Haas F1 Team entered the first round of the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship with plenty of optimism. Unfortunately, the second-year team left the season-opening Australian Grand Prix Sunday at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne disappointed after suffering a double DNF (Did Not Finish) with drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
The optimism came in the form of Grosjean’s sixth-place qualifying effort the day before. It was the best qualifying performance by a Haas F1 Team driver in all 22 of the team’s qualifying attempts, dating back to its debut in last year’s Australian Grand Prix. The fast lap around the 5.303-kilometer (3.295-mile), 16-turn circuit showcased the speed available from the Haas VF-17, and while Magnussen qualified 17th due to running wide at turn 12 on his qualifying lap, he too felt the potential of Haas F1 Team’s second-generation car.
Grosjean used that potential to his advantage at the start of the race, deftly holding off and then pulling away from the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz Jr. The bottleneck at turn one allowed the Williams of Felipe Massa to get ahead, but Grosjean quickly settled into seventh. A water leak later derailed Grosjean’s run, sending him to the garage after 13 laps.
“I suddenly lost a lot of power,” he explained. “I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car. It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that.”
“I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car. I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points. I’m feeling it right now, but tomorrow I’m going to wake up thinking, you know what, we’ve got a great car, so no matter what, we’re going to be there this year.”
Meanwhile, Magnussen’s first bout of misfortune came on the opening lap when contact with the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson sent him into the turn-three gravel trap. Magnussen powered through the gravel and reemerged onto the track, albeit with a damaged front wing that necessitated a trip to pit lane. With a new wing and fresh tires, Magnussen returned to racing, but well down the running order. Then 11 laps short of the finish, a suspension issue likely stemming from the incident with Ericsson forced Magnussen to retire his racecar.
“I had contact at turn three< he said. “ had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit. We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast. That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”
The end result left Magnussen 15th and Grosjean 20th in a race of attrition that saw five other drivers fail to finish.
Formula One takes a weekend off before returning to action for the Chinese Grand Prix April 9 at the Shanghai International Circuit.