After taking part in their first ever home race last weekend at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, America’s only Formula One team, Haas F1 is hoping to enjoy a second ‘home’ event with this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
With one of just two Mexican drivers on the grid in their driver line up, the weekend will be a doubly special event. Esteban Gutiérrez has competed in 56 Formula One races in his F1 career, but never one at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. After watching the return of Formula One to his home country last year from the Ferrari garage, Gutiérrez will finally be able to compete in his home race where the aim is to secure as many points as possible.
Sitting 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) above sea level, the thin air means there is less downforce on the cars and the engines, particularly the turbos units, have to work harder to produce the same power. To compensate for this, teams run more downforce than they would at similarly fast tracks like Monza and Baku. But with top speeds at last year’s Mexican Grand Prix peaking at 366 kph (227 mph), teams will have to compromise between straight-line speed and the downforce necessary to push though the track’s corners but Haas team boss, Guenther Steiner, is confident both their drivers will deliver finishes in the top ten.
Two pretty big race weekends for Haas F1 Team – the United States Grand Prix this past weekend and now the Mexican Grand Prix this weekend. How has it been to compete on home soil and do you expect Mexico to be just as busy?
At home it was a long week – a hard week for everybody as there was a lot of attention on our team and, as everybody knows, we struggled a little bit on Friday and Saturday. Then in the race we made good with Romain, but Esteban had a brake failure which doesn’t make us happy. I think Mexico will be just as busy. It’s Esteban’s home country, and the track does a very good job of promoting the race. It will be busy, but that’s what Formula One is about. It’s definitely better to be busy than not busy.
Do you think back-to-back races in the same region of the world helps raise the profile of Formula One in the United States?
I think it does. These are two events that are very well organized and very well received from the fans. And even for those not in attendance but live in the U.S. and Mexico, these are two races that get a lot of coverage and can be seen without having to stay up really late or getting up really early. So I think there is no problem having these two events back-to-back.
Our cars had good speed at Suzuka in Japan, but finding that same amount of speed at COTA was difficult. What was it about Suzuka that highlighted the performance of our cars and what was it about COTA that hindered our cars’ performance?
Aerodynamically, our cars prefer fast circuits. Also in Japan, we had trouble-free practice sessions, which was the opposite of what we had at COTA. We had troubles on Friday and Saturday, and we struggled just to find the right setup and to get the tires to work. In the slow sections of COTA, in sector three, the car wasn’t at its best. Altogether, it made for a very challenging qualifying weekend, but we made up for it in the race.
How important is it to have trouble-free, productive practice sessions?
It’s everything. Even if you don’t have problems on Friday, if you don’t get the setup right, it makes everything more difficult. It really needs to run perfectly. If you end up good in practice, you tend to end up good in qualifying. And if you do that, you normally end up good in the race.
We had to revert back to the old front wing at COTA after sustaining damage in practice. Will the updated front wing reappear at Mexico and, if so, what impact do you expect it to have at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez?
Romain ran the new front wing all weekend. Esteban did 20 laps on Friday and then we discovered a problem with the front wing. We had to go back to the old version because we had no spare because that was damaged in Japan when Esteban had the contact with Carlos Sainz. These wings are very complicated to make and they take a long time, but we should have the new version of the wing again for Esteban in Mexico.
How competitive is the midfield in Formula One?
It’s brutal. There’s such a small time difference between everyone. In two-tenths, you can be anywhere from 10th to 18th. There is very little in between. If you are on top of it you make it into Q3 like we did in Japan, and if you’re out of it you finish 17th like we did at COTA. It’s very, very close.
With Mexico City being 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) above sea level, how does the thin air affect the car’s performance – from an aerodynamic standpoint and in regard to engine performance?
It’s a one-off on the year. The cooling is very challenging. You need to run maximum cooling, maximum downforce, even with it being a fast track. The engine, for sure, has to work harder. We know that and everyone has the same problem. We all fight the same circumstances.
The Mexican Grand Prix is Gutiérrez’s home race, and it’s home to one of Haas F1 Team’s partners, Telcel. What makes Gutierrez such a good representative for Telcel, Haas Automation and Haas F1 Team?
Having a local hero on the race team is always a good thing to have for Haas Automation and for Telcel. In Mexico, he’s one of the most famous sportsmen and it helps attract a lot of attention.”
You were at last year’s Mexican Grand Prix – the first Formula One race in that country since 1992. What was the atmosphere like?
It was fantastic. There were a lot of people and everything was sold out. I was told they had to build more grandstands to meet the demand for tickets. It’s a very nice event and this is what’s fantastic about F1. You still get tens of thousands of people coming to an event, which is very difficult these days. I hope the same happens this year.