As Formula 1’s long, dark winter reaches its end, the dawning of a new world championship season will be embraced by the ten teams for all the promise that a fresh start can bring.
Tomorrow Haas will become the first to step into the spotlight to reveal their new livery for 2023 – though not an actual VF-23 chassis. It’s fitting they should raise the curtain, as arguably no F1 team has been transformed in the sport’s new ground effect era as much as they have.
Just two winters ago, Haas was bracing for a tough 2021 season knowing they were effectively sacrificing the entire year ahead in the hope of a better start to the new ground effect age. They had two drivers with a combined experience of zero grands prix. They had no plans to develop their car over the season. They only thing they were guaranteed to get out of 2021 was a lot of pain and few points.
But that is a distant memory as the new season comes into view. America’s only F1 team are no longer bunkered down but reborn, itching for a scrap. Not only have the rookies been replaced but the team now sports one of the most experienced line-ups on the grid. They have a shiny new title sponsor. And on track, they are looking for points – many of them.
Motivation will come from the blunt reality that the team ultimately underperformed in 2022. The struggle for points in the later races was real, but any other team which took points from three of the opening four rounds – including a 12-point haul in the Bahrain opener – would have been hoping for better than eighth come Abu Dhabi. But a combination of factors, not least of which being Mick Schumacher failing to match his returning team mate Kevin Magnussen when the car was strongest, prevented the team from fulfilling its full potential.
Haas are determined not to suffer the same fate in 2023 and are willing to take unpopular decisions to strengthen their driver line-up. The young and unpolished Schumacher has been jettisoned from the team to the ire of many of his many admirers. In his place, none other than Nico Hulkenberg earns another opportunity in Formula 1 at the fifth different team of his career.
In many ways, Hulkenberg is the opposite of Schumacher; an experienced veteran considered to be a safe and reliable pair of hands in the cockpit. When it comes to the madness of the midfield, it’s hard to think of anyone with more laps in and around the minor points places than the 35-year-old.
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Boasting 322 grand prix starts and over 700 championship points between them, Magnussen and Hulkenberg appear on the surface to be a solid, no-nonsense pairing. However, as anyone knows, the history between the pair has been anything but rosy. But despite their infamous exchange after the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix earning millions of views on social media by virtue of being one of few genuine acts of spite captured between two F1 drivers in modern times, Magnussen insists there’s no bad blood between him and his new team mate.
“Everyone talks about our little thing in Hungary back in 2017 – of course, that’s what everyone brings up – but actually I have a lot of respect for him,” Magnussen said when asked about his relationship with his new team mate by RaceFans.
“Even before he was going to join our team, I said that I have a lot of respect for him as a driver. He’s going to bring a lot of experience. It’s well known that experience is invaluable in Formula 1. He was always one of the good drivers and consistent ones, getting good results in a midfield car. That’s what we need him to do here as well.”
Team principal and soon-to-be published author Guenther Steiner certainly seems convinced his team will be a lot less active in the driver market over the coming seasons.
“I think we have got a few years with these guys,” he told RaceFans in the twilight of last season. “Because they are not that old. One is 30, one is 35 – don’t retire them too quick!”
When it comes to his target for the season, what would count as a ‘successful’ year for Haas, Steiner is clear about where he wants to be in 2023.
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“To be in the midfield,” he said when asked in Abu Dhabi. “To fight in the midfield properly.
“[Last] year we were fighting, we were out, we were fighting… it’s a little bit up and down, a rollercoaster. [We want] just to get stability and be in the midfield.”
Is that achievable? Based on the team’s performance last season, there’s no reason to think they can’t. Especially as they’ve gained a new title sponsor in MoneyGram – an American firm which the team will hope does not bring the same volatility as its two immediate predecessors.
Haas continue to benefit from a close relationship with power unit providers Ferrari, with a wing of the team stationed in the bosom of Ferrari’s Maranello’s factory. The experienced Mark Slade’s arrival at the team as race director to Magnussen, a driver he knows well from the Renault days, did wonders for Magnussen towards the end of the year, culminating with that unforgettable pole position in Brazil.
It all means that from a commercial, technical and sporting perspective, Haas finally appear to have the stability that any Formula 1 team requires to succeed. And Steiner believes now is the time that the team can begin to chase their goals of moving up the order.
“The near-term future [goal], as I said before, is to get the team back to where we want to be,” Steiner said. “At least in the midfield, if not in the upper-midfield in the next two years.”
After the most turbulent seasons in the Haas’ short history, perhaps, finally, better times are ahead for the sport’s newest team.
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