Where has it gone wrong for Haas F1?
The British GP is over but its effects are being felt across the grid. While Hamilton and Mercedes solidified their dominance the Haas team hit their nadir with a weekend that has been commented on one of the worst in F1 History. With the British GP marking the half way point of the season Haas are at a crossroads. With crucial decisions needed to be made by the team what the 2nd half of the season will represent is a step into the future or a reflection of what could have been.
A pre cursor to the misery of the British GP for Haas was the breakdown of their relationship with Rich Energy. Before the Grand Prix the title sponsor of the team tweeted "We aim to beat @redbullracing & being behind @WilliamsRacing in Austria is unacceptable. The politics and PC attitude in @F1 is also inhibiting our business. We wish the team well,". Citing "Poor Performance" for the reasons the sponsor jumped shipped there has been confusion, bafflement and a sense that something has been amiss with the company and its CEO William Storey.
The controversial figure has been vocal on social media since the weekend, posting a picture of a milk float in the Haas livery quoting "Great Start Boys". An arguably childish and immature statement there have been serious questions to the legitimacy of the Rich Energy business, the source of the company funds and details regarding the the contract they had with the Haas team. Whatever comes of the situation, this tussle and back and forth with its title sponsor will be remembered as one of F1's most bizarre.
The negativity behind the scenes was reflected on track as during practice for the British GP Romain Grosjean embarrassed himself and the team by crashing in the pit lane during practice, lighting up the rear wheels and spinning into the barrier, which subsequently damaged the front wing. The incident brought forth humiliation and asked the question of Grosjean's position in F1. The Frenchman is highly respected in the paddock, being a member of the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GDPA), but his performances have been lacklustre. Traditionally, Grosjean seems to find his feet towards the 2nd half of the season and will need a herculean effort to recapture something from this year.
Thing didn't improve at all for Haas during the race at Silverstone. Frantic high speed racing during the first few corners at the British GP meant a collision was almost inevitable. However, it was the two team mates Grosjean and Magnussen who collided coming into the fast left of Aintree. With Magnussen on the outside and Grosjean to his left the two touched and brought critical damage to the rear left and rear right respectively. Team principal Gunter Steiner commented that both were to blame for the incident at Silverstone, adding: “It’s not acceptable what happened. I was pretty clear with them after Barcelona [where the two drivers clashed at the first corner after a safety car restart] what not to do. It added to the long list of embarrassing incidents between the two, with echoes of Spain 2019 being brought forth once again.
A month ago in France team boss Guenther Steiner declared it the team's worst ever race weekend. While in Canada an agitated Kevin Magnussen took to the radio to voice his displeasure at how poor the car was, despite the efforts of his team to rebuild the car after the Danish driver crashed into the barriers during Qualifying. It took Steiner to voice his authority over Magnussen and tell him to shut up and drive to which he duly did and later apologised for the trade over the radio. There have been flashes of brilliance from the team this season, such as the euphoria of Magnussen after qualifying at the Austrian GP in 5th. Yet a gearbox change and the car yet again struggling during the race saw the car slip back behind the Williams.
While the team are struggling with the philosophy of their car and the inability to control tyre temperatures over the course of a race distance, reminiscent of the Mercedes struggles between 2011-2013, Haas must look at their driver and consider the options surrounding them. Both Grosjean and Magnussen have not been performing this year with silly mistakes, poor races and an attitude that is bringing the team closer to Williams than the rest of the pack and its likely team owner Gene Haas will remain patient with the pair.
Despite being with the team since 2016 both drivers have shown very little to justify their place in the team next year, particularly Grosjean who after a solid career with Renault, Lotus and Haas now looks out of his depth and slightly past the emerging talents of Russell, Albon and Norris. With the persistent rumour that Grosjean could be heading to Formula E next season, it could end up becoming the perfect launchpad to longevity in open wheel racing for the Frenchman. Magnussen has been in F1 since 2014 after debuting with McLaren and with a single year there and Renault in 2015 it seemed he had been maturing into a solid midfield driver. However, attitude problems have always plagued his progress and the Haas team could look to others to bring more positivity and maturity to team the desperately needs an overhaul. So if that were the case, who do Haas bring in?
Estaban Ocon of Mercedes has been chomping at the bit to get back into F1 after failing to secure a seat for 2019. With Bottas performing exactly as Mercedes need him to it seems unlikely Ocon will slot in to replace him any time soon. During the weekend Polish media were reporting Haas could be an option for the pole despite sub par performances at Williams.
Rumours of Nico Hulkenberg to Red Bull have fallen fall and while the German seems content at the French team, Haas may decide his experience and positive attitude could be the key for the future, despite his tumultuous relationship with Magnussen. Hulkenberg's former team mate Sergio Perez may also look to move, however with the Mexican performing admirably at the Racing Point team it seems unlikely a move to Haas would be tempting.
With the Haas team the focus of the first season of Netflix series "Drive to Survive" what is happening behind the scenes right now will be fascinating viewing and give some clues as to the future direction of the team. What Haas decide to now will be key to their future. Could the decision made now be key to their survival? Potentially, given the rule changes approaching in 2021. But coming into the 2nd half of this season and what is to come in 2020, Haas need to choose wisely and choose now.