Formula 1 is back in Melbourne this week, for the Australian Grand Prix.
For Guenther Steiner and Haas, that means a return to where it all began.
Haas joined the F1 grid for the 2016 season, and that year the Australian Grand Prix was the opening race of the season. The team stunned the F1 world, as Romain Grosjean delivered a shock sixth-place finish, securing eight points for the team in their F1 debut. That was the first time in F1 history that an American constructor finished in the points in their debut race, and the first time any constructor secured points in their debut since Toyota Racing back in 2002.
So this week brings back some strong memories for Steiner and the team.
“I will never forget our first race in 2016 – getting to Australia and being confronted with all the issues we had because it’s still the first race for a team, and it’s very difficult for a new team in Formula 1,” said Steiner this week ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. “For us scoring points, every time I go there I remember that moment and for the team and people who were there on the first day, they still remember it. For us it’s always a great way to come back to that place and remember good memories.”
Of course, much has changed for Steiner and Haas since that debut in 2016. The Australian GP is now the third race on the calendar, meaning that Haas has two races under their belt already, with some mixed results. Drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg finished out of the points in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, but Magnussen managed a hard-fought tenth-place finish in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, notching the team’s first points of the season two weeks ago.
“This year we started off with a clear target in mind to better our position in the Constructors’ Championship from last year. Obviously, we didn’t score in Bahrain but as we all found out there are four very strong teams now in Formula 1 and the points that are up for grabs are not many,” said the team boss. “In Bahrain, we didn’t score but now we’ve scored one point in Saudi Arabia, and it was done pretty well. By saying that, I mean we didn’t luck into the point, we fought well for it. Getting points is the biggest motivation for the team, if you get points the team is happy and motivated to get up and go to the next race.”
The driver that secured that point in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah, also has fond memories of Melbourne. Back in 2014 Magnussen made his F1 debut in the Australian Grand Prix driving for McLaren, and secured a podium in his very first race, finishing third. “When I look back, I feel like I was a child back then. It’s basically a third of my life since then and a lot of stuff has happened since,” recalled Magnussen. “It was a very intense weekend because having your first Formula 1 race weekend in itself is a big thing, a great experience on its own. Then, getting on the podium made it that much more special and certainly one of the weekends in my life that I’ll remember forever.”
Things have certainly changed since 2014, and the Danish driver admits that a podium in 2023 would mean much, much more.
“A podium would definitely mean more now than back then though. Back then, I was in a whole different mindset, as I came from junior categories where podiums, wins and championships were a regular thing. Getting on the podium in Formula 1 was a big thing but it was also something that I almost expected and anticipated, whereas reality showed later on that it wasn’t going to be the norm,” said Magnussen. “Now, it would mean so much more because it’s not something I’m anticipating as such – I’m dreaming, hoping and working towards it – but it’s not something we can expect, so it would mean a million times more than it would back then.”
Can Haas notch a podium Down Under? As Steiner concedes, the grid is as tough as ever.
“As we’ve discussed, there are only a few points available for the midfield teams and everyone is in that midfield, from P6 down it’s all midfield, there is nobody behind. We must take every opportunity,” said the Team Principal. “I think we are in the midfield, the upper end of it, but every race could see a change where each team is. The only thing to do at the moment is to work hard and try not to make mistakes because they will cost dearly.”
The Australian Grand Prix kicks off with practice sessions later this week. We’ll see if Haas can rekindle some of that magic Down Under from 2016 this weekend.