Haas F1 used first day of pre-season testing to address a huge problem from 2023

The first few hours of the 2024 Formula 1 season are in the books, and if the start to the year is any indication, it will look very similar to 2023.

Once again it was Max Verstappen atop the timing sheets after the first day, as the defending Drivers’ Champion pushed his RB20 to the top of the grid, more than a second clear of Lando Norris. While timing data is of course to be taken with a grain of salt, it is important to note that Verstappen’s time was over a second faster than his day one time from last year.

“Ominous” was the description that the commentators on F1TV landed on as their coverage drew to a close.

At the other end of the spectrum? Haas. It is a year of change for the sole American-based F1 team as Guenther Steiner, the only Team Principal the team has ever known was shockingly sacked ahead of the 2024 campaign. Ayao Komatsu steps into his place, having been promoted from his role as the team’s Director of Engineering.

When the dust settled on the first day of testing, it was the Haas duo of Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen at the back of the pack. Magnussen finished in P17, with Hülkenberg right behind him in P18. (Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Pérez did not drive on Wednesday as their teammates were tapped for a full day’s work).

Yet, according to Komatsu in the team’s post-practice report, it was a “decent” day for the team.

And he might be right.

“For our first day of pre-season testing, overall, I think it was a pretty decent day – it wasn’t perfect, but it was a really decent start. We focused the whole day on long-run tire management, we generated really good data,” said Komatsu following Wednesday’s dual sessions.

“Both drivers ran a few different strategies, and we can see the results of that. We’ve learned quite a lot as a team,” added Komatsu. “I’d say we managed to achieve most of our objectives for the day, which is good. For tomorrow we’ve got another big set of objectives – knowing what we’ve learned from today. We have a few operational things to sharpen up as well, just so we run slightly better, but with 148 laps recorded, we now have plenty to build on for Thursday.”

Magnussen completed 66 laps in the morning session while Hülkenberg finished 82 laps, with what the team called an emphasis on “longer stints.”

The emphasis on tire management is a critical point for Haas, given their issues with tire wear a season ago. Last year’s challenger, the VF-23, showed tremendous one-lap pace at times in 2023. Take, for example, the Canadian Grand Prix. Thanks to a mega effort from Hülkenberg — and a bit of luck with the weather — he managed to put the VF-23 on the front row next to Verstappen.

While a grid penalty saw Hülkenberg start fifth, the qualifying effort was a glimpse into the VF-23 potential, at least over one lap.

Sunday, however, was a much different story. ONce the lights went out, Hülkenberg shuffled back through the field, and ultimately finished 15th. A major culprit? Tire wear.

“It’s pretty clear now, obviously the result is not what we should be doing and it’s very disappointing. I think we know where to look, the issue is as soon as we get into traffic and behind cars, our degradation is immense, we cannot get the tire performance back and we just slip back,” said Steiner at the time. “We can clearly see it, as soon as we get away from free air and start to fight, we just degrade. We know really what we need to look for, and we’ll be looking for it. We need to put our heads together and try to find a solution to this and not hide behind good qualifying results.”

From the drivers’ perspectives, Wednesday was a solid day of work for Haas.

“I feel very good. Physically, it was a good morning as it’s always fun getting back into the car after the winter. I think we had a pretty positive morning, we just focused on long runs and we’re really trying to address the issues that we had last year with the tires,” said Magnussen. “That’s going to be our main focus and we’re happy about what we saw this morning, but there’s clearly a lot of work to do but everyone’s fired up to investigate and learn about this new car.”

“Our afternoon was mainly about high-fuel, long runs and the objective was to learn about the car and try some things with the tires,” added Hülkenberg. “We know it was our weakness last year so that’s really been the focus today. It was all good and positive, there were no issues on the technical side and with 82 laps on the board, everything was achieved.”

Solving their tire wear woes was atop the pre-season to-do list at Haas. If Wednesday’s work gets them closer to solving that riddle, it will have truly been a decent day for the team.

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