Kevin Magnussen’s impressive move round the outside of the first corner in Melbourne not only gave the Haas driver fourth place but also fired up the whinge factor before the season was barely into its stride.
Even though the retirement of both Haas cars easily won ‘Heart-breaking Moment of the Meeting,’ the fact that Magnussen and Romain Grosjean had been heading for a combined haul of 22 points (almost half of last year’s total) brought little sympathy from rivals in the intensely fought midfield.
The annoyance is easily understood. You are spending half as much again, employing twice as many people, manufacturing more of your car and this bunch of relative newcomers from America makes irritatingly good use of a hybrid with ‘Made in Italy’ stamped on its bottom. But then rivals who ought to know better last week let themselves down with retorts of ‘Ferrari replica’ and ‘Faas’; phrases much less original than the car they’re bitching about.
Sure, the Haas is a Ferrari in many respects but it is not, as been claimed, a cut-and-paste SF70H from last year any more than it is, Heaven forbid, a McLaren-Honda. Simply put, the VF-18 is a product of the rules as they are written; fair play to Haas for following what everybody else does by pushing the grey envelope.
The difficulty is that the regulation allowing the use of ‘listed parts’ was introduced long after the likes of McLaren and, to a much extent, Force India had to commit to being ‘Constructors’ in the fullest sense of the expression. That’s hard to swallow, particularly with the midfield being so competitive than a fraction of a second over one kilometre today could amount to millions of dollars lost at the final reckoning in November.
The upside for complainants is that Haas, through lack of in-house resources, tend to lose out in the relentless development race as the year progresses. Nonetheless, it is easy to appreciate their present fear that investors will not be interested in F1’s regulatory minutiae at the season’s end as you try to offset P8 in the Constructors’ Championship against hefty expenditure.
Removing for a moment the self-centred motives that drive any competitor, the present regulatory framework allowing a team such as Haas to enter has to be a good thing for F1 as a whole. No one surely believes that a team operating under these conditions has a chance of winning regularly? But, if it causes the occasional giant-killing act, then well and good. Spectators in the enclosures will appreciate it even if some well-established names are forced to squirm in their lavish motor homes.
Ross Brawn and Liberty Media are meeting the teams later this week to lay out thoughts on F1’s future. Cost control ought to be high on the agenda. If the ‘Haas Model’ is considered to be a financially effective way forward, then the bigger teams may be forced to consider entering customer relationships similar to that embraced by Ferrari.
Given the overall commitment of the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, fears that this might lead to a single-make series are no more valid today than 40 years ago when BS Fabrications were among a number of small motor racing outfits buying the venerable but still decently quick McLaren M23 to allow the likes of Nelson Piquet to gain F1 experience.
If Haas has shone a light on customer operations and the potential for much-needed opportunities for young drivers, then this surely has to be widely applauded rather than selfishly ridiculed?