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Formula 1

Letdown or misleading? Haas's biggest day of F1 2023

by Matt Beer, Edd Straw
3 min read

It had been touted as the biggest in-season upgrade in Haas's Formula 1 history. It featured Red Bull-style ideas.

But still you suspected Haas needed acclimatisation time with its major United States Grand Prix upgrade package before its impact would show.

Then it went fifth and ninth quickest in opening Austin practice with Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg. And then Hulkenberg shot to first place mid-way through Q1 - and it looked like it might be instantly transformative.

Or maybe that was deceptive. Hulkenberg tumbled all the way down to 16th by the end of Q1, and though Magnussen maintained Haas's form with seventh in that segment, he was only 14th in Q2.

That slump, though, wasn't much to do with the new car.

"I didn’t do a good job in Q2 unfortunately," said Magnussen.

"I’m still kind of just learning this car and getting to know it and made two bad laps in Q2 and yet still was around two tenths from Q3."

Asked if that meant the car was actually capable of Q3, Magnussen replied: "I really feel so. I could easily in the data pick up two or three tenths and on my lap in Q2 I nearly lost the car immediately in sector one and was surprised I didn’t crash with the moment I had. So there was clearly a lot more time in the car in Q2 which I didn’t extract."

And Hulkenberg's final lap on the ever-improving track in Q1 was disrupted by the Red Bulls on slow laps. He had to go very wide at Turn 1 to dodge Sergio Perez, who only moved out of the way in the braking zone, and then encountered Max Verstappen in a similarly awkward position at Turn 8.

"Unfortunately that second lap was the one that mattered with the track evolution that we see here," said Hulkenberg.

"But it got disturbed, both Red Bulls interfering with the laps in awkward places which made me lose a bit of time. Unfortunately that made the difference."

Both drivers stopped short of committing to declaring the upgrade a clear big step forward.

"I have some feelings, I don’t want to really conclude anything yet because it’s a different track, it’s a different Tarmac, different compounds, different wind conditions to last time," said Magnussen.

"It’s very hard to compare in such detail. But I feel some things and I’ll take more time to verify it."

And Hulkenberg - who said of the upgrade that Haas "still need to pick through it and understand it more" - admitted that he "wasn’t happy at all with the car" in the practice session before "we made some good set-up changes" and it "felt much better".

"I think we would have gone a long way today so it’s very frustrating," he rued.

But as well as a lack of time to properly assess it, there's a much bigger reason why neither driver is getting too excited about the upgrade yet.

Haas hasn't really struggled to be quick in 2023. Its (huge) problem has been sustaining that over a race distance.

"We’ve been in Q3 before this year with a car that didn’t perform on Sunday," said Magnussen slightly tersely when it was suggested that the potential Q3 pace on Friday proved the Haas was now a much better car.

"So the real question, the real test, is on Sunday.

"We know the old car could do one lap, that’s not the question. I was P6 three races ago in qualifying in Singapore.

"We can do it on one lap, that’s not the question. The question is Sunday."

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