Austrian GP: Preview – Haas

The FIA Formula One World Championship is ready to get its re-arranged 2020 season underway and Haas F1 Team is geared up to end a prolonged period without competition, commencing with the Austrian Grand Prix, hosted at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg.

The much anticipated 70th anniversary campaign was due to begin in Australia back in March but the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of the event and the abandonment of several others, as Formula One chiefs forged a path through the global crisis.

The wheels of Haas F1 Team’s 2020 Formula One car, the VF-20, have not turned in anger since February 28, when six days of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya came to a close. It has been one of the longest periods without Formula One activity in the championship’s distinguished history, and everyone is eager to return to racing in a safe and sanitized environment at Spielberg to unleash the 2020 spectacle for the first time.

To enable a grand prix to take place under revised conditions Formula One team personnel will practice social distancing, observe hygiene protocols, with travel and accommodation arranged in a responsible manner. Paddock personnel will be regularly checked and tested for coronavirus and its symptoms.

The 4.318km (2.683mi) Red Bull Ring, located in the small Spielberg commune, has only 10 turns but the short lap time leaves very little room for error, with any mistake amplified. It will be the 33rd time that Formula One has raced at the venue but the first time that Spielberg has hosted Formula One’s season-opener. It is also the first time that the curtain-raiser has taken place on European soil since 1966 – 50 years before Haas F1 Team took its maiden steps in the championship.

Returning to Austria brings back positive memories as in 2018 it was the location for Haas F1 Team’s best ever Formula One result, when Romain Grosjean led home team-mate Kevin Magnussen to finish fourth and fifth respectively, bringing home a haul of 22 points. It has historically been a strong track for Haas F1 Team, with Grosjean finishing seventh in the team’s rookie campaign in 2016, following it up with sixth in 2017, while Magnussen qualified an excellent fifth in 2019.

The Austrian Grand Prix will take place across July 3 to 5, with two practice sessions on Friday, final practice and qualifying on Saturday, and the 71-lap season-opening race on Sunday.

With Formula 1 launching its #WeRaceAsOne initiative ahead of the return to racing in Austria, how proud are you that the sport has taken this stance in addressing social issues?
Guenther Steiner: “We all know there are two big social issues highlighted in the world right now, both still very much on-going and in the spotlight. One is obviously the Covid-19 pandemic, the other is racism. I think we’re in a good position to fight them both, very differently, but we will stand up and fight them. We have done this, and we will continue to do this.”

While many in the sport have been unable to fulfil their roles due to a lack of on-track action, the past few months have presumably been amongst some of the busiest in your career. What are the positives you’ve been able to extract from this period and will it change some elements as to how the sport executes its business?
GS: “There are always positives in everything. I would have liked to have made them under different circumstances, but I think the positives are everybody got together – the teams, F1 and the FIA, and we came up with ideas how to make the sport better going into the future. I hope then, in the future, we remember this time and don’t forget about it. I hope that we’re not just thinking about ourselves in three years and so on and not trying to do the best for the sport, both for the mid to long-term future.”

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘preparedness’ with regards to the Austrian Grand Prix. How well do you feel the team and drivers have readied themselves for what’s ahead?
GS: “I think we’re as ready as we can be. Everybody on the team is highly motivated to get back out there and go racing again. They want to go out there and do their job, not just be sitting at home waiting on news as to what’s happening next. The drivers obviously kept on training. I know Kevin (Magnussen), for example, has been doing a lot of karting, Romain (Grosjean) has been doing a lot of sim racing. Basically, we’re ready, we cannot wait.”

Four months after testing in Spain concluded, qualifying in Austria will provide the first real look at where everyone stacks up. What do you expect your emotions to be sitting on the pit-wall as the cars head out?
GS: “The emotions will be pretty high because at some stage we didn’t know if we’d be continuing or not. The world seemed to be going downhill pretty quick in March, now four months later we get to go out racing again. Emotionally, for sure, it’ll be a good moment.”

Do you feel back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring provides a valuable opportunity to benchmark the performance of the VF-20?
GS: “It’s a new situation to have two races at the same track in the one year, especially one week after the other. We’ll have to see how it works out. Undoubtedly, we will learn a lot in the first weekend and hopefully what we learn we can put in place for the second weekend. I’m just really looking forward to being back out racing and getting the most out of both events.”

How much of a buzz do you get from the fans on a Grand Prix weekend and just how different will it feel without them?
GS: “For me, it’s the first time in my career – which is pretty long, over 30 years in motorsport, that we won’t have fans at an event. The fans are the backbone of any event. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a little bit longer this year to have the fans around us again. I’m sure they’ll be back, and we’ll be open to them returning as soon as they can. We just cannot do it now otherwise we would more than welcome them back. I hope all the fans tune in on television or on the internet when we race and come back when the opportunity arises for them. For sure though, we will miss them, but hope to see them soon.”

Looking at the positives of the unexpected time away from racing you’ve experienced, what stands out for you personally?
Romain Grosjean: “Obviously the time spent with my wife and my kids, that’s been great spending so much time together. I also launched my esports team and started racing on the simulator for fun – it’s been a lot of fun.”

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘preparedness’ with regards to the Austrian Grand Prix. Where do you stand on how ready you are to get back behind the wheel and compete – both mentally and physically?
RG: “I think physically I’m better than I’ve ever been. Obviously, the neck is the hard one to keep going. Mentally I’m also very much ready. I’m very eager to go racing. We haven’t had the chance to drive our car like some of the other teams, but I don’t think that will be an issue when we get back to racing in Austria.”

Do you feel back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring provides a valuable opportunity to benchmark the performance of the VF-20?
RG: “No, because it’s only one race track and one layout – a particular one too at the Red Bull Ring. I don’t think we can assess how the car behaves after the two races in Austria. I do hope it’s going to be working well there so we can start our season on a high.”

How much of a buzz do you get from the fans on a Grand Prix weekend and how do you try and replicate that acknowledging that we head into a period of ‘closed-door’ races without fans on-site?
RG: “It’s going to be very different. We’re going to miss the support of the fans and miss seeing them in the grandstands. We’ll miss the enthusiastic atmosphere they bring to a weekend. It’ll be strange, it’ll be different, but everyone will adjust and get used to it. We’re going racing, which is important for everyone, so then hopefully we can open the doors to the public very soon and get back to normal.”

Looking at the positives of the unexpected time away from racing you’ve experienced, what stands out for you personally?
Kevin Magnussen: “For me personally, I’d say just the fact I was able to stay in the one place for more than a few weeks and sleep in the same bed, wake up and have the same thing for breakfast, basically get into daily routines that I haven’t had for years. That’s something that will be a positive when I stop traveling all the time – one day. That said, it doesn’t really make up for the fact we haven’t been racing. So, there have been positives, but they haven’t outweighed all the negatives of the situation. I’d also say it was a learning opportunity, you get to know yourself a little better when you have all this time on your hands. I didn’t know I’d enjoy this kind of daily routine as much as I did for example. I knew I’d miss driving but I didn’t realize just how much I miss driving. It’s been good to feel that, I knew I would, but I’ve always been busy racing.”

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘preparedness’ with regards to the Austrian Grand Prix. Where do you stand on how ready you are to get back behind the wheel and compete – both mentally and physically?
KM: “I don’t feel too nervous about it. To give an example, in this time where we haven’t been racing, I’ve picked up karting again. I’ve been away from karting for a lot of years. It really didn’t take me any time to get back into it and be on the pace again. It’s really been about 12 years since I was active in karting, with the odd occasion in-between in a kart. It only took a couple of runs and I was totally back into it. You never really forget it. It would have been better to be doing it every day, but motorsport isn’t a sport like that.

“You can’t compare it with tennis or golf – those athletes, if they missed a few months, would struggle going straight into a tournament if up against players who were training every day. In Formula One, nobody trains every day in the car, so I guess that’s what makes the difference – we’re all used to jumping straight in with not too much practice and getting on the pace. It’s the same for everyone so it’s not that big a factor I think.”

Do you feel back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring provides a valuable opportunity to benchmark the performance of the VF-20?
KM: “I don’t really know, it’s a good question. I don’t think it’s going to be a benefit or a disadvantage. You of course learn more about the car with every track you go to, with different corner speeds, conditions, temperatures, tarmac and stuff like that. In that way, we’ll learn slightly less, but it’s going to be good just to get a read on where we stand compared to the other teams and to get racing again.”

How much of a buzz do you get from the fans on a Grand Prix weekend and how do you try and replicate that acknowledging that we head into a period of ‘closed-door’ races without fans on-site?
KM: “There’s no way to replicate it. It’ll be very quiet and weird with no fans on-site. It is what it is, and we’ll just have to try and make the best of it. We’ll aim to have good, entertaining races to show on television. The atmosphere will obviously be different, not as good, but I’m personally very excited to get back in the car and get back to racing. I hope the fans will be able to have fun watching us on the telly.”