Three years in to their Formula 1 venture, things had been looking good for Haas, but this season has been their most difficult yet.
When Haas joined the series in 2016 many assumed they would struggle in the same way as Caterham, Hispania and Manor did before them but they were wrong.
Team owner, Gene Haas created a different business model to the norm and formed a partnership with Ferrari. This meant they purchased as many Ferrari parts as the rules allowed and in order to save additional costs, they arranged for Italian company Dallara to build their chassis.
Despite people’s scepticism, Haas performed remarkably well in their first year, scoring 29 points and finishing eighth in the Constructor’s championship.
A strong start
They were also able to sign Romain Grosjean for their debut season and partnered him with Esteban Gutierrez. Grosjean was clearly the faster of the two and was the sole points scorer for the team.
The following year Haas replaced Gutierrez for Kevin Magnussen and they seemed to have landed on the right pairing for them. With two fast and capable drivers Haas found themselves regularly scoring points and they doubled their 2016 points haul in their second season.
One again, last year they improved once more and ended up finishing fifth in the Constructor’s championship.
With such a rate of improvement, it not only appeared that Haas had created the perfect business model for a new team, but many wondered how they could improve coming into this year.
Things looked rosy in pre-season. Announcing that their driver pairing would remain the same for a third year running and obtaining a title sponsor for the first time. That sponsor was Rich Energy, a drinks company that had been destined to sign a deal with Williams until Haas swooped in at the last minute.
In Australia things didn’t look too bad. Although Grosjean retired, Magnussen finished in sixth, but since that first race, things have gone down hill for the American team in more ways than one.
Where things went wrong
The team have only had three points finishes since Australia and two of those have only been for 10th.
They seem to have issues with the car, most notably working the tyres too hard and in Austria Magnussen stated that the car was “confusing” and they could not work out what the issues were.
The car appears to be aerodynamically sound but they are unable to get it to perform consistently and this has left the team with some very difficult races in 2019.
Three races ago at the French Grand Prix, Haas Team Principal stated that it had been the team’s worst ever race weekend with Grosjean retiring after 16 laps, Magnussen finishing a lap down in 17th and only ahead of the to Williams cars.
But next time out in Austria things got even harder. Magnussen had a stand-out qualifying session getting the Haas into fifth while his teammate was a respectable 11th, but things fell apart on race day.
Magnussen began the race from 10th after having a five place grid penalty and then he received a drive through penalty after the start of the race for being outside his grid position. This put him to the back of the field and then, unable to look after his tyres he ended up 19th while Grosjean finished 16th.
If Austria was bad then Silverstone was a nightmare. Romain Grosjean crashed in the pitlane in free practice – a simple thing to do in all reality – but highly embarrassing.
Both drivers struggled in qualifying ending up 14th and 16th and then on the first lap of the race they collided with each other causing both drivers to retire.
It is bad enough crashing into another car, but hitting your own teammate is a fast way to get your bosses mad – and that is what happened.
Although the car does have issues, the drivers also have some questions to answer regarding their performances this year. Magnussen has been the better driver of the two by far, although he has made mistakes, but Grosjean has had five retirements so far and has only scored two of the team’s 16 points.
After three years with the same driver line-up it would appear that time is coming for change and that might not be a bad thing.
Rich Energy saga
Haas are also being dragged into their title sponsor’s legal saga. Rich Energy have been very vocal and outspoken since they arrived as a sponsor of Haas, stating it was their mission to be better than Red Bull.
Haas have done very well to keep out of the politics involving Rich Energy but in the last few weeks they have had no option to get involved.
Rich Energy CEO, William Storey, sent out a tweet stating that Rich Energy were terminating their contract with Haas due to poor performances. This seemed news to Haas – who had not been notified correctly – as well the other Rich Energy shareholders.
This led to news stating that Rich Energy shareholders were trying to save the deal and then for a letter to be issued on social media via Storey’s Rich Energy Twitter account stating that Haas were still owed £35million from them.
Rich Energy Ltd have now changed names and it remains to be seen what happens from a legal perspective but this issue has happened at a time where Haas could really do without another problem.
Although Rich Energy’s money will have an impact on Haas’ budget, the only saving grace is that they were not financially dependent on them as most of their funding comes from Gene Haas’ tool company.
But this will have forced the team bosses to take their eye away from race operations in order to sort out the mess created by Storey.
If results don’t improve, 2019 will be a year to write off for Haas, but one horrible season might not be such a bad thing for them.
Things can improve
They have had it so good since their entry to the series and while that is down to their hard work, strong planning and great execution, having a tough season might give them some brilliant lessons that will help them in the long run.
It will show them that things can fall apart at any given moment but they are also able fix these issues.
If they can resolve their issues and be the better for it, they are bound to bounce back even better and become a real force against McLaren and Renault once more.
A lot of work needs to be done, but while things might feel horrendous right now for the American team, they have a great platform to work from and well… they just need to remember it still isn’t as bad as it is for Williams.