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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.

Renault banks first double Q3 run since return as works team

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The signs of Renault Sport F1 Team’s improvement were evident in Saturday night’s qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix (Sunday, 10:30 a.m. ET, CNBC), with the team getting both its R.S.17 chassis into Q3.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified seventh, ahead of Felipe Massa’s Williams and Romain Grosjean’s Haas, while Jolyon Palmer made it into Q3 for the first time in 24 races thus far in his Formula 1 career, and will start a career-best 10th.

The result is the best in qualifying for the Enstone-based team since Renault came back in as a full works constructor prior to 2016.

The last time this team in a previous guise got both cars into Q3 was at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. On that day, Grosjean qualified fourth and Pastor Maldonado eighth in what was then known as a Lotus-Mercedes, but with Grosjean incurring a five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change. So Grosjean started ninth, Maldonado seventh, and Grosjean promptly delivered both his and Renault/Lotus’ most recent podium finish with a surprise but welcome third place finish after Sebastian Vettel incurred a late puncture.

A podium is likely out of hands for this team tomorrow; Hulkenberg remains in search of his elusive first podium of his career while Palmer has only scored one point thus far. That said, a chance for big points is on offer; Renault hasn’t got both cars in the points since the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix, when Grosjean was eighth and Maldonado 10th.

For Renault’s scores last year, Palmer scored in Malaysia (10th place) while Kevin Magnussen scored in Russia (seventh) and Singapore (10th).

Renault is in search of its first points this season and Palmer estimated a chance for a good haul is there for the taking on Sunday.

“It’s been a much better day, yeah,” Palmer told NBCSN at the end of the session. “We’d had such a tough weekend. We sorted some balance issues and made it through.

“I made a bit of a hash in Q3 so had to put it into recharge mode. But I’m still happy. It’s good to be into Q3 and have a chance to get points.

“I think it was a competitive long run for us. If we keep it clean, we should get some points.”

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, Palmer hit with grid penalties for Chinese GP

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Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer will drop to the back of the grid for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after failing to slow for yellow flags during Formula 1 qualifying in Shanghai.

Grosjean and Palmer qualified 17th and 18th respectively on Saturday, with both drivers failing to make it out of Q1 after their final laps were hampered by yellow flags shown following a crash for Antonio Giovinazzi at the final corner.

Both drivers completed their laps, much to the disapproval of the stewards, who felt that the drivers did not make a sufficient enough attempt to slow.

“The stewards heard from Romain Grosjean, the driver of car 8 and the team representative and have reviewed the video evidence which clearly showed that the driver attempted to set a meaningful lap time after passing through a double waved yellow marshalling sector, contrary to the requirements set out in the Race Director’s Event Notes,” the stewards’ report for Grosjean reads.

“The Stewards also took into consideration that the driver made no attempt to significantly reduce his speed in the area of a double waved yellow flag.”

As a result, both Grosjean and Palmer have been handed a five-place grid penalty, causing them to drop to the final row of the grid. Grosjean will start 19th, with Palmer propping up the order in P20.

Grosjean was far from impressed by the penalty, taking to Twitter to share the data of his lap to prove that he slowed down.

The penalties lift Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon off the back row of the grid, moving up to P17 and P18 respectively.

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.