Debut Season Wraps in Abu Dhabi

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Nov. 20, 2016) – At 21 races it is the longest season in Formula One history, yet it has moved through the calendar so swiftly that the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Nov. 27 at Yas Marina Circuit is nearly upon the inhabitants of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Perhaps the pace of the season and the quickness of calendar pages turning is par for the course in Formula One, but for Haas F1 Team there was neither par nor course.

Haas F1 team is the first American Formula One team in 30 years, and 20 races into its debut season it is very much a part of the Formula One paddock. But before cars began turning wheels in anger during preseason testing back in late February and early March at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya, the main question facing Haas F1 Team was, “Are they for real?”

It was a question first asked in January 2014 when team founder and chairman Gene Haas responded to the FIA’s expression of interest. When the FIA granted Haas a Formula One license in April 2014, the question persisted.

The frequency of the query ebbed in September 2014 when Haas F1 Team formed a technical partnership with Scuderia Ferrari. And a year later when drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez were signed for the team’s inaugural season, it injected another dose of reality that Haas F1 Team was, in fact, for real.

Yet for those outside of Haas F1 Team, there was no car to see. No transporters. No tangible evidence that this new team with a headquarters in NASCAR country would be on the grid in 2016.

But then preseason testing at Barcelona happened. Way down at the far end of the paddock, an immaculate trio of transporters sat with a large, red circle “H” emblazoned across shiny, gray paint. Behind the transporters was a sharp-looking entrance to a garage area, further emulating the colors of Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. Inside that garage, attended to by a phalanx of crew members in uniforms matching the team’s branding, was the VF-16, Haas F1 Team’s very first racecar.

At 10 a.m. CET on Monday, Feb. 22, the VF-16 roared to life. With Grosjean at the wheel, it pulled out of the garage and onto the pit lane at Barcelona. The Ferrari 061 turbo V-6 ran flawlessly around the 4.655-kilometer (2.89-mile), 16-turn track, providing a valuable reconnaissance lap for the team to check all the car’s systems. Haas F1 Team had arrived. Proving it was the final testing tally of 474 laps (2,206.47 kilometers, 1,369.86 miles) during the eight days of track time (Feb. 22-25, March 1-4).

It was a very good first impression, but testing is not racing, so the questions about Haas F1 Team persisted. But then came a sixth-place finish in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix followed by a fifth-place result in the second race of the season in Bahrain. And now as the season finale beckons at the 5.554-kilometer (3.451-mile), 21-turn Yas Marina Circuit, Haas F1 Team has 29 points and sits a solid eighth in the constructor standings.

The 29 points Haas F1 Team has earned so far this season are the most of any new team in this millennium. When Jaguar debuted in 2000 and when Toyota came on the scene in 2002, each entity managed only two point-paying finishes in their entire first seasons for a combined total of six points.

It’s a significant piece of history that Haas F1 Team now owns, along with these anecdotes secured on its march toward Abu Dhabi:

  • When Grosjean finished sixth at Australia to score eight points, it was the first time a Formula One team scored points in its debut race since 2002 when Mika Salo finished sixth for Toyota in the Australian Grand Prix.
  • When Haas F1 Team development driver Santino Ferrucci took his first laps in a Formula One car at England’s Silverstone Circuit on the Tuesday after the British Grand Prix, it marked the first time an American driver had wheeled an American Formula One car since Oct. 9, 1977 when Danny Ongais drove a Penske PC4 in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario.
  • When Haas F1 Team took to the track in Austin, Texas, for FP1, it was the first time an American Formula One team had turned a wheel on American soil since the 1986 Detroit Grand Prix when Eddie Cheever and Alan Jones raced for Team Haas, which despite the name has no relation to Haas F1 Team. (Industrialist Gene Haas owns Haas F1 Team while the late Carl Haas owned Team Haas.)

With its debut season nearly complete, Haas F1 Team heads into Abu Dhabi ready to put a period on its first-year effort while simultaneously preparing for its sophomore year in Formula One.

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

Abu Dhabi is the season finale, and it’s also the finale of Haas F1 Team’s debut season. What’s it been like to build a team from scratch and how satisfying has it been to be a part of the team’s success?

“We’ve been building up this team for more than two years – almost three years – so it has been a very exciting and a very challenging mission. I call this year our first season because we showed what we can do, but we worked on it for three years. It has gone so quickly that it’s been incredible. To have the opportunity to start an F1 team – how many people can do that? So for me on a personal level, it was really something. If you’re a kid, you dream of things like this, and we got it done. It wasn’t me on my own. It was a lot of people working with me. How you define success is very difficult, but getting here has been fantastic.”

The way Haas F1 Team is set up is unorthodox, at least by Formula One standards. Does the team’s success validate Haas F1 Team’s approach?

“Thanks to Gene Haas, who had the belief in the idea that we would have to do it differently because more of the same would not work. Gene’s wish was to find a different way. We did and it worked out. I think we surprised a lot of people and I think a lot of people admit it, and I think we are perceived now as one of the 11 F1 teams. Few would think that we are only in our first season, which is more than a compliment and that is what we want to be. We want to be respectable for our own sake and for the sake of F1. I think people look at us now and say they are part of the show.”    

Is there a particular moment from this season that stands out the most for you?

“There are two moments that stand out – going out in Barcelona for the first time with a new team during testing and then going to our first race and scoring points. It was like, ‘Wow, did we do this?’ We’ve had our ups and downs, and we will have more of them, but there have been a few moments that all the team members will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Has the season gone by quickly?

“Every moment is intense. It’s deadline after deadline, challenge after challenge. You just keep on going and you forget that time is going by.”

You’ll end the season eighth in the constructor standings. If someone said at the beginning of the year that eighth is where Haas F1 Team would end up, would you have believed them?

“For sure if you wish something you believe in it, but would I have signed up for eighth? Absolutely. That is what we were going for and we had a good feeling we could achieve it, but nothing is for certain in F1. You need to go out and compete and it seemed to be that eighth was very secure after the first three or four races, but then in the middle of the season somebody could have done a better job than us because we lacked a little in performance. So yes, eighth is what we deserve.”

Was there any way to know how Haas F1 Team would stack up with the other, more established Formula One teams?

“It was an unknown for everyone, but we knew more than the other ones because, obviously, we did the car and we knew what was in it. It’s still a sport and a very competitive sport at that, so people make progress. We progressed this season, but so did everyone else.”

This is the 21st and final race of the longest Formula One season in history. Has the length of the schedule impacted the team in any way? Can the schedule grow, does it need to contract, or is 21 races the limit?

“We didn’t know anything better, but it still impacts us. Everybody’s tired. Everybody’s worn out. You can see it at the end of the season. People are just tired. They have been away a lot of days. It’s tiring, but what can you do?

“If you go over 21 races, I think we should look into maybe having a shorter weekend or making it simpler to get to the races or we need to be cleverer logistically. Otherwise, we run out of days in the year to do races.”

How helpful is your experience from this year as the team builds and develops another new car for next year?

“It definitely helps. You always learn and, for sure, the first year you should learn most of it, but it does not mean we cannot make mistakes next year. But I think we are as prepared as we can be at the moment. It will still be a tough second year for us, so everyone needs to be aware of that. We’ve done a lot of things this year that has prepared us for next year, the most important being having our own data. It will help us, obviously, but we’ll still always be five years behind the second newest team. That will not change. The only thing we cannot make up or buy is time.”

What did you learn from this year’s car build that you’re applying to the 2017 car build?

“We will apply all the lessons we learned this year, and our relationships with Ferrari and Dallara are better because we all know a lot more than we did a year ago. We should be better, but I’m sure there will still be a few déjà vu moments where we had problems last year, we will have problems again this year. But the biggest unknown is how good are the other people? How good is their car next year? We could have a very efficient and better car build, but then the car performance could be down because we don’t know where other people are with their development.”

The Yas Marina Circuit is a showplace. What makes it stand out on the Formula One schedule?

“They did a great job. They made a huge investment to make it a showplace. Everything is there that you would want to have there. There is nothing missing. It’s just state of the art. It’s a fantastic place to go to for the season finale.”

With the race beginning in the late afternoon and ending at night, how much does the track change as the air and track temperatures cool?

“It cools down and, hopefully, that helps us with tire management because we are more competitive when it cools down. Our car seems to prefer a cooler ambient temperature, and like we saw in Brazil, when it got colder, we could get the tires to work in that window. I think it is getting cool enough that we get them in the window in Abu Dhabi.”

As you head into the off-season, how much “off” is there, or is that just a misnomer because preseason testing tends to arrive quickly?

“There is no real offseason. The only off time is between Christmas and New Year’s. Everybody seems to be in a ceasefire in that period. Nobody’s going to attack, basically. So, you can chill out a little bit.”

Romain Grosjean, Driver No. 8, Haas F1 Team 

Abu Dhabi is the season finale, and it’s also the finale of Haas F1 Team’s debut season. What’s it been like to be a part of a team built from scratch and how satisfying has it been to have contributed to the team’s success?

“It’s been a great season. Joining the team for its first year was something special. I wanted to be the first person to score points for the team and a top-five. The next two targets are podiums and wins. Wearing the Haas Automation colors on the podium would be pretty special. For a first year, it’s been a very exciting journey. There have been ups and downs for sure but, generally, I’m very proud of everything we’ve done. After Abu Dhabi there will be time to sit down and see what we can improve for the future, but overall we’ve done very well for a first season.”

Is there a particular moment from this season that stands out the most for you?

“It’s always difficult to pick out one moment from the season because you have so many emotions with all the highs, the ups and the downs. If I had to say something, I’d say Australia, our first race together and our first points. When we got there, things weren’t 100 percent perfect, but we managed to pull something out of the bag and score a sixth-place position.”

Every driver wants to win races, score podiums and earn poles. However, few drivers get to help build a team. You did, and the 29 points Haas F1 Team has tallied this year are the most of any new team in this millennium. Knowing the Formula One landscape, are your accomplishments this year almost like a win?

“Yes, that’s the case for all of us. I said that on the radio after our fifth-place finish in Bahrain. It felt like a win for the team. Twenty-nine points in our first year, being miles ahead of Renault, Sauber and Manor, and not that far off from teams like McLaren and Toro Rosso – that’s a huge thing for us to accomplish in the first year. We’ve had some really good opportunities. We’ve had some that we’ve missed, but generally, our yearly review is a positive one.”

How helpful will your experience from this year be when the team has to build and develop another new car?

“I think it’s pretty important. That’s why the team, especially Gene (Haas) and Guenther (Steiner) wanted an experienced driver to be a part of the project. That’s why they didn’t rush to pick up the first driver back when they were looking to sign someone. So yes, I’m trying to help the team as much as I can. Experience is key to being successful. That’s helped this year, and it’ll be even more so for the future.”

The Yas Marina Circuit is a showplace. What makes it stand out on the Formula One schedule?

“It’s just a great venue. The race starts in the day and finishes in the night. You have sundown in the middle of the race, which is fun. The paddock is amazing. The atmosphere is always good, and you know you’re on holiday after the race as it’s the last one of the season. I’ll still be pushing one last time, though.”

Yas Marina Circuit consists of three distinct sectors. How do you find a setup that suits all aspects of the track, or do you have to compromise in one section to take full advantage of another section?

“Generally, it’s a low-speed corner circuit. The only high-speed corners are turns two and three. Normally they’re taken flat – easy flat in qualifying. The track has some long straight lines, but you mainly want to focus on getting the low-speed corners correct, especially through the last sector. That’s what you have to focus on in Abu Dhabi.”

With the race beginning in the late afternoon and ending at night, how much does the track change as the air and track temperatures cool?

“Race day’s not too bad the way it changes during the grand prix. It’s more in between FP1 and FP2, then FP3 and qualifying, where you’re out at two different times of the day. You have a big difference in track temperature and car behavior. That’s something you need to keep in mind. We don’t have any data from the past. We won’t know what we’re doing in advance between FP3 and qualifying in terms of aero balance and setting up the car. These are things we have to find out for ourselves when we get there.”

What can you do to combat those changing track conditions during the race?

“To be fair, conditions don’t change too much in the race. You’re already racing at the end of the afternoon, so the track temperature doesn’t actually change that much by the time it gets dark. It’s normally not too bad.”

Yas Marina is a smooth track and it seems that it takes a while for the track to rubber in. As the grip level increases over the duration of the race weekend, how do you determine where the limit is from Friday to Saturday to Sunday?

“The most difficult thing in Abu Dhabi is the conditions between FP1 and FP2. You only actually have one session that is representative of the race and qualifying, and that’s FP2. FP1 and FP3 are warm, therefore you have an hour-and-a-half to determine the best setup.”

Do you have any milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Abu Dhabi?

“I won there in GT1 (in 2010 with Matech Competition). That was my first-ever GT World Championship start, and the first race with that team, and we won. It was a pretty good moment taking the win and leading the championship.”

What is your favorite part of the Yas Marina Circuit?

“I quite like the first part with turns one, two and three. It can be fun.”

Describe a lap around the Yas Marina Circuit.

“Straight line to the first corner – it comes pretty quickly – a 90-degree left-hand corner, normally in fourth gear. Turns two and three are then flat out. You go down the hill, braking into (turn) six – very tricky braking turning into six, then straight away into (turn) seven. You need to be well positioned for the hairpin going down the backstraight. It’s tricky to get the car to turn. Long straight line, big braking for the chicane, and again you need to be well positioned between the left- and right-hand side corners. Then it’s another straight line on to (turns) 11, 12 and 13. It’s a triple chicane and as soon as you exit that part you go flat out then brake for turn 14, which is a 90-degree left-hand side corner. Flat out again into (turns) 16 and 17, two right-hand side corners flat out. As soon as you go out of (turn) 17 you have to brake again for (turns) 18. (Turns) 19 and 20, you’re going under the hotel, with a tricky exit out of (turn) 20. The second to last corner is good. It’s high speed in fourth or fifth gear. Then the last corner is very tricky. It’s very wide on the entry phase with the pit lane on the right-hand side. It’s not easy to find a line. Then you go as early as you can on the power to finish the lap.”

Esteban Gutiérrez, Driver No. 21, Haas F1 Team  

Abu Dhabi is the season finale, and it’s also the finale of Haas F1 Team’s debut season. What’s it been like to be a part of a team built from scratch and how satisfying has it been to have contributed to the team’s success?

“It’s been a very nice experience, but with a lot of challenges. There were some very difficult days for the mechanics, working day and night for quite a lot of time, the engineers as well. Being a new team, you don’t have a lot of people that you can really rotate, so it was quite a challenge for everybody, but also for myself.”

Is there a particular moment from this season that stands out the most for you?

“I would say Monza when we got into Q3 for the first time. That was a special moment.”

Every driver wants to win races, score podiums and earn poles. However, few drivers get to help build a team. You did, and knowing the Formula One landscape, are your accomplishments still satisfying?

“I would’ve liked them to be better, but the fact of building a new team was definitely something special – something you don’t really get to live very often in life. We built up something from scratch.”

The Yas Marina Circuit is a showplace. What makes it stand out on the Formula One schedule?

“It’s luxurious and it’s modern. It’s an incredible track. There was a lot of investment in it. Every time you get there it’s like a whole different world, like a Disneyland more or less. It’s nice to get there and have the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.”

Yas Marina Circuit consists of three distinct sectors. How do you find a setup that suits all aspects of the track, or do you have to compromise in one section to take full advantage of another section?

“You have to compromise in the first sector, which is mainly about high-speed corners. Then you have sectors two and three, which are about straight line speed and braking into chicanes and slow-speed corners. You have to manage the tires, and that’s the most challenging part.”

With the race beginning in the late afternoon and ending at night, how much does the track change as the air and track temperatures cool?

“Once you are into the race, it doesn’t really change much. It changes a lot after three or four o’clock and the sun starts to go down and by the time the race starts it’s already on a very good level. Everything is more stable. The temperatures are more stable, the tires are working better and, usually, you can manage them better by not overheating them.”

What can you do to combat those changing track conditions during the race?

“You just have to consider how the balance of the car is going to evolve during the race. Basically, what’s the plan going to be in terms of changing the car balance a little bit through the race with the front wing and with all the tools we have in the car.”

Yas Marina is a smooth track and it seems that it takes a while for the track to rubber in. As the grip level increases over the duration of the race weekend, how do you determine where the limit is from Friday to Saturday to Sunday?

“It’s very simple. You always go to the limit, and then if the limit is on one level, you reach that level. If it goes increasing through the weekend, you adapt to that.”

Do you have any milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Abu Dhabi?

“Abu Dhabi was where I got to test a Formula One car after driving a season in GP2.”

What is your favorite part of the Yas Marina Circuit?

“Definitely the first part, sector one.”

Describe a lap around the Yas Marina Circuit.

“Coming down into turn one, 90-degree corner, very nice entry starting the lap. You approach with full speed in turns two, three and four, which is almost flat out. Approaching into turn five, you enter with a lot of speed, going deep into the braking but, at the same time, optimizing the line into turn six and preparing everything for the hairpin in turn seven, which is one of the most important exits of all. Coming down into one of the longest straights of the track, down into turn eight, very high braking, it’s important to be very consistent between (turns) eight and nine, keeping a very nice balance. You always try to get the nice traction out of turn nine, which is always quite tricky. Coming down through turn 10 into turn 11 for the chicane, which is quite an interesting corner. You want to get the right apex at turn 11 because it’s important to then follow through (turns) 12 and 13. A very challenging corner is (turn) 14 because you have off-banking, which makes the car slide a bit. It’s quite tricky. You come flat out into turns 15 and 16 and you brake with a lot of lateral braking, which is usually quite important to set the brakes correctly. Turn 17 is a 90-degree corner, and (turns) 18 and 19 are a bit similar to (turn) 14 which is a bit off-banking, so it’s quite challenging to get the right grip. Very high-speed corner into (turn) 20, medium- to high-speed corner, which is important to have a good rhythm. Then you come into (turn) 21 with the tires completely overheated and trying to get the right grip for the exit onto the start-finish line.”

The Track: Yas Marina Circuit

  • Total number of race laps: 55  
  • Complete race distance: 305.355 kilometers (189.739 miles)
  • Pit lane speed limit: 80 kph (50 mph)
  • This 5.554-kilometer (3.451-mile), 21-turn circuit has hosted Formula One since 2009, with last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix serving as the venue’s seventh grand prix.
  • Sebastian Vettel holds the race lap record at Yas Marina Circuit (1:40.279), set in 2009 with Red Bull.
  • Lewis Hamilton holds the qualifying lap record at the Yas Marina Circuit (1:38.434), set in 2011 with McLaren in Q2. 
  • The Yas Marina Circuit is a showplace, and it should be considering it is widely believed to be the most expensive Formula One track ever built, with some estimates topping $1 billion. It is a purpose-built facility on a man-made island and it is one of the many new Formula One circuits designed by Hermann Tilke. It is less than a decade old and it features a counter-clockwise layout that boasts a top speed of 325 kph (202 mph) and an average speed of 190 kph (118 mph). It has nine right turns and 12 left turns on a waterfront course that rivals Monaco and Singapore. Its extravagance and uniqueness is best highlighted by these attributes: the pit lane exit passes underneath the circuit via a tunnel and the garages are air-conditioned. Yas Marina has a powerful lighting system, and it lays claim to holding Formula One’s first twilight race.
  • DYK? Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s fastest roller-coaster. Located inside Ferrari World (of course), the Formula Rossa ride reaches 240 kph (150 mph) in less than five seconds and climbs to 52 meters (171 feet) to create 4.8Gs for its riders. And if emulating a drive in a Formula One car isn’t your thing, you can go downhill skiing despite Abu Dhabi’s average November temperature of 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates offers indoor, downhill skiing with 3,000 square meters of snow (32,292 square feet) and an 85-meter high (279 foot) mountain.
  • During the course of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, lows will range from 18-20 degrees Celsius (65-68 degrees Fahrenheit) to highs of 26-27 degrees Celsius (80-81 degrees Fahrenheit). Relative humidity ranges from 29 percent (dry) to 83 percent (humid), with a dew point varying from 10 degrees Celsius/50 degrees Fahrenheit (very comfortable) to 22 degrees Celsius/71 degrees Fahrenheit (very muggy). The dew point is rarely below 6 degrees Celsius/43 degrees Fahrenheit (dry) or above 24 degrees Celsius/75 degrees Fahrenheit (very muggy). Typical wind speeds vary from 0-23 kph/0-14 mph (calm to moderate breeze), rarely exceeding 55 kph/34 mph (high wind).

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

  • Pirelli is bringing three tire compounds to Abu Dhabi:
    • P Zero Yellow soft – less grip, less wear (used for long-race stints)
      • This is one of the most frequently used tires in Pirelli’s range, as it strikes a balance between performance and durability, with the accent on performance. It is still geared toward speed rather than long distances, but it remains capable of providing teams with a competitive advantage at the beginning of the race where cars are carrying a full fuel load, and at the end of the race where the fuel load is much lighter and the race effectively becomes a sprint. It is a high working-range compound.
  • P Zero Red supersoft – more grip, medium wear (used for shorter-race stints and for initial portion of qualifying)
    • This is the second softest tire in Pirelli’s range, and it is ideal for tight and twisting circuits, especially in cold weather, when maximum grip is needed. The supersofts warm up rapidly, which has made it a stalwart choice for qualifying. But with increased grip comes increased degradation. It is a low working-range compound.
  • P Zero Purple ultrasoft – highest amount of grip, highest amount of wear (used for qualifying and select race situations)
    • This is a new tire in Pirelli’s lineup, debuting at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix and last used at the Singapore Grand Prix in mid-September. It is the softest tire in Pirelli’s range, with rapid warming and massive performance. It is best used on tight and twisting circuits that put a premium on mechanical grip. However, because it is so soft, it has a limited lifespan. It is a low working-range compound.
  • Two of the three available compounds must be used during the race. Teams are able to decide when they want to run which compound, adding an element of strategy to the race. A driver can also use all three sets of Pirelli tires in the race, if they so desire. (If there are wet track conditions, the Cinturato Blue full wet tire and the Cinturato Green intermediate tire will be made available.)
  • Pirelli provides each driver 13 sets of dry tires for the race weekend. Of those 13 sets, drivers and their teams can choose the specifications of 10 of those sets from the three compounds Pirelli selected. The remaining three sets are defined by Pirelli – two mandatory tire specifications for the race (one set of P Zero Yellow softs and one set of P Zero Red supersofts) and one mandatory specification for Q3 (one set of P Zero Purple ultrasofts). Haas F1 Team’s drivers have selected the following amounts:
    • Grosjean: four sets of P Zero Yellow softs, two sets of P Zero Red supersofts and seven sets of P Zero Purple ultrasofts
    • Gutiérrez: three set of P Zero Yellow softs, three sets of P Zero Red supersofts and seven sets of P Zero Purple ultrasofts
This article contains: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix