|Pundits vain attempts to define a pecking order before Melbourne among F1’s unassailable trio of front-runners is a difficult exercise, but guessing the status of the mid-field runners is an even more challenging task.
On the surface, and just by looking at lap times and on-track behaviour, one outfit has without question emerged as a dark horse for the title of “best of the rest” in 2018: the Haas F1 Team.
From last year’s second-tier winner – Force India – to Renault and McLaren, and without discounting Toro Rosso’s surprising pre-season form, it’s anybody’s guess who shall prevail in Australia, let alone at the end of the season.
Haas however is a welcome addition to the group. The US outfit’s VF-18 charger, dubbed the ‘white Ferrari’ by the media for its technological link with the Scuderia, achieved an impressive level of performance in Barcelona.
GPDA president Alex Wurz, a savvy F1 observer, was trackside at the Circuit de Catalunya and said he was impressed by what he saw.
“Haas made a big impression on me,” said the Austrian. “The car looks excellent — as good as last year’s Ferrari. And everyone knows how good that worked. And the handling is really impressive on any fuel load,” he added.
This season, Haas will enjoy the benefit of a current-spec Ferrari engine and a couple years of experience to iron out a few subsisting creases which likely remain on the operational front handled by the very competent Guenther Steiner.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was another man who took note of the US team’s excellent showing in testing.
“I very much hope they are there. They deserve it,” said the Austrian. ” Gene [Haas] has taken some risks. He’s a true entrepreneur. Crazy Guenther is giving it all. He’s a good operator. He knows what he’s doing.”
So, can Haas really pull off an upset this season?
On paper, and based on what we’ve seen to date from the VF-18, anything is theoretically possible, but that observation holds true for practically every team on the pitlane. The odd unexpected result – even a podium finish – could be in the cards, but what Haas is looking for is a significant and consistent run up the ranks.
Unfortunately, since its arrival at the pinnacle of motorsport, the team’s performance has followed a typical pattern: a reasonably good start to its campaign has been followed by a mid-season slump, something Haas will absolutely need to avoid if it is to entertain any ambitions of moving up the grid.
Consistency will therefore be paramount for Haas to emerge as a strong mid-field contender this year, and that quality also needs to inhabit the driving of both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Steering clear of trouble hasn’t always been the duo’s forte in the past.
Phillip van Osten
Editor of F1i.com