Haas F1 Team were granted entry into the Formula 1 World Championship in April of 2014. They joined forces with Ferrari for all internals of the car, commissioned Dallara to help machine the chassis and enlisted former Jaguar and Red Bull technical director Guenther Steiner to head the project as Team Principal.
These decisions – made before Haas even made their on-track debut – would help the team in their incredible, albeit unorthodox, journey to becoming the most successful truly rookie team in F1 history.
When the VF-16 finally hit the track on day one of 2016 pre-season testing, Haas’ star driver Romain Grosjean finished the day 10th quickest, outperforming the Frenchman’s former outfit, the recently rebranded Renault works team.
Things only better for Grosjean and Haas at the first race of the season in Australia, where they finished a miraculous 6th on their debut, and then went on to finish one position higher at the next race in Bahrain. From here the team were on a high, but in the remaining 19 races of the season they only managed 11 more points.
Despite this drop off, team owner Gene Haas cited the season as a success and expected to see more of the same going into the 2017 season. This year could go one of two ways for Haas, the first being much the same as 2016 with the team consistently outperforming the likes of Renault and Sauber at the lower end of the mid-field. The second outcome would be a roaring success, which looks highly likely considering the amount of work which has been put into the new car.
Haas have gone through hundreds of designs for every aspect of the car, having spared no expense in making their VF-17 a quicker and more reliable 2017 challenger. Every component of the car is brand new, be it the mandatory rear wing size adjustments to the intricate details of the engine being provided by Ferrari.
Unlike most other independent teams, Haas has a large budget to support the constant development that 2017 will require, with upgrades already planned for the first few races of the season, which is impressively optimistic for a second-year team.
Another crucial point for Haas’ second season is that they will have the on-track data from their 2016 season at their disposal, whereas in their debut year they had no benchmark data and had to come up with initial car setups for each track based on what were essentially educated guesses. Additionally, Haas gave away significant championship points to competitors throughout 2016 due to brake system issues, but this will likely not be a factor heading into 2017 as a solution was found at the end of last season in a new brake supplier.
Finally, there is a huge incentive within the team to do well, as Gene Haas has introduced a new performance-based bonus scheme for employees – if Haas finishes the 2017 season lower than they did in 2016 (8th), no bonuses will be paid out. Yet, if the team finishes 7th or better, every team member will be granted a substantially higher bonus than that of 2016.
My personal opinion is that 2017 will be a great year for Haas, especially as new regulations always manage to somewhat shake up the grid. Furthermore, with an immense budget behind them, their optimistic development plan, the performance-based bonus scheme, and the expertise of those at the top, Haas should be able to score good points at each race and who knows, with a bit of luck we could even see them fighting for the occasional podium.