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Monday, 22 February 2016

Gene's Italian-American F1 Car HAAS to be Good


Ladies and gentlemen, there is a new team in Formula 1... and when I say new, I don't mean they bought out an existing team. I mean they're starting from scratch. What's more, it's an American* team! Say hello to HAAS F1 Team. Then find a way to memorise the pronunciation - ignore Sky F1, it's not pronounced "Hass." That is the wrong way to pronounce it. Did these people see the name SAAB and pronounce it "Sabb?" No I bet they didn't!! So ignore them. It's pronounced with a long A, like "ah." In other words, it rhymes with arse, not ass, as was rather pleasingly confirmed by Romain Grosjean, who initially called them "Team Arse" thanks to his French accent.

*Well, it's mostly American. Their main headquarters is in Kannapolis, North Carolina, but they also have a UK base in Banbury in Oxfordshire (former Marussia F1 HQ) where they employ local engineers and others with Formula 1 experience to run things during the European races. The UK is where the vast majority of F1 engineering talent is, so it makes sense to have a presence here and that's why all but three teams on the grid have one. On that note, team principal Günter Steiner says that around 90% of the team staff were hired from other F1 teams. What's more, while HAAS designed the tub chassis, front crash structure and aerodynamics of the car, they buy in everything else from Ferrari and get Dallara (who build Indycars, GP2 and GP3 cars among others) to actually manufacture the chassis. This was all done to save time and money, which is prudent when you consider that the top teams are spending upwards of $300million per season in total and that, of the previous three "new teams" that joined in 2010, only a re-branded and relocated Manor Racing survive... and by the skin of their teeth at that. Besides, as team founder Gene Haas (who pronounces it "Haas" and not "Hass," remember) pointed out during a September press conference, "like any business, you have to learn it [F1], and the best way to learn it is from other people." As we enter the third year of the hybrid era, prior experience matters. Still, I'd speculate that if they grow into a big team in the coming years, they'll gradually move more things in-house.

So here you have it, the USA's first real presence on the Formula 1 grid since the 1980s (by the way that old Haas team is unrelated to this one in any way, but was probably pronounced "Haas" and not "hass"). They said last year that they would paint the car bright yellow to stand out on the grid, but of course that was too good to be true. Instead, it's a light silver, black and red colour scheme to reflect HAAS Automation's machine tool products. Similarly, its name of VF-16 refers to both the Vertical CNC mill the company created in the '80s and Formula 1. They have also been saying that, for 2016, 'VF' can stand for 'Very First.' As in their car, that is, not their expected finishing position - Americans are overtly proud folk of course, but the team's expectations are realistic for their first year. Steiner makes clear: "First, we need to go out there and show that we can do the job, that we can finish races, that we are respected by the fans and other teams in the paddock. Then, we want to score points. That is the ultimate goal."


Helping them to try to score points are Romain Grosjean, who joins the team from ex-Lotus, and Ferrari reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez, who after two unspectacular years at Sauber in 2013-4 is mostly known for having a massive neck and eyebrows, and saying "Woah, what was that?!" after being flipped over by Maldonado. Oh, and being Mexican, hence the Telcel logos on the car's mirrors. Grosjean was chosen for his experience of last year's cars, while Gutierrez is there on the strength of Ferrari's technical partnership with the team. Theoretically, both drivers could be in line to replace Kimi Räikkönen at the red team if he decides to leave Formula 1.

Given that it's an American citizen but with very strong Italian roots, if the VF-16 could talk it would probably sound like an extra from The Sopranos. Or Fat Tony from The Simpsons. The power unit and running gear are all Ferrari, the chassis was manufactured just outside Parma and the aerodynamics were at least partially developed in Ferrari's wind tunnel in Maranello. The team were originally aiming for a 2015 entry, but decided another year of setting up and developing their first car was required. Given that they didn't enter last year, they weren't restricted by in-season development rules, so they've been free to develop the non-Ferrari parts of the car as much as they can. Given all of this, it would be cruel to predict that they'll only do as well as Caterham, Marussia and HRT did in their short lifespans. I'd say that, if all goes well, they will be racing against Sauber (another Ferrari engine user) as a strong midfield team by the end of the season. For now though, we of course have to exercise patience.

You can follow the beginnings of America's Formula 1 team on their YouTube channel and other social media outlets in the obvious places. Testing starts, well, today!

Just please whatever you do, don't pronounce it "Hass." A four-letter word should not be difficult to comprehend. Unless you work for Sky, which is actually pronounced "Skah." Not really.

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