How Haas delivered its F1 "game changer"

How Haas delivered its F1 "game changer"

After expressing fear over the winter that he could start the year behind, and potentially even find himself last in line, his situation is much better than that. In the middle of the pack of five teams bringing up the rear, its total so far places it seventh in the constructors’ championship.

But the biggest transformation at Haas isn’t measured in points. Instead, it can only be assessed in terms of mindset, and it’s something that drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg have openly bragged about.

They speak of a completely new attitude, of the team which no longer approaches the race day with the fear of losing in the classification because of tire degradation problems. Hülkenberg liked that it was “a runaway train in the wrong direction.”

Instead, his new car and engineering-focused approach have left him with a challenger who allows him to look forward to being in the fight on Sunday – and that’s the key to consistent points.

As Magnussen said: “The fact that we can fight on Sunday is such a big thing. It’s a game changer. It was so frustrating last year, and even in 2022 we saw signs of it. But Yes, it’s like a new fresh start.”

Asked about Magnussen’s game-changing assessment, Hülkenberg added: “It’s definitely that we’re in a different environment and a different world compared to last year.”

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-24

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Ultimately, the biggest gain came from changing the Haas car’s features from looking rather sharp to more innocuous.

“We flattened the aerodynamic map, desensitizing the car,” Hülkenberg added. “That seemed very crucial and key at the moment.”

But switching from a Saturday car to a Sunday car doesn’t happen with just a single click. Teams don’t just draft a design that’s automatically softer on its rubber.

Improved tire management is the culmination of aerodynamic and mechanical approaches, and it is these two factors that have come together to contribute.

And while progress is promising, technical director Andrea de Zordo is keen to stress that it would be wrong to suggest that Haas has met all of its tire expectations.

“To fully understand is a big word!” he said. “But I think we’ve taken a big step forward.”

He sees progress as a twofold thing. First, the VF-24 design turns out to be better in this area, not by chance, but not entirely by choice.

Reflecting on the dramatic change this winter, de Zordo said: “I think we learned a lot, but at the same time I think there are some features that maybe weren’t even expected.

“That’s how, for whatever reason, you pay more in the race than in qualifying or vice versa. So this year the car is maybe a little bit better in the race, and it was probably also a surprise for us.”

“But the good thing is that we look at it and understand step by step what the reason is – both from the mechanical and aerodynamic side. Then, looking at that, we try to work in one direction which is good for both.”

Big lessons were also learned from pre-season testing in Bahrain, where Haas focused on long-term performance to understand all the dynamics at work with their car.

“It allowed us to discover a lot of things,” de Zordo added. “Maybe little details in the settings and features that make everything a little clearer. I think ultimately the problem we had last year depends on many things, not one only thing.”

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-24

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-24

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“It was the aerodynamic characteristics, the settings and the riding style. And it seems like we tried to put everything together. A lot more understanding this year. And we also know a lot of things we can do.”

“Of course it takes time. So we’re working on it. And that’s quite encouraging because it probably means we can improve over the course of the year as well.”

Team boss Ayao Komatsu also spoke about a car that isn’t necessarily faster in every area, but is better where it counts.

“It’s not like we have more grip overall, because if you look at the performance in the high-speed corners, I don’t think we are much faster than last year,” he said. he declares.

“But in terms of, let’s say, usable downforce on the rear in particular, it’s much better. So the drivers know what to expect.”

“Last year’s car was so unpredictable, so difficult to use, that no matter what we did in terms of set-up or driving, it still fell.

“But with this year’s car, it has just enough consistency. Even though it’s not fast enough, there’s still enough consistency that we can make a difference. So the basics are there, so now we really have to try to get improvements on the car.

That challenge begins this weekend in China, where the team plans to showcase its first upgrade package for 2024.

And on a sprint weekend, where there will be two qualifying sessions and two races, it will be fascinating to see if the team can build on what has been a hugely encouraging opening to the new campaign and continue his life in his different world.

Watch: F1 Chinese Grand Prix 2024 Preview – Everything You Need to Know


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