How Haas can now use Hulkenberg’s secret weapon


2023 was a season in which Haas found itself in a downward spiral and one that it could not stop despite its best efforts.

The VF-23 machine had a potent diet for Pirelli tyres as the team turned all its development focus into a huge package at the United States Grand Prix in the hopes that it would turn around their fortunes and climb from the bottom of the Constructors’.

However, when the package did arrive at Austin, it made no great difference to their fortunes as it became apparent that the flawed mechanical concept on which the car was based could not be rectified with what was an aerodynamic package plonked on top.

In the final few races, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg even split packages, with Magnussen keeping the upgrade whilst Hulkenberg reverted to the old-spec.

But in what was a poor season that ultimately cost Guenther Steiner his job, Hulkenberg at least provided some magic.

Despite its troubles over a race, the car was quick to fire its tyres up over one lap, meaning Hulkenberg took eight Q3 berths, in addition to Magnussen’s three, including second on the road in a wet Canada.

But then the race would start and the VF-23 would go through its usual routine of gorging on Pirelli rubber, leading to frustration all around.

Come the first race of 2024 in Bahrain, and Hulkenberg was up to his usual tricks again, getting into Q3 with 10th, and whilst the team came away with a point, there were plenty of promising signs of a breakthrough.

Why Bahrain matters

Of all the circuits on the calendar, the Sakhir International Circuit is one of the toughest on tyres – so, in theory, it should have been a track that exploited Haas’s 2023 weakness, if it still existed.

A combination of rough track surface, that hasn’t been resurfaced since it was laid in 2004, and heavy traction zones make Sakhir a tough challenge for tyres, but as new Team Principal Ayao Komatsu explains, there were positive signs for the team.

“This circuit exposes that weakness, so I was pretty happy [with our performance],” Komatsu told media including RacingNews365.

“Okay, track temperature is not as hot as normal in Bahrain, but still during testing and FP1 and FP3, you can see the weakness, so it is all relative.

“Then of course, if you go to different circuits, more medium, high-speed corners, like at Suzuka, that will be different, and I ‘m sure we’re going to struggle, and in Jeddah next week, it has higher speed corners and lower downforce, so that is another challenge.

“But if I compare where we are relative to the competition 12 months ago, we are in the ballpark, so that is very positive.”

Addressing Hulkenberg’s qualifying performances, Komatsu labelled the advantage it could be a “huge” advantage.

“For Nico starting from P10 and having one set of new tyres, before qualifying, my idea for Nico would have been P11 on a new tyre, but then he went to P6 and I wasn’t expecting that.

“But then you look at it and tell me who we would have beaten in Q3 with a new tyre – I think the best would have been P9, but there’s no point starting P9 and trying to fight Lewis Hamilton, that is not going to happen.

“But how much of a weapon is it? It is huge.”

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