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Romain Grosjean Q&A: Plenty more to come from Haas

31 Mar 2016

Romain Grosjean’s surprise sixth-place finish in Melbourne gave Haas a dream debut - and validated the French driver’s decision to quit Lotus for the all-new American team. But how long will the honeymoon last? Will success be sustained in Bahrain this weekend or will Sakhir bring them back to earth with a bump. Grosjean, for one, is in confident mood, as he explained in an exclusive chat with…

Q: Romain, on a scale of one to ten how would you rate your Melbourne experience?

Romain Grosjean: I would give it a clear ten. It was the best we could do. Yes, we were lucky with the red flag, but we had the right strategy. We were unlucky on Saturday with the new qualifying format which meant positions at the far end of the grid for us, but with the effort and the brains of the whole team we made good on Sunday. So yes, a clear ten.

Q: What many had thought would be a risk to your career already seems to have given it a boost. That was surely your hope when joining Haas, but how do the dreams now compare to reality?

RG: Life is a risk; racing is a risk, as we saw with Fernando (Alonso) in Melbourne; and changing team is also a risk, yes. But it was a calculated risk. When I had a meeting with Gene (Haas) and [teak principal] Guenther (Steiner) last year they explained the project and how it was going to be just enough to make my mouth water - then I joined. (laughs) Now seeing the full picture, I have to tell myself: ‘Hey, this is looking good!’ Yes the first race was unknown territory - and it ended outstandingly for us. I am aware that there will be other times when it will be harder, and there will be times when it will be the same - or even better - but what really makes my day is that from day one I felt so welcomed. That pampers your soul. Lotus was an amazing experience as they’ve given me the wings to fly by my own - and now a new experience is the next step in my career.

Q: You said previously that you could imagine going back to Renault. That was before Haas showed their performance level in Melbourne. Still see yourself returning to Enstone now?

RG: I am a French driver, I want to be world champion - so why not a French driver in a French team? That would be something unbelievable. But right now I am here at Haas and feel fantastic - but that doesn’t mean that you have to cut off your imagination. But right now I am full of the fantastic weekend in Melbourne. And for Formula One to have an American team that is successful would be a big thing. We are showing to other people that it is possible to join F1 if you do it in a clever way. Yes, there have been some jealousies in the paddock over the fact that we’ve bought many parts from Ferrari, but everything was within the rules and Gene and Guenther saw that point - and here we are! Once we get one hundred percent out of the car we will be much better even than in Australia.

Q: Gene said that Melbourne showed why the team signed you: because you make the most of chances. But starting 19th and finishing sixth was about more than just that. What was the strategy for that race?

RG: Yeah, that was quite something. Gene is an amazing boss. He is a racing man - but he is not interfering. And my engineers know exactly what I want and in the race I played my experience. I knew that the car behind me was probably faster, but I knew the points where I had to be careful and how to protect my tyres. That is what you call experience - when you finish in such a position in a car that is not one hundred percent right for that circuit.

Q: Would you have finished in the points without the red flag?

RG: Yes, probably ninth or tenth. That is what we were aiming for as a strategy. Then it got much better!

Q: If you compare Haas to your previous team, Lotus (now Renault), where are the biggest differences? Haas as a new model of F1 team, Lotus being a traditional team…

RG: It is more the atmosphere that is created by the American mentality. The engineers don’t have to live with a knife over their heads, as they know that Gene understands racing. The way the team operates is very similar to Lotus or Renault - our chief engineer comes from Lotus - so the meetings are the same, the procedures are the same - but as I just said, it is a matter of atmosphere. We don’t feel the pressure of a boss who wants to be successful by any means. Yes, we do want to promote the brand Haas Automation, but Gene takes his time, as good things need time.

Q: Haas are different in that they are buying in so many different components, rather than designing and making them in-house. Have you been surprised by the precision with which the team has been able to put all those components together to form a competitive car?

RG: Yes, I’ve been pretty surprised about how fantastic that all worked out. But if you know Guenther, he likes things being done the right way. And never forget: this project started five-and-a-half years ago, so there was time to find the right suppliers and the right people to execute it. Yes, we can improve - but that goes for everybody up and down the paddock.

Q: To what do you attribute most the fact that after only eight days of testing Haas were able to ‘race against the big boys’?

RG: That the mentality was to get it right; the choice of the right people; and that the car is a good baseline. And, of course, that Ferrari has given us a good engine.

Q: Melbourne is a special track that often throws up unexpected results. At the last Barcelona test Gene said he hoped that would play to Haas’s advantage - and it did. But what about Bahrain? A very different track and very different conditions…

RG: Of course we will do our best and I think that the track suits our car very well. I had my first ever podium in F1 here - is that not a promising sign? I promised my son that I will come home with a trophy, so I have to do my best! (laughs)