Thursday, March 17, 2016

Baby Steps Will Be Victories For Haas in 2016

Thirty years and forty years.

The amount of time since the last time an American team was on a Formula One grid and the amount of time since the last time an American constructor won a Formula One grand prix.

Haas F1 Team will end the first streak this weekend when its two VF-16 slot on to the grid for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix. After the debacle of USF1 in 2010, an American Formula One is a reality. All the doubters have been silenced as the cars have completed testing and completed testing in a respectable fashion and now the questions of if the team will ever show up are changing to about performance.

Can Haas score points this year? Can it beat Manor in the Constructors' Championship? What is the ceiling for this team in year one?

The lack of an American team never stunted my Formula One viewing or enjoyment of the series but now everything has been heightened. It feels like I have some skin in the game. I am not going to live and die with the team but I want the team to succeed. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez aren't Americans and Gene Haas was totally wrong when he said that there was no American driver that made an impression on him and then Alexander Rossi went out and made five Formula One starts and finished second in the GP2 championship but that doesn't matter. Grosjean is a talented driver and has what it takes to run with the big boys.

I know championships and podiums are highly unlikely in year one but Haas F1 is an infant and each step must be treasured. Getting both cars to the finish of a race is a victory. Getting both cars to finish on the lead lap is a victory. Finishing in the points is a victory. Finishing ahead of the other Ferrari customer teams (Sauber and Toro Rosso) on pace is a victory. Once those little things can be ticked off, then the bar can be raised to shooting for podiums and actual race victories but that may be another five years to a decade away and even then it is not a given.

Manor's roots extend back to that 2010 season when four news teams were slated to join Formula One. USF1 turned out to be glitter and not gold and a bruise to the heart of American Formula One fans who bought into the idea. Team Lotus, Hispania Racing F1 Team and Virgin Racing all entered the ring and were slaughtered. The following season Hispania became HRT and Virgin became Marussia Virgin and the slaughter continued. HRT would return for one more season but disappeared after 2012. Team Lotus and Lotus F1 got into a legal battle that morphed the three year old team into Caterham while Marussia Virgin dropped the Virgin. The name changes did not provide any aid to the results. Both teams slogged at the back of the grid making little progress.

In 2014, Marussia finally scored points when Jules Bianchi finished ninth at Monaco while Caterham missed out on points in the same race by one position. We know how the rest of the story goes. Bianchi is severely hurt at Suzuka. Both teams struggle financially and miss rounds late in the season. Caterham failed to return for 2015 but Marussia, revived as Manor Marussia, comes back but were not able to replicate Bianchi's performance in Monaco once in 2015 as the Frenchman succumbed to his injuries.

In year seven, a finish in the points is still a victory for Manor and the same could be true for Haas if team owner Gene Haas has that type of patience. By year three he could be fed up with the amount of money drained into an effort that can't even score a podium once over twenty-some odd races and decide to sell the team off to a sheik or oligarch the stars and stripes could be gone from the Formula One after as many seasons as Vel's Parenlli Jones Racing and quicker than the Eagle and Penske.

Hopefully that isn't the case. Hopefully we see the streaks end. Hopefully an American team scores its first points since Alan Jones finished sixth for Team Haas, run by Carl Haas, in the 1986 Italian Grand Prix this year. American constructors have won two Formula One races that weren't the Indianapolis 500. We all know Dan Gurney's famed win in the Eagle at the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix. Penske's lone victory was the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with Northern Ireland's John Watson; a year after Mark Donohue's fatal accident at the Österreichring. Penske's victory is also the last podium for an American constructor.

A third American victory is not expected in 2016 but hopefully it is in the cards in the near future. For 2016, the baby steps are what should be celebrated.