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Steiner: Ferrari F1 engine as good as Mercedes’, ‘if not better’

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Haas Formula 1 chief Guenther Steiner believes that the Ferrari power unit used by his team is just as good as that offered by Mercedes, “if not better”.

Mercedes has been recognized as producing the best power unit in F1 since the introduction of the new V6 turbos in 2014, with its works teams sweeping to three straight championship-doubles.

Ferrari looked to make gains over the winter with its power unit, and managed to defeat Mercedes at the season-opener in Australia as Sebastian Vettel took his first race win in 18 months.

From his experience with the customer Haas team, Steiner was full of praise for the Ferrari power unit, believing it to be at least equal to what the Mercedes teams are racing with.

“With the engine, there is not just one area that is better, it’s the whole package that has improved from last year,” Steiner said.

“It’s now as competitive as a Mercedes engine, if not better. Ferrari won in Australia, but everybody is developing and trying to get better.

“It’s always going to be a development race. They’ve made a good step, and without that help from Ferrari, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Haas saw its hopes of scoring points in Australia end in disappointment as both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen retired, the former running seventh on-track before a water leak forced him out of the race.

Despite the setback, Steiner said that Haas remained “cautiously optimistic” heading into the second race of the season in China on April 9.

“We need to still prove that our performance wasn’t a one-off. It’s very tight in the midfield,” Steiner said.

“On a good day, you could be on top, but on a bad day, you could be at the back. The other midfield teams have shown that this can happen.

“I think we surprised a little bit with our performance, especially Romain qualifying sixth with his lap, which was four-tenths faster than [Felipe] Massa’s. That’s pretty good.”

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.