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Haas: 2017 line-up change key to see if issue was driver or team

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Haas Formula 1 chief Guenther Steiner says that the decision to drop Esteban Gutierrez in favor of Kevin Magnussen for 2017 was a key step to see if the driver or the team was behind the No. 21 entry’s failure to score a point last year.

Gutierrez joined Haas for its maiden season in F1 last year, partnering Romain Grosjean, but failed to pick up a single top-10 finish across the course of the year.

By comparison, Grosjean scored 29 points, highlighted by a charge to fifth place in the team’s second outing in Bahrain, impressing the F1 world.

Despite being backed publicly by Haas’ chiefs, Gutierrez was dropped at the end of the year in favor of Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, who signed a multi-year deal starting in 2017.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Haas team principal Steiner said that the change was key in understanding where the problem lay in 2016, with Magnussen being high on the shortlist to replace Gutierrez.

“Very simply, you try to improve. Esteban didn’t score any points last year, and it was also important for us to see if it was the driver or us not delivering,” Steiner said.

“That’s why we decided that we need a change. There are not too many drivers in the league of Kevin – and we knew Kevin already, as we had spoken with him already the year before.

“So we talked again and it didn’t take long to come to an agreement.”

Magnussen made an early impression at Haas by scoring points in just his second grand prix, finishing eighth in China.

The Dane appears to have found stability in F1 after a rocky start to life as a grand prix driver, having been dropped by McLaren after his rookie year despite being touted as one of the British marque’s finest young talents.

His story is not dissimilar to that of Grosjean, who was also dropped after a handful of races with Renault in 2009 after replacing Nelson Piquet Jr.

Grosjean went away and won the GP2 title in style, securing a return to F1 in 2012 with Lotus, and has since established himself as one of the sport’s brightest talents.

“I agree that both had some troubles in the past, but difficulties make you better, and both are still in F1, so there must be more to it,” Steiner said.

“But to be fair, we never really investigated why they had to leave teams. We took them as individuals who would suit our mentality at a time when they were free and we wanted them.

“I think they fit pretty well into our team – maybe we are a bit troubled as well! There is the American saying: ‘What makes you suffer makes you tougher!’”

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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