Thursday, January 13, 2022

OPINION: Haas F1 Team at a Crossroads Entering 2022

PHOTO: Beyond The Flag

by Ben Schneider Guest Contributor

As America’s lone Formula 1 team prepares for their seventh season, how do we grade the underdog Haas F1 Team’s performance and accomplishments since their 2016 debut?

If I were writing this three years ago, in the months immediately preceding the 2019 season, it would likely be a resounding A. Haas came into the sport with immediate success as Romain Grosjean scored points on the team’s debut race in Australia with a P6 finish. Grosjean immediately followed this up by finishing 5th in Bahrain and would add three more points finishes by the end of the season, including a P10 in the team’s home United States Grand Prix. While teammate Esteban Gutiérrez failed to score a point in 2016, Grosjean’s 29 total points were enough to give Haas an eighth-place finish in the Constructors’ Championship.

Haas followed this up with another P8 Constructors’ finish in 2017, as Grosjean and new driver Kevin Magnussen combined for 47 points throughout the season. Haas truly broke through in 2018, improving to fifth in the Constructors’, highlighted by both Grosjean and Magnussen finishing inside the top-five in Austria. For a brand new team to jump straight into the midfield and even flirt with the podium within their first three years is unheard of in modern Formula 1, and speaks volumes about the team’s desire to come into the sport and be competitive.

However, I am writing this in the present day, in the months immediately preceding the 2022 season. As such, it’s hard to justify that grade being anything better than an F. Recent bias aside, the lifetime grade would likely average out somewhere in the C or D range, but it’s hard to fathom just how far Haas has fallen in only three years.

The 2019 season began with high hopes as Haas signed Rich Energy as the team’s title sponsor. They even went so far as to contend that they could fight Red Bull “on and off the track.”

This did not happen. In fact, neither Haas nor Rich Energy came particularly close. Rich Energy became an entrenched source of controversy regarding brand legitimacy, copyright infringement, and their contentious CEO William Storey. By July, the brand’s Twitter account appeared to signal a termination of their contract with Haas, and while these reports were initially denied by Rich Energy shareholders, Haas announced the end of their partnership in September before the Italian Grand Prix.

Haas, on the other hand, also took a massive step backwards. To be fair, the Rich Energy saga certainly could not have helped matters, but the team scored only 28 total points as they fell all the way to P9 in the Constructors’, beating only a Williams team that missed the beginning of preseason testing. They also only managed a single point with one of the worst cars in the Grove-based team’s history.

In 2020, Haas managed only three points on their way to another P9 Constructors’ finish. Both Grosjean and Magnussen departed following the season, and in 2021, Haas was faced with an all-rookie lineup of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Both drivers struggled to adapt to a car that Haas elected not to upgrade throughout the season, while Mazepin in particular underperformed compared to Schumacher and found himself in off-track controversy before the season even began. For the first time, the team failed to score a single point throughout the entire 22-race season.

In theory, Haas’ decision to stop development of their 2021 car should increase their resources and strengthen their 2022 challenger. And with the biggest regulation changes since the introduction of the V6 Turbo Hybrid engines on the horizon, many believe 2022 could be an opportunity for the small teams to close the gap to the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren.

In the case of Haas in particular, this season may very well be make or break for the American team. Gene Haas has said on multiple occasions that it makes little sense to remain in Formula 1 long-term if there is no clear path towards competing at the front of the field. After three disappointing seasons in a row, how much longer will he be willing to invest millions of dollars into his team?

Only time will tell.

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