At the end of 2017, Kevin Magnussen sent out a clear message to his Haas team: we need a specialist tyre engineer if we want to take a step forward in performance. In 2018, the Dane got his wish – and the results have been… dramatic.
The squad recruited Hiroshi Tomitsuka, a former Bridgestone engineer, to the team in April of this year. His mission: to give Haas an insight into the nuances of the 2018 Pirellis to help them perform more consistently over the course of a season, as opposed to having good weekends and bad weekends.
And off the back of what was unequivocally a ‘good weekend’ – with the team taking their best ever results of fourth and fifth places in Austria – it seems that Tommy-san, as he’s respectfully known within the team, has been a worthy hire for the American squad.
“The reason we were keen on someone like him is that the Pirelli is a very complicated tyre,” says Magnussen today. “It's a difficult tyre to manage, not only from a driving point of view but also setting the car up with temperatures in the rims and managing the race, strategy-wise, switching the tyres on with your driving style on the outlaps.
“You need someone with experience of tyres to try and understand the Pirelli tyres, because it's not that easy to understand. So it's a really big addition to the team having Tommy-san here.”
The man who was ultimately responsible for doing the hiring was Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner. Asked where he was seeing the real benefit of Tomitsuka’s experience, he replied: “The most value he brings is on a Friday, because when he sees a tyre, he knows which direction to go – too hot, too cold, pressure up or down – because he has so much experience. But he also… gives the engineers an understanding of how to use the tyres in the race, or in the qualifying, whatever it is.
“He knows how to get the perfect temperature range that the tyre needs to work in and then advises us what to do.”
Haas currently lie fifth in the constructors’ standings, and have shown themselves to be the ‘best of the rest’ several times throughout the 2018 season. In Austria, Romain Grosjean even achieved the midfield ‘Holy Grail’, sticking his VF-18 in between the two Red Bulls to claim sixth position in qualifying.
More impressive was that Grosjean didn’t benefit from a slipstreaming tow on the lap, meaning that his tyre temperatures needed to be absolutely on point in Q3 to get that lap nailed. And getting the rubber into that temperature sweet spot is a key factor which Tomitsuka is bringing to the team this year.
“It's crazy what Tommy-San can see just with his eyes, and just looking at the tyres,” reckons Grosjean. “For us, if the tyres are too cool or too warm on track, it's the same feeling. Basically, you've got no grip and it's very difficult to tell the engineers it's too cold or it's too hot and the grip is not there. So Tommy-san can look at the tyres… [and tell us] what we should do on a quali outlap, which target temperature where we should be aiming [for]. All of that together [means] that, so far, we've been much better using the tyres.
“Obviously, we're still learning about the Pirelli… but it's been a big help for the team.”
With the midfield battle so hard-fought in 2018 – with even teams like Sauber getting in the mix – consistency is going to be crucial to claim that valuable fourth place in the constructors’ race come the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi. But with Tomitsuka now in place at Haas, it seems like team have a key part of the puzzle to help them make that dream a reality.