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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!’”

First F1 points of 2017 an early birthday present for Grosjean in Bahrain

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Romain Grosjean may have been unable to repeat his magical charge to fifth place for Haas from last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, but the Frenchman nevertheless managed to pick up an early birthday present in the form of his first Formula 1 points of the year.

Grosjean lifted NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas’ eponymous operation to its best F1 result in just its second-ever race in Bahrain last year, finishing fifth.

The pace advantage of the front-runners and close-knit nature of the midfield made a repeat result unlikely for Grosjean in 2017, leaving him to settle for eighth place at the checkered flag.

The result marked Grosjean’s first points of the year, matching the result achieved by teammate Kevin Magnussen seven days earlier in China.

“It was a pretty good race. I made a decent start and my first stint was pretty good, but it was tough to stay behind the Renault,” Grosjean – who turns 31 today – said.

“Then we had the bad luck with the safety car, as we’d pitted just before. I saw [Sergio] Perez come out and I thought: ‘How did he come out in front of me when he’d been 10 seconds behind?’ He gained 12 seconds with the safety car and that cost a position.

“At the restart I struggled a little bit with the top speed. But, eventually, we made the right strategy call and pushed on the good laps with some great overtaking maneuvers. So, here we are, P8. It’s good to be here scoring points.”

With Grosjean and Magnussen now off the mark in 2017, Haas now has two drivers contributing to its F1 points haul for the first time. Esteban Gutierrez failed to score a single point through his one-year stint with the team in 2016.

Magnussen leads Haas to first 2017 F1 points, finishing P8 in China

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Kevin Magnussen led Haas to its first Formula 1 points of the year in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix with a charge to eighth place in damp conditions.

Magnussen joined Haas for 2017 after leaving Renault, but endured a difficult debut weekend with the American team in Australia two weeks ago, qualifying 17th and retiring after an early clash.

Magnussen led Haas’ charge in qualifying to secure P12 on the grid, and was able to negotiate the tricky track conditions well in the early part of the day before settling into a good rhythm in the dry.

Late passes on the Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez lifted Magnussen to P8 at the checkered flag, marking Haas’ first points of the year. It was also the first time a driver other than Romain Grosjean has finished in the top 10 for the team since its arrival in F1 last year.

“It was a good race, I had fun out there. I had a good car all the way through the race,” Magnussen said.

“I’d made a really poor start, so to come back from that and push, I was really happy. The car’s been good today. I was able to look after the front tires, which I think was key, along with working with the team to get the car in the right window.

“The race was really well managed from the team. It was good strategy to get me out on the supersoft after the intermediates. You had to fight for it, in terms of passing. It’s not easy, but you also have grip, so you can take different lines and get close in alternative ways.

“It’s so much more fun when you’re fighting in the points. I’m happy for the team and we’re looking forward to the coming races.”

Teammate Grosjean was unable to bounce back from his Q1 exit and grid penalty, finishing 11th after a luckless race.

“Yesterday was a bit of a joke and today the same guy crashed in front of me on the straight line, so I had to stop. I lost a lot of time,” Grosjean said.

“Then [Marcus] Ericsson at the restart left miles ahead of the car in front of me. I don’t know what he was doing, so I was already on the back foot. [Esteban] Ocon pushed me on the first lap. I lost half of the right-hand side of the car.

“From there I just pushed as hard as I could. I couldn’t really find an opening on [Jolyon] Palmer. Once I did, though, I had some good lap times. We were doing a decent job, but it was already too late.

“It was not easy on strategy. The guys did the best job they could. We saw the checkered flag and the lap times were looking decent.

“I think we had more, but it’s time to look forward to the next race and, hopefully, it’s going to get better.”

Magnussen’s haul of four points lifts Haas to seventh place in the constructors’ championship above Renault, Sauber and McLaren.

Grosjean surprised by lack of F1 start-line drama in Australia

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Romain Grosjean was surprised there was a lack of start-line drama in the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia last weekend following an overhaul of clutch procedure in the winter.

In a bid to make race starts more challenging for drivers, the FIA issued new limits on clutch bite points and paddle placement on the steering wheel, placing greater onus on skill rather than settings.

“Last year, you could shape the clutch map to the clutch. They were a bit rigid where you could drop the clutch, there was a big range on the drop,” Grosjean explained.

“This year, we have to be leaner. If your travel is 10 centimeter, generally you release one centimeter – that’s 10 percent of the clutch. There’s not a place where you can play with a flat map.

“Therefore, you drop it in a good region, and you have to drop it in a perfect percentage for the grip of the track.”

Despite the tweaks, there were very few changes of position off the line at Albert Park, much to Grosjean’s surprise, although the Frenchman is sure that there could be incidents later in the season.

“It’s not easy, starts are complicated. There are a lot of equations taken into account,” Grosjean said.

“It’s pretty tricky to know exactly what to do. We’re not yet the best, but we’re going to keep working hard on it. We have some room for improvement.

“Race starts this year are going to be tricky. I was actually surprised there weren’t any big dramas at the start of the Australian Grand Prix. It may happen in the year.”

Given the difficult nature of overtaking in 2017 due to the added downforce and width on cars, Grosjean stressed that both qualifying and race starts would be more important than ever.

“Some races this year, qualifying and the start will be the key. Take Monaco, there’s no way you’re going to overtake there,” Grosjean said.

“Race starts and qualifying will be very important. Some other races, maybe China, Bahrain and Russia, you may actually see some good fights out on track.

“It’s always going to be important, but not as much as at some other venues.”

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.”