After 2 completely miserable race weekends in south east Asia, Haas F1 Team arrived in Japan full of optimism.
In addition to being a favorite for both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez, Suzuka Circuit had provided both drivers with some of their best career finishes in the past.
While not experiencing an entirely trouble-free Friday, the team avoiding the extreme drama of Singapore and Malaysia and looked to be finally able to take advantage of recent engine updates and a new front wing and appeared to be well position to make a run at Q3 on Saturday.
Friday was not a fluke.
For the first time in the team’s short history, both drivers were able to pilot their VF-16’s into the top 10 and participate in the run for the pole in Q3.
Here’s how qualifying went down:
Grosjean: 7th quick (1:32.458), advanced to Q2
Gutiérrez: 11th quick (1:32.620), advanced to Q2
Cutoff: 16th-quick Fernando Alonso of McLaren (1:32.819)
Gutiérrez: 7th quick (1:32.155), advanced to Q3
Grosjean: 8th quick (1:32.176), advanced to Q3
Cutoff: 10th-quick Sergio Perez of Force India (1:32.237)
Grosjean: 8th quick (1:31.961)
Gutiérrez: 10th quick (1:32.547)
Pole Winner: Nico Rosberg of Mercedes (1:30.647)
Grosjean would roll off on Sunday from the seventh spot after Kimi Raikkonen was penalized five grid spots for a gearbox change. It was easily the best combined starting spots for the Haas F1 drivers.
Both drivers got away cleanly as the lights went out but Grosjean was pushed wide in turn 1 by the Sahara Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and lost a couple of spots down to ninth, one spot ahead of his teammate.
The team opted for a 2 stop strategy as did much of the field but were just off on the timing for hitting the pits and after the first round of stops were complete, Grosjean had dropped to 14th and Gutiérrez had plummeted to 20th with 38 laps left to reclaim some positions.
When the second round of stops had cycled through, Grosjean had regained three spots to P11 but Gutiérrez could not make up any ground and was mired down in P20. Grosjean would make a run at Valtteri Bottas for the last points paying spot in the final laps but come up short as the teammates had to settle for finishing a disappointing P11 and P20.
Nico Rosberg beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 4.978 seconds after Max was able to hold off Lewis Hamilton in a spirited last lap battle. Hamilton would finish third. The victory allowed Rosberg to extend his lead in the championship standings to 33 points over Hamilton with but 4 races remaining in the 2016 campaign.
Seventeen rounds into the 21-race Formula One schedule, Haas F1 Team remains eighth in the constructor standings with 28 points. The American squad maintained its 19-point gap to seventh-place Toro Rosso and the 20-point advantage it holds over ninth-place Renault. Mercedes clinched the constructor championship via Rosberg’s victory and Hamilton’s podium.
Four races remain on the 2016 Formula One schedule, with the series heading to Haas F1 Team’s home race in two weeks. The United States Grand Prix takes place Oct. 23 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Romain Grosjean – Driver #8
“Well, we struggled on the first stint with a green track, and with the soft tires, we had a lot of graining. But then the car was flying. It was really good. I had some good overtakes. I don’t think I’ve ever been as frustrated as today at the end of a race. I thought we deserved much more. With the pace of the car, I was much faster than the Williams’. We just got the life on the hard tires wrong. We could have pitted earlier for the last stint, but overall the pace was amazing. It shows a lot of promise for the future. I’m optimistic about these updates and the pace we had in the car.”
Esteban Gutiérrez – Driver #21
“Everything started pretty good. We’ve been working a lot on getting the best out of our start and today that proved to be better. On the first stint, things were going well. We were managing the gap, pushing to get higher up to the front of the grid. I then came into the pits and I ended back out behind a lot of traffic, and that was it. I was trying to push forward, trying to overtake, and then I had an incident with Carlos (Sainz Jr.). He braked a bit early, closing the door, and I had nowhere to go as I was preparing the corner to overtake him on the straight. After that, I had some damage on the front wing which wasn’t ideal. Unfortunately, this is how the race went. It was not what we wanted, but now we need to keep pushing and keep a good rhythm and really put in a good performance as we head to our home race in Texas.”
Guenther Steiner – Team Principal
“Not really the race we wanted today finishing 11th again with one car and 20th with the other having started seventh and 10th. I think a few things happened today – everyone else had a good race and everybody finished, so nobody dropped out. We tried to take the fight to the Williams, but we didn’t manage it in the end. They were able to make a better strategy by starting on tires they wanted, but that’s racing. This weekend we’ve seen that our car shows speed and we were also competitive in the race. So we’re able to take that away from here.”
We’ll see y’all in Texas in 2 weeks!
Image courtesy of Haas F1 Media
Eric Barnes @ebarnes442