Pain in the Haas down under reveals a much improved team spirit

Kevin Magnussen testing in 2018 (photo by Alberto-g-rovi)

There was a limited amount of overtaking in last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix. In fact, it was particularly notable how often a faster car was clearly stuck behind a slower car (Max Verstappen seemed to take the brunt of things in that respect).

But it was still a highly intriguing race with lots of talking points. Among them is the story of Haas’s race. Verstappen’s first frustration was behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, who managed to jump the superior Red Bull Racing car at the first corner.

That’s not to say that the Haas is a bad car. They were running 4th and 5th, and looked set to score their best-ever result.

But the same human error during pitstops caused both cars to retire within minutes of each other. Each had a cross-threaded wheelnut, meaning the wheel was not safely attached.

It would have been easy to point the finger and throw the poor mechanic under the bus. But I was very impressed with two aspects of the Haas team’s response.

Firstly, the widely-shared video of Romain Grosjean consoling his mechanic. Grosjean must have been as gutted as anyone to lose a potential 5th place finish. But he appeared to take the lead to reassure his teammates not to worry.

Meanwhile, Haas team boss Guenther Steiner was impressive in his reaction on BBC Radio 5 Live’s post-race podcast.

It’s not one person’s fault. We know why it happened. We didn’t have enough [pitstop] practice this weekend because we were so busy working on the car. Everything was late. So we had a little bit too little practice. You know, it’s the first race. People are tired, and things like this can happen. You know, you cannot blame the individual. For sure, it wasn’t right what he did, but it wasn’t his own fault — it was the fault of the team.

A transformed attitude

All of this is in stark contrast to the negative blame culture that Haas appeared to suffer from in previous years.

We have seen Esteban Gutiérrez losing his temper in the Haas garage, throwing his gloves in the garage before being reprimanded by Steiner in front of the world’s TV cameras.

Then there have been Grosjean’s continual issues with Haas the car, particularly with brakes. This saw the team appear to become weary of the driver’s complaints.

At one point, an engineer even straight-out told Grosjean to “shut up” over the radio.

A sign of a good year to come for Haas?

Haas’s first two seasons in F1 have seen mixed fortunes, with early potential failing to be reached. 8th place in the constructors’ championship is not bad going for a new team. But with heavy support from Scuderia Ferrari, they may have expected more.

2018 is already looking like a much more positive situation. Going by initial indications from testing and Melbourne, Haas look like they may have the fourth fastest car on the grid. This means they are punching above their weight, ahead of established titans like McLaren and Williams, and big-budget manufacturer Renault.

Their positive approach to a crushing situation in Australia is perhaps the best indication of all. It appears that Haas know they have a good year ahead of them.

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