Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Rich Walker (from America-land)
When the Haas F1 team begins testing their new car in March 2016, Romain Grosjean will be their lead driver. In Kannapolis , North Carolina yesterday, Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner (Team Principal) made the announcement, formalising the decision, which had been widely speculated was coming.
For many F1 fans, the move for Grosjean was a ‘no brainer’. Given the precarious nature of the Enstone team’s finances and the continued absence of an announcement from Renault, it was obvious Romain’s options to move teams were limited.
McLaren is strapped with two world champions and recruiting Grosjean would make no sense given the protegy that is Stoffel Vandorne.
Force India indicated and executed their driver contracts in a manner which assured their sincerity from the beginning of the season, though Perez to Lotus was thought a minor possibility for a short while.
Williams and Ferrari race drivers for 2016 have been nailed on since Ferrari decided against ditching Kimi.
So maybe this is how Romain saw his options?
“So there’s this American… from the North Carolina. Not only does this cat already own a big race team, he makes the machines that make the machines, Haas Automation. The owner of the team can not only read a micrometer, he makes the machines that make micrometers.
The building still has the smell of fresh paint, there is no existing culture, no baseline for performance, and most of the teams countrymen cannot even spell F1. I would be the first lead driver for a new team. The pay check will clear, a world of marketing opportunities will open in a brand new market, and this is the country that put a man on the moon!”
That of course is the upside, but what about a downside?
Well Grosjean’s status with Lotus has seen him not awarded parity with Pastor Maldonado. On April 19th of this year Gorsjean had to vacate his seat to reserve driver Jolyon Palmer for testing. His comment was “I think it’s unfair, but that’s life.”
The Haas team will be running as close to a Ferrari “customer car” as possible without crossing the line on ‘restricted parts’. And Gene Haas says he will facilitate every necessary resource for a winning car.
Despite pushing the boundaries of outsourcing the build of a Formula One car, the quality and accountability of the Haas machine will be in lockstep to Haas’s commitment to win the F1 World Championship. For Grosjean, the opportunity to be the lead driver for the team through testing, development and onto a championship battle, was just too attractive.
So for Grosjean there was really no downside.
But what about Grosjean?
Is he just the best available driver for Haas?
Driving the new V6 Turbo Hybrid cars requires ‘new skills’ and so it is natural for Haas to select its 2016 pilots from the available pool of those with experience. Grosjean therefore looks to be the best available option.
The new F1 engine formula was introduced in 2014, and Grosjean drove for Lotus who were powered by a Renault manufactured engine.
For 2015, Lotus switched to another engine manufacturer, AMG Mercedes. And despite a bad start Lotus is now 6th in the constructors and Grosjean currently in 9th position for the drivers championship. His team mate Pastor Maldonaldo by comparison languishes in 14th position.
So for the third year in a row Romain Grosjean will be driving with a new engine manufacturer and he can approach the March 2016 testing sessions with a sense of confidence, knowing he has done this twice before. Further, Haas have a driver who is armed with knowledge and experience of the drive ability of two other F1 engines, which may provide invaluable insight for them and Ferrari.
The Frenchman’s number one status within the team looks to be certain.
The next step for Haas F1 will be the announcement of the second 2016 driver. Earlier this season, the team suggested they would be taking one Ferrari reserve driver as part of their 2016 lineup. If this is the case, then Esteban Guitierrez looks to the choice they will make.
Then there’s a small matter that Guitierrez is Mexican, and a Mexican driver in an American car given the current political environment is marketing dynamite!
And what about livery? Personally I’m pulling for Shelby Blue and silver. But it really does not matter, because when the green flag drops for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, I believe the Haas F1 Team will hit the ground running, and hard!