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Formula 1

The 'no bulls**t' bid to revive Haas

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
8 min read

The Haas Formula 1 team’s main problem in 2023 was so chronic that if it remained unresolved in 2024 there would be “no point turning up” to the track. Such pessimism has been quelled in the early stages of its would-be revival.

Haas is, it desperately hopes, making the first tentative steps up a steep mountain after the drastic action of removing Guenther Steiner as team principal and replacing its technical director over the winter.

The hopes of F1’s last-placed team of 2023 hangs on its 2024 car, the VF-24, not chewing up and spitting out its tyres in the way its predecessor did.

Hence the immovable focus from new team principal Ayao Komatsu during pre-season testing, and his plan to work “backwards” – spend two days building a race set-up, and doing fuel work on that set-up with some minor front wing adjustments to replicate in-weekend parc ferme restrictions.

“Last year’s problem was absolutely so clear to everyone, that if we can’t solve that, there’s no point turning up to the weekend, because qualifying P8 you know you’re going to go backwards on Sunday,” said Komatsu.

Nico Hulkenberg steers the new Haas F1 car to the right in Bahrain F1 testing, 2024

“It’s a strange programme, but does it worry us? It’s good that we are focused on doing what we need to do.”

Komatsu is a no-nonsense engineer, and not a typical team boss choice in that regard. But he knows Haas inside-out and his dedication to the cause is obvious.

He’s been preaching better communication since making his first public comments as Steiner’s replacement and as a largely Banbury-based man when he isn’t travelling he offers a centre point that the team probably missed as Steiner’s many responsibilities in this team left him being pulled all over the place.

And in Bahrain it has already become clear he has the buy-in from his colleagues.


Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu looks at his driver Nico Hulkenberg in Bahrain F1 testing, 2024

The drivers and team engineers seem convinced that Komatsu has brought Haas more clarity of thought, and certainly a lot of focus at the test.

Everybody bought into his ‘just focus on long runs’ mantra because of how miserably difficult last season was. Nico Hulkenberg certainly noticed a difference.

“He's an engineer, so, a different background,” said Hulkenberg.

“He has a lot of experience and know-how. The engineers can't bullshit him. No one can bullshit him because he knows what’s going on.”

Team-mate Kevin Magnussen agrees: “There's some truth in that. I don't think anyone was trying to bullshit last year, I just think [it’s beneficial] having someone who is that technical and has that deep understanding of the engineering of the Formula 1 car, across all departments, really.

“Everyone feels like they can go and speak to someone who they feel is understanding.

“As a leader, to be understood first you have to understand.

“And for Ayao, it's quite a lot easier to understand given his experience.”

Haas had a no-bullshit leader before, but Komatsu’s brand is a little different.

It’s a reference to his engineering background and how much he grasps what is really going on with the team and the car, sure, although it could easily pass for a comment on his personality as well.

He certainly pulls no punches. Asked if Haas worked as a team last year, Komatsu said: “We tried to. It wasn’t great. Why would you think that our upgrades don’t work at the track?

“There must have been some sort of communication breakdown, right?”

A lot of Komatsu’s early work in his new role at Haas before testing was ensuring that the Banbury HQ and its design office in Italy were better aligned. He feels there have been missed opportunities in the past because the team lacked cohesion.

Magnussen feels the “whole team is very engaged” now and believes that better collaboration is visible at the track too.

“There's a much more transparent discussion between all the different departments,” he said.

“I see faces from different departments in the garage, laying underneath the car, looking at the actual thing and talking.

“There's just a much better sharing of information.”

Hulkenberg reckons the team’s trackside operation was not really an issue last year, it was more broadly across the company there were issues, which is where key areas like car development are affected.

Nico Hulkenberg sips his drink as Haas employees work on computers in Bahrain F1 testing, 2024

With Komatsu in charge in the UK and new technical director Andrea de Zordo steering things in Maranello, the early feedback is more positive.

“The best thing that I’m seeing now is that the two facilities in Italy and the UK, they work a lot more together,” said De Zordo.

“This you can even feel the benefit of and probably it is the main change at this moment.

“He [Komatsu] is putting in a lot of effort to let the people work together.

“Now, there is a lot more discussion and involvement with the directions to take and I think this is amazing.”


An overhead shot of the Haas F1 car with the front on the right and rear on the left in Bahrain F1 testing, 2024

Whatever the VF-24 is capable of in the short-term, Komatsu made damn well sure Haas devoted as much time as possible to squeeze the most from it in testing. That led to the team completing more long runs and more laps than any other last week.

By the end of the three days of running, Komatsu was borderline satisfied that progress had been made in the team’s key area. The severity of the Sakhir track was a good reference to “expose our weaknesses”, he said. And the VF-24 seemed to stand up quite well.

The early indication is the car is performing more predictably and consistently aerodynamically. This is giving the drivers more confidence and more control over tyre management, as the aero stalls that the car seemed to suffer from at the rear are not being replicated now.

“Last year, our base car, it just wasn't consistent enough,” said Komatsu.

“So, whatever we did, either car set-up or driving, after five laps, the tyres are dead.

“It's a good step forward. I am not saying our baseline guide is fantastic. It's not, you can see that in high speed we are still lacking lots of downforce.

“But at least it's a consistent base. The drivers know what they're getting every single lap.”

The drivers are in agreement that what Komatsu calls the “quite nasty” experience of driving last year’s car has been improved.

“There’s a bit of last year's car in it, but on a higher level, on a higher scale,” reckoned Hulkenberg.

“There's definitely clear improvement visible, but still further room for improvement.”

Magnussen added: “You can push a bit more, and it's a bit easier to manage the tyres.

“They don't just fall off no matter what you do.”


Kevin Magnussen, Ayao Komatsu and Nico Hulkenberg pose as the new Haas F1 car is revealed

In terms of what this means for Haas’s expectations, well, they are still rather modest. For starters, Komatsu’s merely pleased that the team’s progress indicates “we can survive the race”.

Most paddock observers feel Haas is, as Komatsu expected, at the back. But it could be competitive in the lower midfield and it would not be a surprise to see at least one Haas in Q2.

But for Haas, this season needs to be about so much more than qualifying well. Komatsu said: “In, Abu Dhabi Nico qualified P8 and we all knew there was no chance to score a point. I don’t expect that to be the case based on what we’ve seen.”

But he also points out that even degradation is relative. Komatsu's observation from testing was that every team seems to be suffering less degradation than last year. So how much has Haas really improved?

“But even with that, I think we are much more in the ballpark,” said Komatsu.

“Whereas I do remember last year here, the very first long run that we did, I was like, ‘Oh, my God’…”

A close up shot of the rear of Haas' F1 car in Bahrain F1 testing, 2024

There are things in the short-term and long-term that really encourage Haas. Komatsu says some of the progress with tyre management seen at the test, “we never saw last year”.

Magnussen reckons its “flat” 2023 development curve has been replaced by some encouraging work in the windtunnel for the VF-24’s first upgrades – something De Zordo confirmed.

“Of course, I expect bigger development this year,” De Zordo said.

“Last year at the first part of the year we hoped to find more performance. At several stages we were just stuck and it took a lot of time to change direction.

“This year, everything seems to respond a lot better.”

That cannot be taken on trust given this is a team that frequently fails to improve its car through a season.

But that almost certainly has to change in 2024 if Haas is going to fight consistently for points, because for all the positivity, expectations are being kept in check early on.

“I'm not going to come away from here that frustrated if we don't score points because we all know that we are on a mission that has just started,” said Magnussen.

“It’s a lot of change that’ll be implemented from now on and that will have an effect later on.

“In a short amount of time, we've made good progress, progress that we didn't see at all before we shifted [last year].

“So, some positive signs, but I’m still not expecting great things at the beginning.”

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