Haas has the green light, but there’s a long road ahead

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After months of rumors, paperwork and deliberations, it was formally confirmed yesterday by the FIA that Gene Haas’ proposed Formula 1 team had been given the green light, and as a result a berth on the grid for the 2015 season. Cue jubilation for American fans of the sport: a home team might be lining up at the Circuit of the Americas in fall 2015, and perhaps an American driver might be behind the wheel of one of its cars.

Undoubtedly, this news is fantastic for Formula 1 in the United States, but there is still a long road ahead of Haas and his team.

The initial plans are yet to be formally confirmed, but Haas is poised to set up a European base for his team that will work in tandem with operations in the United States. Of course, one of the big challenges for any team based in North America is the sheer distance of travelling for a largely European season. It is for this reason that most of the teams choose to set up shop in the UK.

Haas is thought to be considering a location in Italy for his team, as it is set to enjoy some ties with Ferrari. The Italian marque is poised to supply engines to the team, and it could be that this allows the team to put its junior drivers in a race seat at Haas. Raffaele Marciello is currently Ferrari’s leading light outside of F1, and might be their pick for a drive with the team. Another possible option could be James Calado, who has recently signed with Ferrari’s AF Corse GT team for the World Endurance Championship after finishing third in GP2 last year.

In terms of the management, former Red Bull team principal Gunther Steiner will work as the team principal with Haas taking up the role of chairman. The chassis is set to be designed by Dallara, who last worked with HRT F1 Team in Formula 1. The team’s lack of success with its chassis was because it could not pay Dallara for regular updates, so it is perhaps not the best example of the designer’s work.

Although distance isn’t such an issue, timing certainly is. The tender from the FIA does allow the team to line up in the grid in 2015, but the season is just 11 months away, with testing starting a month before that. It is a short amount of time and a big challenge for Haas and his team, but if the stars align and there is a big enough push, it is entirely possible. Should the team fall short, 2016 is still an option. Next year isn’t ‘all or nothing.’

Of course, the last time that an American team was poised to join the grid was USF1’s failed entry back in 2009 and 2010. As a result, the skeptics (of which there are many) have immediately pointed at this and said “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

The big difference here is that with Haas, a successful racing team and automotive company is in place; it already exists. It is not a privateer team as such (i.e. an entry requiring backing), but instead an outfit that has already met considerable success in NASCAR, with Haas being co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

If we forget the possible connection to Ferrari for a second, the drivers already in the race will be Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly. Both drivers are fantastic talents and the finest American drivers on the F1 ladder. However, the rumor mill will predictably throw drivers currently racing in IndyCar into the mix. As with any new team, it will relieve some of the pressure that has existed in the driver market – i.e. too many good drivers for too few seats – over the past few years.

And there is also the question about whether Haas will indeed be the 12th team on the grid. Caterham owner Tony Fernandes has suggested he could quit the sport if the team doesn’t start improving soon, and Marussia has also undergone a change in ownership of late. Lotus and Sauber also hit financial problems last year, and although the latter’s have now been resolved, the issues at Enstone are still very real.

Furthermore, a team called Forza Rossa is still being considered by the FIA for a berth on the grid, which is a Romanian Ferrari dealer that has links to former F1 team principal Colin Kolles.

The road ahead of Haas and co. is long, yet this is a different animal to USF1. Cautious optimism is what we should have when talking about an American Formula 1 team led by Gene Haas, but it would certainly be great to see his cars line up on the grid for the 2015 United States Grand Prix.

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.