Even the most experienced Formula One teams acknowledge that the nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit provides a unique challenge. Haas head to the weekend for the first time in Formula One and team principal Gunther Steiner believes his team are prepared for every eventuality. The circuit is 1.5km longer than the Hockenheimring which provides a potential fuel management issue, given that teams had to manage heavily at the German circuit last time out. Throw in the fact that the enormity of the circuit means that it can be dry and sunny in sector one, but raining in sector three, and it’s strategic headaches galore. Oh, and safety cars feature heavily at Spa, meaning that race strategy needs to essentially be liquid. Steiner thinks his team are up for the challenge though and said,
“The safety car is always included in the plans in advance. The strategy depends on what lap the safety car comes out on, which tyre we are on, and if we should come in or stay out. One of the most important things before the race starts is to know the safety car window, when it opens and when it closes. It changes during the race because you get better data on the tyre degradation and also from the positions the other competitors are in at that time. You can prepare for the race by getting the team’s times down for when you need to change the tyres. Otherwise, I think the driver’s experience comes into play here – what to do and when to do it. It all comes down to the driver and what they want to do next.” – Gunther Steiner
Haas, like all other teams, will be relying heavily on their drivers to provide feedback during the race. Grosjean has raced here a few times, his notorious start at Spa in 2012 caused this pile-up:
But that’s behind the Frenchman. He’s definitely outgrown the Maldonado-like reputation he was developing at that point in his career. Set-up at Spa is sacrificial in that teams will look for a sweet-spot between the high-speed sectors one and three and the winding sector two. Cars that perform well in sectors one and three will be the ones to watch out for in Monza next weekend too, given the similarity in set-up between these two high-throttle sectors and the full-throttle Italian circuit.
During the first-half of the season, the Haas machine has been around the midfield in low downforce high-speed and high downforce twisty layouts, so there’s no reason to believe they will falter in the middle-ground between. The Haas drivers are both looking forward to getting back in the car. Grosjean said,
“[Eau Rouge is] certainly a corner where you don’t want to have a mistake. Qualifying in clean air is certainly quite good. On the other hand, if you get a big tow, you can have a massive advantage going into turn five. There’s a bit of an argument for both philosophies there. “You always see different approaches at Spa. Either you’re fast in sector one and sector three, which are the high-speed sectors, or you’re fast in sector two, which has more of the corners. Both work pretty well, so it’s a matter of how you want to approach the race.” – Romain Grosjean
Gutierrez is still looking for his first point this season, which has definitely caused the Mexican clear frustration. There’s a monkey on his back that’s holding the chip on his shoulder regarding this. Unfortunately, Ferrari-power might see Haas struggle to score anything here. Gutierrez said,
“It’s a track where you have to compromise a lot because you don’t want to lose too much speed on the straight and you don’t want to lose too much downforce in the corners. It’s important to have an efficient car to find the best compromise between aero and the mechanical set up. I’ve had a few incredible races in the wet at Spa. One of the most fun races I’ve had was starting from the back after being disqualified. I manage to overtake my way up the grid but, unfortunately, at the end I was penalized again by overtaking someone on the very last lap when the safety car was out. It’s a great memory of Spa and it’s a track I always enjoy. Hopefully this year will be just as enjoyable and we’ll do our best to make it a successful weekend.” – Esteban Gutierrez
On paper, the top three teams should hold the top six points scoring positions on the grid. That leaves four point-scoring positions. The Mercedes power of Force India and Williams will always be in with a shout for those positions and McLaren-Honda remain a question mark. This leaves little room for Haas to score, but as Formula One history dictates – expect the unexpected at Spa!