Haas F1 Team: Belgian Grand Prix Advance

Aug. 22, 2016

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Those toiling within the globe-trotting FIA Formula One World Championship earned a three-week reprieve following the German Grand Prix July 31 in Hockenheim. The mandated summer shutdown allowed crew members to reacquaint themselves with their families and recharge prior to the stretch run of this year’s 21-race calendar, which resumes Aug. 26-28 with the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Measuring in at 7.004 kilometers (4.352 miles), Spa is the longest venue in Formula One, outdistancing the series’ second-longest track, the 6.003-kilometer (3.730-mile) Baku City Circuit, by 1.001 kilometers (.622 of a mile). In addition to its length, Spa is known for its reputation of being a driver’s track, thanks in large part to the addition of the signature Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners in 1939, which created a fast and sweeping uphill, left-right-left combination that drivers view with reverence and attack with gusto.

Spa has hosted Formule One since 1925, with this year’s Belgian Grand Prix serving as the venue’s 49th grand prix. The 19-turn circuit is a favorite of Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez. Before securing his most recent podium when he finished third in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Grosjean clinched the 2011 GP2 Series title at the venerable track. And Gutiérrez, with two Formula One starts at Spa, has enjoyed some fine drives in the wet when he visited the circuit during his junior career in GP2 and GP3.

A wet track is common at Spa, but it’s also common for other portions to be completely dry, as its vast layout means late-summer showers can drench some parts of the track while leaving others untouched. Slicks obviously won’t work in the wet, and intermediate tires and full wet tires obviously won’t work in bone-dry conditions. It’s a conundrum that has often greeted drivers at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Specifically greeting Grosjean, Gutiérrez and the members of Haas F1 Team at Spa is a large presence from Haas Automation, as the venue provides a corporate homecoming for Haas F1 Team.

Its primary partner, American machine tool manufacturer Haas Automation, has its European headquarters strategically located in Brussels, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Spa. This allows Haas Automation to provide its customers with the best sales, applications and service support in the industry. The modern 5,787 square-meter (62,300 square-foot) building includes a full service department and a comprehensive spare parts warehouse staffed by a multilingual team of factory-trained and Haas-certified support personnel. The facility also incorporates an extensive showroom stocked with the latest Haas CNC machines running demonstrations and customer test applications while housing a fully-equipped training area, where Haas personnel instruct Haas Factory Outlet (HFO) service engineers and customers from all over Europe. To facilitate quick delivery of product throughout Europe, the Brussels location maintains an inventory of new machines onsite in a 3,000 square-meter (32,291 square-foot) warehouse, with additional machines housed in nearby Antwerp that are always ready to ship.

Haas Automation’s European distribution system is based on the highly successful HFO concept, where a network of locally-owned distributors is exclusively dedicated to the sales, service and support of Haas products. Every HFO fields a service department staffed with factory-trained personnel and houses an extensive inventory of spare parts. Technicians are locally dispatched in service vehicles fully stocked with the parts and tools needed to successfully repair the customer’s machine the first time out.

If this structure seems akin to what Formula One teams do on a daily basis as they prepare for and compete in a grand prix, it should. The lineage between Haas F1 Team and Haas Automation is strong, as is the methodology. Both will be on display in Belgium – at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the Haas F1 Team garage and in Brussels at Haas Automation Europe.

 

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

 

Belgium is the home of Haas Automation’s European headquarters. You’ve been to many appearances and interacted with many Haas Automation customers. How have they embraced the team and Gene Haas’ endeavor into Formula One?

“The customers love it. I would think it would be pretty cool to be associated with a company that just got their own Formula One team. They’re truly a part of Haas F1 Team. The customers at these events have fun, and they’re able to talk and interact with our drivers.”

 

How do you prepare for the unpredictability of the weather at Spa, as one part of the course can be clear and dry while another portion can be wet and slippery?

“You can prepare for the race by getting the team’s times down for when you need to change the tires. Otherwise, I think the driver’s experience comes into play here – what to do and when to do it. It all comes down to the driver and what they want to do next.”

 

How helpful is it to now have clear instruction as to what can be said on the radio and when during a race weekend?

“It’s nice to know that you can’t get fined now for something you didn’t have intentions of doing. Before it wasn’t clear on what was right or wrong to say, so it was difficult to obey the rule. Now we can say what we need to say. If somebody goes back now and listens to the instructions that were given to the drivers, they realize it wasn’t something said to make them go faster but rather solving the problem at hand. It allows us to get a read from the drivers now on the tires and other information that becomes useful to help us perform better. I don’t think it makes racing any less interesting by telling them something. For me, I don’t think there is a gain or loss, but it makes it easier for the team since now the information can be more clear.”

 

Fuel management played a role at the German Grand Prix, as the Hockenheimring saw drivers at full throttle for two-thirds of every lap. But Spa is 1.5 kilometers (.932 of a mile) longer than the Hockenheimring and drivers are on the throttle just as much. How much does fuel management play into your strategy at Spa?

“Fuel management is about the same, and it’s very important because the car needs the right time to lift off. Now with the radio communication, it is helpful because the engineer can give advice rather than in the past when the driver would ask and the engineer could not answer.”

 

Spa has high-speed straights and corners combined with a tight and twisting section, especially between turns eight and 15. How do you set up the car to tackle all the different aspects of the track? Do you have to make sacrifices in one section to gain an edge in other sections?

“Like in Hockenheim, we play between levels. It comes between using a low downforce and high topping speed at a low track or using the downforce in the twisty section and losing a little bit of speed in the fast sections.”

 

There has historically been a high incidence of safety cars at Spa. When the safety car comes out, be it virtually or physically, how does it affect your strategy, and is there any way to plan in advance for a safety-car scenario?

“The safety car is always included in the plans in advance. The strategy depends on what lap the safety car comes out on, which tire we are on, and if we should come in or stay out. One of the most important things before the race starts is to know the safety car window, when it opens and when it closes. It changes during the race because you get better data on the tire degradation and also from the positions the other competitors are in at that time.”

 

Tires and the duration of their use was the topic coming out of last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. As we come up to the one-year anniversary of the discussion of lap limits on tire usage, is it still an issue, or with Pirelli introducing three compounds to choose from and mandating that two of those three compounds be used in the race, is the topic of limiting tire usage moot?

“Pirelli has stepped up to give minimum tire pressure and I think that helps a lot. They get a lot of data from the teams and then they use that data to give advice. They usually give advice on tire pressure and what the maximum laps on tires should be. The biggest factor is them giving the minimum tire pressure from the data they have collected from the teams. Pirelli has done a great job with that and it helps a lot.”

 

Does the current generation tire’s performance dictate how long you can stay on a set, because the rate of fall-off can be so drastic?

“Normally, yes. It’s a fine line because when the driver comes in, the tire is at the edge. Sometimes there is still 20 percent of tire left, but you come in because the lap times are so slow that there is no point of staying out.”

 

Romain Grosjean, Driver No. 8, Haas F1 Team 

 

Belgium is the home of Haas Automation’s European headquarters. You’ve been to many appearances and interacted with many Haas Automation customers. How have they embraced the team and Gene Haas’ endeavor into Formula One?

“Every time we do something with Haas Automation it’s been very well organized and we always receive a very warm welcome from all the guests attending. It’s been great to be representing Haas Automation in Formula One. It’s a big name in motorsports and a big name in industry. Whenever we meet their customers, especially when we’re with Gene (Haas), they’re always very happy. It feels like a big family, which is nice to be a part of.”

 

How do you prepare for the unpredictability of the weather at Spa, as one part of the course can be clear and dry while another portion can be wet and slippery?

“Basically, you don’t. It’s something that’s out of your control. You don’t really worry about it. When it comes to qualifying or race day, yes, you have to make decisions, but it’s never black or white at Spa.”

 

Spa has been called a driver’s track. Why?

“It’s just a great track. There are very high-speed corners and there are a lot of turns, different types, some high speed, some low – just a good variety overall. It gives you a good feeling to drive.”

 

Spa has high-speed straights and corners combined with a tight and twisting section, especially between turns eight and 15. How do you set up your car to tackle all the different aspects of the track? Do you have to make sacrifices in one section to gain an edge in other sections?

“You always see different approaches at Spa. Either you’re fast in sector one and sector three, which are the high-speed sectors, or you’re fast in sector two, which has more of the corners. Both work pretty well, so it’s a matter of how you want to approach the race.”

 

 

Can you describe the sensation you feel inside the car when you drive through Eau Rouge and Raidillon? Are you able to take that section flat out?

“The first lap you go through flat out, you feel sick, like you’re on a rollercoaster because it goes up and down. You’re thinking, will I make that for the race? But, once you’ve done it once, it’s all ok and you just enjoy the g-forces.”

 

How important is it to enter Eau Rouge in clean air to ensure you have the maximum amount of downforce available?

“It’s certainly a corner where you don’t want to have a mistake. Qualifying in clean air is certainly quite good. On the other hand, if you get a big tow, you can have a massive advantage going into turn five. There’s a bit of an argument for both philosophies there.”

 

Your most recent podium was earned in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. You started ninth and made it all the way to third, finishing behind the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. How did you make up so many positions?

“We had a good car in Belgium last year. I had qualified fourth, but started ninth due to a gearbox penalty. We had a good strategy and good timing with a safety car, too. I managed to overtake a few cars and get on the podium. Honestly, it was one of those weekends where everything just goes to plan.”

 

Prior to last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, your last podium came in 2013 at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. How good did it feel to get back on the podium, especially after enduring a 2014 season where you only had two point-scoring finishes?

“It was great for all the guys, and for myself. We had a perfect weekend on the track. For everyone involved, it was a very good feeling. I guess it was kind of the same feeling as scoring the first points for Haas earlier this season.”

 

Does a race like you had at Spa in 2015, where after a trying season in 2014, remind you that podiums are possible with determination and hard work?

“If I turn up at a race weekend not thinking that I’m the best, or that I can’t win the race, I’d be better off staying at home with my children. I always want to be on the podium. I always want to try to win the race. Of course, it depends a lot on the car, but in the end, you can never give up and you always strive to give your best. That’s the mentality you should have.”

 

Do you have milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Spa?

“I won the GP2 title there in 2011. That was a great year.”

 

What is your favorite part of Spa?

“I can’t choose just one part and say it’s my favorite. The whole circuit just comes together nicely.”

 

Describe a lap around Spa.

“You start off with the hairpin at La Source. It’s a very low-speed corner. You need a good exit to go flat out up to Eau Rogue and then you’re on to turn five, the first right-left corner. That’s normally in fourth gear. Turn seven is quite good fun. It’s a high-speed corner going down. Then you’ve got turn eight with tricky braking. You need to be well positioned on the right hand side of the exit for turn nine. Then you’re downhill again massively to the double-left turns 10 and 11 – the fastest corner of the circuit. Then it’s on to the second right-to-left corner, carrying a bit more speed than you did into (turns) five and six. The next double right hander is very important to go to the backstraight, which is very long. You then go through the Bus Stop chicane – you need big braking. Then you have a very tricky low-speed corner, where the exit and the traction are tricky. It’s very difficult. If you get it right, you get a good lap time.”

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