Described as an evolution of the team’s second car, the VF-17, which carried the American team to eighth in the constructors’ standings last year, the most obvious visible differences to the VF-18 are the addition of the halo cockpit safety device and the removal of the sharkfin engine cover and T-wing - which have both been outlawed this year.
“The biggest part of the car’s evolution was the addition of the halo,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal. “It took quite a bit of study by the aerodynamicists, but the designers had to work hard to modify the chassis so the halo could survive the mandated loads.
“The total minimum weight of the car increased because of the halo, and there’s a higher centre of gravity simply because of the halo’s position. But, everyone is in the same boat.
“The regulations stayed pretty stable between 2017 and 2018, so the VF-18 is an evolution of our car from last year. It’s less about reinvention and more about refinement. You see elements we had from last year on the car this year.
“Our 2017 car was actually pretty good, but we didn’t always get the best out of it, and that’s what we aimed to change in 2018. We got the car as light as possible to carry more ballast. We were able to do a better job of putting the weight where we wanted it.”
As with previous machines, the VF-18 relies heavily on technology from Ferrari, including power unit and transmission. As such Gene Haas, the American squad's founder and chairman, says the Italian team will be the benchmark for performance in 2018.
“It’s no secret we use a lot of Ferrari equipment, so we’re using them as our baseline," said Haas. "We need to be within a half-second of the Ferraris in order for us to be competitive. We weren’t last year. I would say we were a second to a second-and-a-half slower than the Ferraris. Overall, we were maybe two seconds off the pole qualifiers, so we need to knock a second off that if we really want to be competitive.
“We’ve eliminated a lot of the variables where we knew we were weak, and we knew where we needed to focus. We need to be able to go to the majority of races and put the car down on the track and be fast. We’ve focused on what it’s going to take to get the cars to be consistent and to close that gap between the top cars.”
The VF-18, which retains the grey, red and black livery of 2017, albeit in a revised guise, will hit the track for the first time at the opening pre-season test of the year in Barcelona, beginning February 26.