Haas F1 Team on the Rise as it Readies to Race in the Land of the Rising Sun
The Japanese Grand Prix marks the fifth to last event in the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship, and fifth-place Haas F1 Team is eyeing Sunday’s race at the 5.807-kilometer (3.608-mile), 18-turn Suzuka Circuit as a strong opportunity to take fourth place in the constructors’ standings before heading home for the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
The layout of Suzuka is a figure-eight, and it is the only track in Formula One with such a configuration. A bridge overtop the straight that links turns nine (Degner 2) and 10 is a signature of the track, with drivers nearing 330 kph (205 mph) as they go across the bridge through turn 15, better known as 130R, so named because of its 130-meter radius.
The first sector of the track caters to a car’s aerodynamic efficiency, while the second sector rewards horsepower. The entire course features every kind of corner, and its relatively old asphalt surface provides a high level of grip, which combined with high lateral loads through the corners accelerates tire wear. As such, Pirelli has brought its White medium, Yellow soft and Red supersoft compounds to Japan as the island nation becomes acceleration nation.
We caught up with Haas team principal Guenther Steiner ahead of the Japanese race.
You confirmed your driver lineup before the Russian Grand Prix, with Grosjean and Magnussen returning for another season. How helpful is it to have your driver lineup set and not a distraction as you battle for fourth in the constructors’ standings?
It’s the best it can be. You know what you’re doing, everybody knows what we’re doing, and we can focus on trying to get fourth place in the constructors’ standings. There are no negatives, only positives.
Haas F1 Team has made great strides from last year to this year. How much of that is attributable to having a consistent driver lineup, and do you expect it to deliver continued dividends in 2019?
It’s difficult to say how much it influences, but for sure it is helpful. Consistency for a team is very good, provided you have the right consistency in the quality of the people. Anything new you do, people need to adapt, and there is a learning period which normally means it’s not taking you forward. At best, it keeps you where you are. It takes time to gel and to work together in any position in the team, especially with the drivers.
You go from one of the smoothest tracks in Formula One – the Sochi Autodrom – to one of the roughest tracks in Suzuka Circuit. How does the weathered asphalt of Suzuka change your preparation in comparison to what you did for Sochi?
Nothing changes. We take the data from Suzuka and use it for our preparations. We have all the data from the racetracks. We just adapt our simulations to whatever tires are used and whatever the track surface is.
After two straight races where the softest tire in Pirelli’s lineup was used – the Pink hypersoft – we’re back to a more traditional White medium, Yellow soft and Red supersoft tire combination. After struggling to sort how much longevity you could get from a set of hypersofts, is it advantageous to get back to a tire lineup you know well where each tire compound is only a step away from one another in terms of grip level?
With tires, it’s not as easy as this. The track surface is in play, and where the tire works is a second component. It’s not saying they are now close together again and it’s better, it’s different from track to track. You cannot compare one with the other.
Is tire management more of a factor at Suzuka than it was at Sochi because the surface is more abrasive? If so, how do you manage your tires at Suzuka?
We don’t know that yet. It depends on how the tires work on Friday. When we test in FP1 and FP2, then we know what we have to do. At this moment in time, it’s very difficult to predict.
High-speed stability in regard to mechanical stiffness and aerodynamic balance seem to be the key to success at Suzuka. What do you do to achieve that?
You can’t do a lot more than what your car has already, and we are pretty confident that what we’ve got is working well. We just need to find a balance for the weekend. Japan is high speed and there are some challenging corners, but it’s a nice place to be and I hope we can find a good setup and show what we can do.
There seems to be a delicate balance at Suzuka in regard to downforce. Too much and you go slowly down the straights. Too little and the driver won’t have the confidence to attack the track’s twists and turns. Obviously, the level of downforce is predicated on how comfortable the driver is at speed. How do you find this balance between the needs of the car and the needs of the driver?
It’s one of those things that go hand-in-hand. Once you find the quickest way around the track by balancing top-end speed versus downforce, the driver is quite happy because he wants to be quickest around the track. For them, the happiest is when they get a good lap time.
With all the investment that goes on in Formula One, is the investment a team has made in its driver lineup perhaps best on display at Suzuka?
Absolutely. You need to be a brave man around Suzuka. You’re at high speed and when you go off, sometimes it’s not a soft landing. You need to be brave, but you also need to be very technical to set the car up. Suzuka is definitely a track that tests driver skill.
Beyond the racetrack, what is most often talked about at Suzuka is the passion its fans have. Can you describe the atmosphere at the track and the fervency Japanese fans have for Formula One?
I think it’s very special. If you are a fan at Suzuka, you are a diehard fan. They will be lining up outside. It’s quite amazing how much they love it. I think a lot of people look forward to it because it’s so different from anywhere else.
Japan has some fantastic and unique cuisine. What is your favorite?
Any sushi or sashimi. I look forward to it.
When you leave Japan you’ll be gearing up for your home race – the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Where do you want Haas F1 Team to be at that time and what will your thoughts be on that long flight back to North Carolina?
Hopefully on the flight back, I can think about a lot of points. That always puts your spirits high – when you fly home and you bring something back. We’ve never had a strong United States Grand Prix. I know everyone wants this to happen – to have the American team having a strong home race. Everybody’s working hard for that. Hopefully, this year we can pull it off.