2016 saw Haas F1 become the first American team to compete in the sport since the (unrelated) Haas Lola team of 1985 and 1986. The project, spearheaded by Gene Haas – whose Stewart-Haas Racing outfit has twice won Championships in America’s NASCAR series – has enjoyed a successful debut year, with 5 points finishes achieved across the season so far, largely owing to France’s Romain Grosjean. Craig Scarborough provides an insight into just how big a task it has been.
As the 2016 season comes to an end, Haas will have successfully completed its first year in Formula One, having entered the sport as the first new team in six years. 2010 famously saw three teams enter the sport under a low-cost entry format. Yet, with only one of those three remaining today, the challenge to sustain a competitive presence in modern F1 prove as significant as ever.
A few decades ago, a team could easily be started with the ‘Garagiste’ model. Starting with a small amount of money, a lock-up garage in which to weld up a new chassis, and a van to collect the Cosworth engine and Hewland gearbox. Even into the nineties, while the process was more complex, teams were small, and the design of the car could be accomplished by a dozen or so engineers. Again, equipped with a customer engine and transmission, they could go out and impress in their first year.
Now, in the 21st Century, teams have upwards of 300 staff for the chassis and race team alone; the cars are infinitely more complex and the engineering design of each part is optimised to an incredibly high level. It’s no longer possible to build a competitive car from scratch in a year – the iterative design process take years to ensure every part is as good as that of the top teams.
When the three new teams that did come in in 2010 took to the sport – Caterham (nee, Lotus racing), Manor (nee, Virgin Racing and, subsequently, Marussia) and HRT – they were provided with a low-cost engine and gearbox, as per the old ‘Garagiste’ model. However, they made all of their own monocoques, aero programme, electronics, hydraulics and suspension. Thousands of parts all designed from scratch, as required by the rules of the time.
For year one, this was a lot of work. Then, as soon as that finished, they had to be on to the design of the next car. The cycle was punishing, especially when the rules changed so drastically, as they did for 2014.
This maturing of the engineering design was something each of these teams only attained after four seasons. After all, the cost of keeping up with the leaders by designing the entire car was immense.
Haas, in contrast, had been looking at entry into F1 for many years, with the hope that they could run a customer car in the shape of either a current or year old car from a leading team. For the FIA, this was an initially attractive option, providing an opportunity to bring in new teams and bolster a grid which had shrunk from the departure of manufacturer teams in 2009, as well as the failure of some of the new 2010 teams. But with F1 having historically been about constructors racing their own cars, the idea of customer cars conversely proved unpopular with other teams and rule makers alike.
Nonetheless, in a bid to offer new teams a reduced burden in having to design an entire car, the ‘Listed Parts’ rule was introduced. This broke up what the FIA thought to be the core of a constructor entry, so a team could buy in much of a car’s mechanical package and focus on building the monocoque, crash structures and aero package.
Haas followed this ‘Listed Parts’ approach by bringing in the entire powertrain, suspension, electronics, hydraulics and even the steering wheel from Italian manufacturer Ferrari. This escalated Haas up the maturity ladder; something which the 2010 teams, with complex systems to design and optimise, had previously struggled with.
Leaving the team to focus on the task of going racing, this would prove to be a clear advantage for Haas in its first year. However, it is also a strategy which could also come back to bite them, as they do not currently own – nor necessarily understand – the parts which have been bought in. At some stage in the process to become a fully-fledged F1 constructor, Haas will need to design these sub-systems, and will inevitably suffer growing pains as they get these systems up to race readiness. Of course, by this stage, they should be a smooth working F1 operation, by which time they should be able to apply the necessary resources to the task, without detracting from the racing itself.
This season, Haas succeeded in immediately getting a competitive and reliable car, but issues have since arrived, notably with brakes. With a modern F1 car, brakes aren’t as simple as a caliper and disc. Instead, they operate as an entire system. Supply of calipers and brake discs technically came from Brembo, whereas the Brake by Wire system, which offsets the effect of regenerative braking from upsetting the car’s braking bias, came from Ferrari. By mid-season, the Brake by Wire system was creating problems. Unable to ask Ferrari for support, it was down to Haas to rectify the issues with its own hardware and software. Later in the year, brake performance in the race led to issues of disks running hot and wearing, inconsistently. This was again left to Haas to work with Brembo, to understand the problem and find a solution. Clearly these processes take time, and are part of the compromise of the ‘Listed Parts’ approach.
So, even with the path to a new car build eased by rules, the team still needs to recruit a design team, find premises and set out the processes to get parts specified, designed, made and tested. This step takes time. F1 staff are scarce, most already are locked into contracts with other teams and logistics are, generally, quite geographically sensitive.
Such is the case with F1 that, by and large, any potential employees are based in the UK – in a triangular zone which spans somewhere between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Northampton. Either that or they are in Italy, based either in Maranello or Faenza. Basing yourself away from these areas is technically possible, though it limits a team’s ability to bring in staff, or at least bring them in quickly.
Lotus Racing (Caterham), for example, started off in Norfolk, but soon had to move to Oxfordshire as a means to source the ideal technical staff. While Manor started in Sheffield, though soon moved south to Oxfordshire, too.
Haas, incidentally, operate from the old Manor factory in Oxfordshire. The design operation is based at Dallara and, thus, the team is close to the potential workforce of Toro Rosso and Ferrari.
With a factory, chairs, desks, computers and plenty of skilled engineers, the processes and procedures then need to be constructed. This is, of course, about shaping the future DNA of the team and everyone will have different ideas. All sorts of specialist software programmes need to be written – from small design tools to car set-up and race strategy apps. Many of these aspects require specialist knowledge and, for set-up and race strategy in particular, will require historical data to predict what might happen at a given race or circuit. Starting from scratch and unable to buy or borrow this data, any team coming in brand new is at a distinct disadvantage in this respect.
Making the car is, ironically, one of the relatively easier tasks. Around these motor racing hubs in the UK and Italy, are a huge spectrum of specialist companies, all able to do the machining, carbon lay-up, 3D printing and surface finishes required for the thousands of parts. In theory, a team doesn’t actually need to manufacture anything at its own factory. Although, parts for the making of wind tunnel models, 3D printing and basic carbon facilities tend to be present at every team’s HQ.
Of course, once this year one design is complete, there starts an in-season development programme, whilst – simultaneously – there is a new car to design for the next season. Much like a band struggling to follow up a successful debut with a ‘difficult’ second album, a debutant F1 team have significantly less time and more pressure on resources to design its second car. This year, Haas have had to divert plenty of in-season development resources towards its new car for 2017. With there being a major shift on the chassis rules, this has proved a challenge which no doubt has blunted the performance of the current car. Wind tunnel time that could be used to make the current car go faster is, inevitably, being used for the new car. Given Haas had made such a successful start to the year, the desire to divert resources to 2017 early clearly makes sense. However, in a 21 race season, this unavoidably makes for a tough end to the year.
What’s more, the process of going racing is ever more evolved and involved. For the European races, the team needs trucks, transporters and everything needed to use at the race track. This includes all the tools and awnings for inside the pit garage. That means all the pit equipment, jacks, stands, wheel guns, fireproof suits, helmet, radios etc. Even the potted plants and bottles of water used in the team hospitality needs to be thought about. For Haas, even with the use of the old Marussia team facilities – as well as much of the team’s hardware – the decision was made to do F1 the ‘right way’. As such, everything was bought new, as opposed to old hardware being repainted. So, the pit wall set up was bought from the same supplier as that which is used by Mercedes, and the rig above the car in the garage came from Ferrari’s supplier. In the factory, there are something like a dozen sea and air freight containers, brand new and freshly painted just waiting to be used.
And with 21 races now on the calendar, many of which are now run at long-haul destinations, everything needs to be sea-freighted in advance. For fly-away races, two sets of everything is required. In addition, the last-minute air freight – which, crucially, includes the cars themselves – needs to be planned.
Equipment needs to be listed, checked, packaged and put into crates before finally being shipped via containers for the relevant sea or air freight. Even for an established team, just setting up this logistics operation to get to a dozen fly-away races is a challenge.
Once at a Grand Prix, the set-up operation needs to be performed quickly and perfectly. As such, the logistics and engineering team members need to work together. A team such as Haas will have planned procedures for everything. The engineers will have considered race set-up and strategy, and the pit crew will have practiced pit stops. But until the green light goes on in pit lane for the first time on the Friday of the first race at Melbourne, none of these procedures will truly have been tested.
For Haas, the new race strategy and process evidently worked in Melbourne. An inspired tyre choice and great driving saw the rookie team beat its midfield rivals, taking points at its first attempt. It was a result which the midfield competition stop and take notice of the Haas approach. Although these early performances proved to be among the team’s best results, the fact the team on two occasions reached the third qualifying session on the Saturday before a race has shown the team also has outright pace, as well as good race strategy.
Needless to say, the full scope of what goes into setting up a brand new F1 team from scratch, to a level whereby the team is operating competitively at a Grand Prix, is no small task. Only when you consider all the work involved do you realise the huge task which has been taken on by the likes of Caterham, Manor, HRT and now Haas. F1 is a tough and unforgiving sport, whose immense challenge is one which runs deep behind the scenes, as much as on track.