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Gene Haas targets moving ‘a position or two’ up F1 field in 2017

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Gene Haas believes that his eponymous Formula 1 operation can build on its successful debut campaign and move “a position or two” up the constructors’ table in 2017.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas entered F1 in 2016 with the first American team in over 30 years, and saw Haas F1 Team finish an impressive eighth in the teams’ standings.

Given the struggles of the most recent batch of new teams in F1, most were skeptical about what Haas could achieve, but the American businessman is pleased to have proved his critics wrong.

“There was a huge amount of skepticism at first. I think a lot of people certainly thought we’d run in the back the entire season,” Haas said.

“We did have a lot of support from NBC Sports and all the guys on the broadcast. I think by the end of the season we silenced the critics and, by now, most people see us as a serious competitor.”

Haas has now set his sights on lifting the team closer to the top five in 2017: “If we can do a little bit better because our business model in Formula 1 allows us to operate more efficiently, we might be able to move up a position or two.”

Haas will field a changed driver line-up for 2017, with the retained Romain Grosjean now being joined by ex-McLaren and Renault racer Kevin Magnussen.

Magnussen was targeted by the team for a seat in 2016, only for Haas to sign Ferrari reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez instead.

“Magnussen was actually one of our original candidates. We talked to Magnussen and thoroughly went through his racing resume and we were very impressed,” Haas said.

“Near the end of the [2016] season, we asked Kevin if he might be available and he said he was. On the second to last race weekend of the season, we made our decision and brought him to Haas F1 Team.”

Haas’ new F1 car, set to be called the VF-17, will make its public on-track debut on February 27 during the first pre-season test in Barcelona.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.