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Haas to question F1 future if sport doesn’t become more competitive

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Gene Haas will consider the future of his eponymous Formula 1 team if steps are not made to make the sport more competitive and fix the “almost unsolvable” problem of how to cut the gap between teams.

Since Lotus won the 2013 Australian Grand Prix with Kimi Raikkonen, just three teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – have won every Grand Prix since, starting with round two of that season in Malaysia. The close-knit midfield teams have rarely had a chance to fight at the front of the pack, and podiums for other teams beyond those three have been sparse.

Following its takeover of F1 in January, Liberty Media has been tasked with finding ways to make the sport more competitive and give the midfielders more of a fighting chance instead of making up the numbers – something Haas is keen to see.

“They’ve very patiently listened to us and they’ve talked to all the teams, and they’re formulating a strategy that they’re going to release later this year,” Haas told NBCSN.

“We’re all anticipating how they’re going to solve that problem, because it sounds like it’s a problem that’s almost unsolvable.

“In last practice [on Friday at Monza], the first three cars were all within a second, and the next 10 cars were all within a second.

“There’s a big gap. There’s definitely a big racing gap between the front-runners and the team at the back.”

F1’s youngest team, Haas F1 Team has impressed since making its debut at the start of 2016, but has not finished a race any higher than fifth, the result coming in just its second grand prix.

A number of options to reduce costs and narrow the gap between teams throughout the field have been suggested, including spec parts or a budget cap.

While Haas doubts anything can be done to reduce the gap, he stressed the need for some kind of unpredictability in F1.

“If anything, my point of view is that it’s a gap we can’t reduce. With what our current resources are and what we know, it seems an impossible gap to reduce,” Haas said.

“I think some of it is that the top three teams are maybe quasi-manufacturers, and since they run the whole car and make the whole car, they understand it a lot better.

“So we’re always going to be at somewhat of a disadvantage to the manufacturers who understand the car better than we do.

“But I think there needs to be some kind of a randomness in the sport where even a team in the back has some possibility of winning once in a while.

“Not every race, but if you can never win in this sport, it’s really not going to be much of a sport.”

When asked if he was considering his team’s future in F1, Haas said: “Well we’re certainly committed to Formula 1.

“But if we never have a chance to win, I’d really have to question why we’re here.

“I think every team should have at least some possibility of winning a race once in a while, through a fuel strategy or some alternative.

“But the gap’s so big now that I just don’t see how we can possibly close it.”

Haas currently sits seventh in F1’s constructors’ championship on 35 points after 12 rounds, having already exceeded its score from 2016 thanks to contributions from drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.

By comparison, Mercedes sits on top of the teams’ table on 392 points ahead of Ferrari on 348 and Red Bull on 199.

Steiner: ‘Fantastic’ to have Grosjean, Magnussen firmed up for ’18

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Haas Formula 1 team chief Guenther Steiner is delighted to have drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen firmed up in seats for the 2018 season early, allowing them to focus on their on-track performances under less pressure.

Team owner Gene Haas confirmed in an interview last month that Grosjean and Magnussen would be retained for 2018, the pair signing multi-year deals upon their arrival.

The news stood out as most teams are currently in the process of mulling over their 2018 plans, with Haas set to take no part in the annual ‘silly season’ driver market merry-go-round.

Steiner is happy to have Haas’ 2018 plans already in place, giving Grosjean and Magnussen the chance to build on the team’s impressive start to the year without the pressure of fighting for their futures.

“It’s fantastic. Having our drivers signed up now is the best place to be,” Steiner said.

“They are solid. They work well with the team. There is no uncertainty about who is there.

“They don’t get nervous. They can focus on defending their position and bettering it.”

Haas currently sits seventh in the F1 constructors’ championship after matching the points total from its debut season in less than half as many races in 2017.

Haas’ form has fluctuated at times thanks to the close-knit nature of the midfield fight, with Steiner expecting the momentum to swing between the battling teams when F1 returns from its summer break next weekend in Belgium.

“In Austria, we had the fourth-fastest car, and in Hungary, Renault had the fourth-fastest car. It’s such an up and down in the midfield,” Steiner said.

“Right now, it seems teams like Renault and McLaren have made gains, but maybe it is track specific. Nobody really knows. Everyone is speculating and I don’t want to make a speculation.

“We will do the best job we can in all of these circumstances and try to keep our heads in front of the people behind us and try to catch up to some in front.

“Everybody is trying to do the best they can and we will do the same. To speculate about what others are doing doesn’t help you.

“We just need to work hard and try to make the best out of it.”

Heat gets to some drivers at sun-soaked Hungarian Grand Prix

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Daniel Ricciardo described Max Verstappen’s driving as “amateur” after his Red Bull teammate knocked him out of the Hungarian Grand Prix, while two other drivers were involved in a post-race feud on Sunday.

With the asphalt track temperatures well over 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), the heat in Hungary seemingly got to some drivers.

German driver Nico Hulkenberg was also unhappy with Danish driver Kevin Magnussen.

With less than 10 laps to go, Hulkenberg tried to overtake him on the outside but Magnussen – who earlier this week was openly critical of three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton’s driving during practice – shunted Hulkenberg into the grass.

“I’m all for hard racing but he was just ruthless by pushing me off track,” Hulkenberg said.

They then argued in front of the television cameras in the media area after the race, with Hulkenberg labeling him “nasty” and Magnussen aiming a profane retort back at the Renault driver.

At least those two are on different teams and don’t have to spend any time with each other.

Verstappen, who last season drew stern criticism from Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen for his somewhat reckless style, knocked Ricciardo out of the race on Turn 2 of the first lap.

Verstappen swerved into him left-to-right when going wide on the exit from a turn.

“That was amateur to say the least,” an irate Ricciardo told broadcaster Sky Sports afterward.

Verstappen, who at 19 years old is seen as the future star of the sport, seems to be more aware of his limitations these days.

While last season he was unapologetic over his daring, sometimes abrasive driving style, he seems more mature this season.

Ricciardo earned no points on Sunday. But he did earn something rare in F1: an apology from Verstappen.

“It is never my intention to hit anyone, but especially not your teammate. Especially with the relationship I have with Daniel, it’s always really good and we can always have a laugh,” he said. “I apologize to Daniel for that and also to the team because we could have scored some good points here.”

At least they will seemingly head into the summer break on better terms.

“I’ll speak with Daniel in private and we’ll sort it out,” said Verstappen, who finished the race in fifth and is sixth overall in the standings.

Ricciardo is fourth, with five podium finishes in the past seven races.

“It was pleasing to see Max put his hand up and immediately apologize,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “We all move on.”

The next race, after a month-long break, is the Belgian GP in Spa, nestled in the Ardennes forest.

At least temperatures there will be somewhat cooler.

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”

Grosjean leads Haas into Austria Q3 as suspension issue costs Magnussen

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Romain Grosjean led Haas’ charge during qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday as a suspension issue cost Kevin Magnussen a chance to match his teammate’s Q3 run.

Grosjean finished just half a second behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to take seventh on the grid for Haas and score his best qualifying result since the opening race of the year in Australia.

The Frenchman was forced to stop his car on-track at the end of Q3 due to an electrical issue, inadvertently preventing his rivals from going any faster and shuffling him down the order.

After struggling for much of the season with recurring brake problems, the result offered Grosjean a boost as he bids to add to his points haul on Sunday.

“We’ve been quick all weekend, Kevin and I. We’ve both been pretty happy with the car,” Grosjean said.

“Unfortunately, Kevin had the suspension issue in Q1, otherwise I think he would’ve been up there with us. Inbetween Q1 and Q2 we found some performance. We had good grip in the car. I think we just lost an electric connection on the car at the end. I’m hoping it’s nothing more serious than that.

“It’s a long race tomorrow. It’s going to be tough on the brakes, tough on the engine and tough physically. It’s the second time this year though, after Melbourne, where I feel the tires are working well and I can really enjoy myself and push the car to the limit.”

Magnussen suffered a suspension failure during Q1 when running over the kerbs at Turn 3, and while his time was still good enough to get into Q2, he could take no part, resigning him to 15th in the final standings.

“We were looking good, so it’s really frustrating not getting the whole qualifying. It’s really unfortunate to break the rear suspension,” Magnussen said.

“It’s just bad luck. I think we could’ve gone on to Q3 today and had a really good chance of points tomorrow. Now it looks more difficult.

“We had been performing well all weekend. We had good pace and were in the top-10. I’m gutted not to get anything out of it.”

The Austrian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET on Sunday.