Haas F1 are the Dark Horses of the Sport
An analysis of the history of Haas F1, as well as looking towards its future.
In 2014, Gene Haas the owner of Haas Automation began the process of establishing a Formula 1 team for the 2015 season. Haas was no stranger to the world of automobile racing, having already owned a highly successful NASCAR team for many years. Haas did not end up competing in the 2015 Formula 1 season, and instead elected to begin racing in the 2016 season.
Haas finished 8th in the championship for the 2016 season. While this was a lackluster result, it was still better than many people thought Haas could do. Haas’s 2016 season, and more importantly Romain Grosjean’s performance with the team, got conversations started about the team being a bigger threat than many people expected. Grosjean completely eclipsed his teammate Esteban Gutierrez in 2016 and scored all of the teams points. Esteban Gutierrez was dropped for the 2017 season and replaced by Danish driver Kevin Magnussen following his disappointing season. Haas followed their debut season with another 8th place finish in the championship in 2017. 2018 marked a change in pace for Haas, as both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen performed exceptionally well. The team finished 5th in the 2018 season which came as a huge surprise to many. This 5th place finish left many people wondering if Haas would be able to begin bridging the gap between the midfield teams and the big three teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull). The 2019 season had been hugely disappointing for Haas as they are stuck at 9th in the championship, following extremely poor performance from the race car. Both Grosjean and Magnussen have performed well, but it seems as if every race the car is simply to slow for the drivers behind the wheel.
This disappointing season has left many wondering if Haas was a bit of a one hit wonder in the world of Formula 1. All signs point to this, but Haas themselves are confident in being able to rebound. The 2019 season has been a bit of rollercoaster for the team. They started the season with a strong showing at the Australian Grand Prix, with Grosjean qualifying in 6th and Magnussen in 7th. However that form quickly fell apart, as the team suffered DNF (did not finish) after DNF. To make things even worse, Haas’s title sponsor Rich Energy, backed out of the sponsorship contract following the poor performances. Magnussen has kept up a very solid qualifying form throughout the season, whilst Grosjean has not been doing very well. In a shock move following the F1 Summer break, it was announced that both Grosjean and Magnussen were being retained for the 2020 season. This came as a shock to many following Grosjean’s subpar performance. When asked about the decision to sign Grosjean again in an interview with Essentially Sports, Team Principal Geunther Steiner clarified that the car was the problem in the 2019 season and that he would prefer to keep the focus on the cars issues and not the drivers.
This leads back to what Haas was described as by Sky Sports F1, "the potential dark horse for 2018's early rounds". While that quote pertains to the 2018 season, going into 2020 Haas could definitely still be a threat. Haas’s strategic partnership with Ferrari could be their saving grace going into next years season. Haas’s relationship with the Ferrari team is something that has been heavily scrutinized because of how closely the two teams work. In a 2018 interview with Motorsport.com, McLaren executive director Zak Brown said that the relationship was something that needs to be examined closely. Haas has made use of many of Ferrari’s parts from previous seasons, as well as having their engines supplied by the Italian manufacturer.
While we can’t predict how Haas will perform in 2020, the retaining of Pirelli's current tire compounds for the upcoming season could see Haas continue to struggle. However, the continued partnership with Ferrari, means that a rebound for the team is still very possible. Looking forward to the future, the FIA (the governing body for the sport) has recently released the new regulations for the 2021 F1 season. This means a drastic change in the look of the cars, as well as many technical changes in regards to downforce. Geunther Steiner spoke to Racer.com about Haas’s future following the 2020 season, “I mean, the biggest problem he [Gene Haas] has is with our performance. Who is impressed with the state of F1 if you don’t make money out of it? It’s a big investment”. This leaves open the possibility that Haas F1 Team could be leaving the sport if the 2020 season does not go their way.