Lotus’ Bouiller: Maldonado can perform well with “proper support”

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It’s happened before for Lotus. Can it happen again?

In 2013, Romain Grosjean was able to transform from one of Formula One’s most inconsistent drivers to one of its better ones, closing the year with four podiums in the final six races.

Now, the Frenchman will be paired with the incoming Pastor Maldonado (pictured), who finds himself with the same “talented but uneven” reputation that Grosjean appears to have shed.

Not many people are giving the former Williams driver much of a chance to perform well next year against Grosjean. But Lotus’ team principal, Eric Bouiller, is standing by Maldonado – telling British F1 broadcaster Sky Sports that he’s confident the Enstone squad can rein in his problematic tendencies.

“I think we just need to make sure he can keep his focus – actually similar issues we had with Romain last year – keep his focus on track,” Bouiller said to Sky’s Mike Wise. “I’m sure that with the proper support and team around him, we can do something nice with Pastor.”

“Maybe there is still some fine-tuning to do with him. And I think one of the most important parts, having talked to him already, is obviously feeling the support of the team behind him.”

After a 2012 season that saw him net five points-paying finishes and his first (and so far, only) F1 win in the Spanish Grand Prix, Maldonado suffered a setback this past year.

The Venezuelan could only squeeze one point out of the Williams FW35 and was unable to hold his own with teammate Valtteri Bottas. Additionally, his relationship with Williams kept getting worse as the season wore on and then culminated with his accusations of sabotage to his car during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend.

All of that – plus his substantial backing from Venezuela state oil company PDVSA, which Bouiller admitted to Sky was a factor in the team opting for his services – has made a poor image for Maldonado that he’ll have to work hard to overcome.

But he’s still a Grand Prix winner and a former GP2 champion, which can be easy to forget at times. You don’t get both those accomplishments by being a bad driver.

So while it may not appear he’ll go blow-for-blow with Grosjean in 2014, perhaps Maldonado can still prove Bouiller right and at least turn himself into a regular in the lower reaches of the Top 10.

Surely, stranger things have happened in F1.

Haas F1 tussling in middle of pack in 2nd season

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For a second-year Formula One team, Haas F1 should be all smiles.

The only U.S.-based team on the grid has faster cars and has already scored more points this year behind veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen than it did in all of 2016.

Yet it’s that sort of success that can both please and frustrate team principal Guenther Steiner and test the patience of industrialist owner Gene Haas: Despite the better results, Haas hasn’t moved any closer to the front of the team standings as it scraps around the middle of the pack while Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull grab all the glory.

“There are so many people fighting for the crumbs,” Steiner said ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix. “I didn’t expect the competition in the midfield to be so brutal this year.”

Still, it’s better to be in the middle of the scrap than left behind.

“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Magnussen said. “When we’re quick, we’re very quick, but our lows have been perhaps a bit too low.”

For Haas F1, this race weekend is a homecoming of sorts. While the team is based in North Carolina, the Texas race is the only one on the calendar in the U.S., making Haas F1 the home “favorite” with American fans even if it really has no chance of winning.

“It would be nice to put a whole weekend together, have good practices, good weather, not wreck your car… kind of like we did in Japan,” Haas said.

The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago delivered Haas F1’s best overall performance this year. It was the first time this season both cars finished in the top 10 and put them at seventh in the team standings with 42 points, one place and already 13 points better than their 2016 finish.

While Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are closing in on another team and drivers’ championship, only 24 points separate the team standings from fifth through eighth place. The most exciting battles and daring drives over the final four races could come from the middle of the pack as teams scuffle for points and the season-ending money that comes with them.

“We’re in that tight pack that ebbs and flows from race to race,” Gene Haas said. “It’s a constant dance around each other for position.”

Haas is still getting used to a Formula One reality that only a few teams have a realistic chance of winning each week and others just dream for a shot at a podium finish. He came to Formula One from NASCAR – where he is still a partner in Stewart-Haas Racing – and a track environment where “at any race, every team has a chance to win.”

Haas F1 impressed the rest of the teams just by not finishing on the bottom in its first season in 2016. That only raised expectations the team could fight its way to the front of the second tier this year. This season began with a thud when both Haas cars failed to finish the first race in Australia. That hasn’t happened since and the team has scored in three of the last five races.

Gene Haas figures reliability problems – a failed suspension system recently knocked Magnussen out of a top-10 finish – have cost his team dearly.

“Right now I feel like our drivers are better than our cars,” he said.

Haas got into F1 with an admitted goal of boosting his commercial enterprises as a high-tech tool manufacturer and he says that’s paying off away from the track. The trick is staying long-term in a very expensive sport that sees heavyweight manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes sometimes double or triple the budgets of other teams.

Formula One has not been kind to small teams that join the grid only to go bust within a few years. Haas is the first American-owned team in the series in 30 years. Three other teams that tried to start from scratch since 2010 – Caterham, HRT and Manor – all collapsed and went out of business. Haas said he as a five-year plan in F1 to see if he can stay longer.

“If you do the five-year plan and you look at (those) teams from the past, their five-year plan was they went out of business. You want to avoid that one,” Haas said.

Grosjean, who signed with Haas from Lotus, said he expects the team to be on the grid for the long haul.

“He’s the best team owner I’ve ever had,” Grosjean said. “He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent. We know the gap is big right now, but that’s where the patience is.”