I WAS NAIVE: Haas F1 boss Gene Haas has realised the sport is a lot more complex than he imagined after a tough couple days of testing. Image: AFP / Jared C Tilton
Barcelona, Spain — Formula 1 newcomer Gene Haas got a taste of how frustrating Formula One can be, when his Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez spent Wednesday (March 2) stuck in the team garage while rivals clocked lap after lap in perfect sunny conditions.
The Haas team needs to get more time on track with the season fast approaching, but Gutierrez only did 23 laps on Tuesday before a fuel system problem cut short his run.
Although the team changed the turbocharger overnight, Gutierrez came off the track after just one installation lap Wednesday morning because of a problem with high revving.
"The past two days have been very frustrating," Haas said.
Last week was a different story.
The first four days of preseason testing on the same Catalunya track near Barcelona saw Gutierrez and No. 1 driver Romain Grosjean of France — who has 10 career podium finishes — do more than 300 laps between them.
"We had an especially good week last week, but this is more what a typical normal week would be," the 63-year-old Haas said. "I don't really have an explanation of why we're experiencing these problems now."
Ferrari supplies the cars' engines, but Haas does not attribute any blame to Ferrari for the recent frustrations.
Not Ferrari's fault
"Ferrari has a lot of responsibility toward providing the technical assistance. But there's no reason why we can't take some of that responsibility on ourselves and make sure that the car we put out there actually works," Haas told reporters. "If we have a bad day, I can't sit there and say 'Well, that's Ferrari's fault.' We've got to take responsibility for how we perform on the track. We're going to figure this out."
Having enjoyed success in Nascar since founding his team in 2002, Haas was granted his F1 license two years ago. After initially intending to race in 2015, the entry was postponed to give the team more time to properly prepare.
Haas, however, freely acknowledges he remains baffled by the technical intricacies of F1 racing.
'I was kind of naive'
"It's a little bit overwhelming to be honest with you .... The complexity of the cars and engines and what we are doing with them is way beyond anything I ever expected," said Haas, who is the founder of tool-building giant Haas Automation. "I don't think the fans understand how complex it is. Even I didn't know. I was kind of naive, too, about what goes into making one of these cars run."
Haas is the first American F1 team since Carl Haas (no relation to Gene) and Teddy Mayer fielded cars in the series in 1986.
A strong first season back in F1 will doubtless draw attention back home, but Haas hopes US fans will be patient.
"If people were expecting us to go out in the next few races and suddenly compete with the big boys, that isn't realistic," Haas said. "We'll see how it goes down the road, how difficult it is. I can understand how the teams struggle in this business, even the big ones."
Understandably, Haas is reluctant to make predictions for the season-opening Australian GP on March 20.
"The base expectation would be to go to the race and be reliable," he said. "I think it's maybe more of a challenge than we expected."