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Racing for respect - exclusive Q&A with Haas’s Guenther Steiner

24 Jun 2016

Haas shook up the F1 establishment at the start of 2016 by achieving top-six finishes in their first two outings. Since then things have settled somewhat, but the US-led squad remain genuine points contenders at every race - a remarkable achievement for a brand new team. So with the season’s midway point rapidly approaching, how do they take the next step? We caught up with team principal Guenther Steiner to find out…

Q: Guenther, the first two races were like a fairy tale for Haas - and then reality started to set in. In Montreal recently both cars were two laps down at the finish. Is that the new reality?

Guenther Steiner: Ha, we are in reality! We’ve finished twice in P11 - that is just one position out of the points. Of course the points from the beginning of the season were fantastic, but we are convinced that they will not be the only ones we’ll score this season. We did have some challenging races with Russia and China where we couldn’t get the tyres to work, but we are still very positive. We are not last! We are still in the midfield and that is a huge achievement for a team starting from scratch. We know that if we have a super race we always can be in the points - probably not finishing in P6, but in the points.

Q: When we spoke after Melbourne you said that for team owner Gene Haas it all looks a bit too easy - does he still have that impression?

GS: Of course, Melbourne was a dream result - something you would not have bet a penny on! (laughs) But Gene knows that it is not easy - he has been involved with motorsport so long that he has no illusions. Some investors might have taken the first two races as the standard - and everything else as a failure - but not Gene. And that helps a lot. Probably you even have to fall back sometimes to really realize how difficult this environment is.

Q: So what happened between Melbourne and Montreal? Did you underestimate the development speed of the midfield?

GS: Well, we probably suffer from the limited testing that we have. Hey, we are a new team and have the same amount of test days like all the other established teams. We have no database to fall back on.

Then take, for example, the Monaco race. The car was performing really well on intermediate tyres, but the moment we put the dry tyres on the tyres got too cold. We could not get the tyres to work any longer. So yes, we know the problem, but we’ve found no solution yet. I think cooler temperatures don’t play to our advantage - like in China, and in Monaco where it was raining and the track was cold - and recently in Montreal. The temperature issue is no excuse - it is what it is. When people ask me what do you want if you could go back in time, the immediate answer: more testing. Probably four days more than the rest.

Q: If you have to analyse your car, what are the weakest spots?

GS: Ha, the weakest point is always not having enough downforce - that is the ‘sickness’ in the paddock! (laughs) With more downforce everything works better. But other than that I don’t see that we have one particular weak point. We have a pretty well-balanced car if we get the tyres to work - and we have a good engine. If we get out of the car what it is able to do, we are pretty much on the ‘sunny side’!

Q: What are the development plans for Haas in the next couple of months? Most teams seems to have big upgrade plans for the forthcoming European rounds…

GS: We should get the [Ferrari] engine upgrade in Silverstone. My information is that we get it at the same time as Sauber. And, of course, there are always new bits and pieces at pretty much every race. Of course, we also will shift our resources at some point to the 2017 car - but right now it is important for us to establish Haas in the pecking order.

Q: Presumably you are still doing better than you had expected for your first season?

GS: Absolutely! We are still mingling with the Force Indias, the Williams and the Toro Rossos. And, of course, we want to stay there. I think we have gained the respect of everybody in the paddock - and that was another thing that we wanted to achieve. The worst thing would have been to become an embarrassment.

Q: At the first couple of races Romain Grosjean was clearly dominant over Esteban Gutierrez, but lately they have been far more equal. Was Esteban playing catch-up after his year on the F1 side lines?

GS: Yes, Esteban was not in an F1 car for one year - and that does not help - but he also was pretty unlucky at the first couple of races.

Q: Pre-season the impression was that Romain was your number-one driver? What’s the internal pecking order now?

GS: Well, on the material side both drivers have always been treated equally: the same car, the same equipment - and both had the same chances. There was probably the impression from the outside that Romain was our number-one driver because he is older and has more experience. But inside the team we don’t have any favouritism. We want both drivers to be in the points, yes, but if it is only one we don’t care who it is.