Perhaps no team competing in the F1 world championship is looking forward to the Malaysian Grand Prix more than Haas after a tough maiden appearance in Singapore left it unrewarded.
The first American F1 team in 30 years had high expectations heading into the series' lone night race, bringing significant updates to its cars for both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez. However, the Frenchman endured a nightmare weekend from the very start, while Gutierrez soldiered on for his fifth eleventh-place finish of the year and remains without points as the season edges closer to its conclusion.
Despite needing to evaluate new front wings, floors and brake ducts, Grosjean's weekend never really got going, as his car developed technical issues and, after making only two installation laps, an engine inlet air leak sidelined him for all of FP1. Spins into the barriers followed in both FP2 and qualifying, but the Frenchman could not even take the start from a lowly grid position as an issue with the car's brake-by-wire system meant that he was scratched from the field before the lights had even gone out.
Gutiérrez had a trouble-free weekend in comparison but, with Grosjean's limited running time, the new front wing was shelved as Gutiérrez instead focused on collecting tyre data. It was a shrewd move as the Mexican took advantage of all the information available to qualify 13th and finish a respectable eleventh, albeit one spot shy of earning his first points of the season.
As a result of their travails, Haas team principal Gunther Steiner admits that clean practice sessions are important at next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
“If we can get back to a normal weekend routine and get through the programme, we can get the data we need - if not, we can't do it properly,” he said succinctly, “In Singapore, Romain stopped after FP1 and Esteban's focus was more on the tyres and not the front wing, so we didn't have the data.
“In Malaysia, if we run a normal routine, we can test the wings back to back and get the data. In Singapore, we didn't have that luxury because we had to send Esteban out to get data on the tyres. Some of the tyre data is transferable, but not all and, in Singapore, we run during the night and, in Malaysia, we run during the day, so there will be a big difference in the climate conditions.
“We didn't run the new front wing because the drivers weren't sure how to set the car up with the new wing, so we need to re-test it in Malaysia. It's very difficult to test something in Singapore due to the walls. The readings of the data are sometimes different because you get different aero data when you're running between two walls. The brakes ducts all worked, however, and they will be on for the rest of the year with no problem.”
Morale will also be an area where the Haas team will need a pick-me-up, with Grosjean having been scathing about his car – which, earlier in the season, he rated amongst the best he had driven – but Steiner hopes that both personnel and machinery will be in better shape following the two-week break between races.
“We analyse what we've done and find out what went wrong and try to put measures in place so it doesn't happen again,” he said, “On the morale side, I think the guys were a little bit down after Singapore, but I think, if you are a real racer, you always try hard again and never give up. I think everyone is up for it and rule #1 for Malaysia is to make up for what we didn't do in Singapore.
“On the technical side, I've got very good people and that allows me to focus on other aspects of the team. I have to drive the team's focus, so I try to motivate them again and make them hungrier because we haven't shown what we are fully able to do.”
Having identified Grosjean's raceday problem as a loose connection in the fly-by-wire gearbox, Steiner confirmed that a fix has been put in place to prevent a repeat.
“It is a very complex part of the car, but our problem was very simple - a connector that fell off,” he revealed, “To get to the connector, you have to take the gearbox off and, obviously, there was no time to do that.
“It was strange because, in the first corner, it worked but, all of a sudden, it went away. When Romain came back in, all of the electronics personnel tried to reset the software settings and it didn't work. The guys then took the bodywork off to see if there was any connector that wasn't connected outside of the gearbox, and there wasn't. So, at that stage, everyone was quite sure it was the brake-by-wire system, which is inside the gearbox. It takes one-and-a-half hours to take the gearbox off and, at that point, the race would be over.
“Sunday night after the race in Singapore, we took the gearbox off and it was as simple as reconnecting it. We'll manufacture a device in Europe to be sent via air freight to Malaysia to ensure the connector doesn't fall off again. It will be fitted on the car before we get on track in Malaysia.”