and then I think we were a bit confused.

Despite some changes, the VF-22 still runs competitively

“Then the high-speed tracks, they’re not really good for our car – that’s my opinion on that. Hopefully you won’t have the proof at Monza and Spa, but I think our car is a bit towing. You can see from the top speed that we are down.”

Despite not getting any major upgrades, Magnussen and teammate Mick Schumacher began to discover more of the car’s performance around the Canadian Grand Prix. That was followed by their best part of the season at the British and Austrian rounds, where both cars finished in the points in both races.

“I think the last two races [Britain and Austria] If you said we did better than we expected, I’d say yes to that,” admits Steiner. “It was possible, so we have to try to replicate that.”

While they haven’t introduced any major new parts to the car, Steiner believes they have “learned a lot in recent races on how to make the car better” by analyzing and perfecting their existing package to get more speed out of what they have. .

“Someone told me, ‘Look at an F2 car, over the course of the year they go a second faster,'” he explained. “It’s that they have drivers who get more out of the car. It is the same car as the beginning of the year.

So I think it’s the same when you have an F1 car, the more you drive it, the better you get on the track in FP1, the way you develop it because you’ve done things. If the driver says ‘the car isn’t doing this’, you know what to do. But at first you’re kind of like ‘hey, let’s try this, let’s try that’. I think it’s very logical that that happens.”

Steiner appreciates this because of the team’s experience three years ago. “Having a solid foundation and understanding it — it’s always very important,” he said. “I learned that the hard way in 2019, where we were honestly completely confused.”

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The team’s experience with its 2019 car, the VF-19, is one of the most notable warning stories of recent times, showing that simply upgrading to a car isn’t always the easy way to better performance.

Guenther Steiner, Haas Team Principal, Paul Ricard, 2022
Haas aims for sixth place in championship, says Steiner

After introducing major upgrades over the course of that season, Magnussen and teammate Romain Grosjean found that their car’s balance inexplicably became even more unpredictable as they introduced new parts designed to solve the car’s problems. The situation became so difficult that Grosjean even returned his car to its original specs to find out what was causing their problems.

“With the 2019 car, the upgrade never worked,” explains Steiner. “We tried hard, but we never succeeded. I hope this is different.

“For starters, that’s why we took it a little longer and made sure – as much as we can in the wind tunnel and simulations – that it works. I’m as confident as I can be, but I think now that we have the platform that we understand and put our new parts on it, it should be pretty much right on the boat. ”

After climbing back to seventh in the Constructors’ Championship, Haas is slowly sneaking up on sixth-placed Alfa Romeo, which is in the midst of a three-race run with no points. When asked whether he thinks Haas should be seventh in the standings, Steiner is cautious about setting public targets for the team in the second half of the season.

“I don’t think anyone ‘should’ be anywhere — you have to earn everything,” he insisted. “But I think seventh place is something you can strive for to stay – it’s not unrealistic. It’s still hard work, but it’s not unrealistic.

“In racing, of course, you give yourself a target where you want to be – and it’s always one step ahead of where you are now. You want to be sixth now. When I say ‘oh, we can get third’, you’d say ‘bollocks’, you know? But when I say ‘yes, we will try for the sixth’, I have said ‘we will try’ – I have not told you ‘we will be sixth’, but ‘we will try for the sixth’.

“At the moment seventh place is a nice place, but we still have to work hard to stay there, because nobody sleeps.”

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