Has Haas truly solved their biggest issue from 2023?

We are three races into the Formula 1 season.

While much remains the same from 2024 — Red Bull is leading the Constructors’ Championship and Max Verstappen is atop the Drivers’ standings — recent events have shaken the field up a bit. Mercedes is floundering, McLaren is strong, and Ferrari has certainly closed the gap to Red Bull.

Then there is a fascinating fight shaping up in the midfield, one that has Visa Cash App RB F1 Team in front at the moment thanks to a strong drive from Yuki Tsunoda in the Australian Grand Prix.

With so much on the line, and a short break until the Japanese Grand Prix, this is a good time to take stock of where each team stands at the moment. But rather than a simple review, we’ll look at the biggest question facing each team right now.

Yesterday we took a look at Alpine, asking how quickly progress will come for a team desperately needing a step forward. We also asked whether Sauber can fix a pit stop issue that has plagued them in each of the season’s first three races.

One of our next stops? Haas. A team that finished at the bottom of the table a season ago, but is already on their way towards matching last year’s point total. Nico Hülkenberg earned a hard-fought point in Saudi Arabia, and the team scored a double-points finish Down Under.

That leads us to the question on many minds right now.

Haas: Have they truly solved their tire management woes?

Haas’ 2023 F1 season could arguably be described as a “tale of two days.”

On Saturday — qualifying day — Haas was often right in the fight. Led by Hülkenberg in his return to the grid the team was often right in the mix for Q2 and even Q3. Last year Hülkenberg advanced to Q2 16 times and to Q3 on eight different occasions, punctuated by his performance at the Canadian Grand Prix. On that particular Saturday a combination of a masterful effort, and a little luck, saw Hülkenberg put his VF-23 on the front row next to Max Verstappen.

A grid penalty handed down after qualifying dropped him down a few places ahead of the start, and when the lights went out in Montreal it was Sunday, and a different day.

That’s when the race pace, and tire management woes, reared their ugly heads as they did so often for Haas in 2023. Despite starting in the points, Hülkenberg finished 15th.

“It’s pretty clear now, obviously the result is not what we should be doing and it’s very disappointing. I think we know where to look, the issue is as soon as we get into traffic and behind cars, our degradation is immense, we cannot get the tire performance back and we just slip back,” said Team Principal Guenther Steiner at the time. “We can clearly see it, as soon as we get away from free air and start to fight, we just degrade. We know really what we need to look for, and we’ll be looking for it. We need to put our heads together and try to find a solution to this and not hide behind good qualifying results.”

Tire management would be the team’s focus at pre-season testing, but before that took place, the team went through a shocking change at the top. Just before the season began Steiner was out, with former Trackside Engineering Director Ayao Komatsu taking over as Team Principal.

When the team arrived in Bahrain for pre-season testing they had a clear focus: Race pace. Over the first two days of testing Haas focused on longer runs, determined to solve that riddle from a season ago.

Has it worked?

Early returns are positive.

While points were out of reach in Bahrain, the team secured a hard-fought — and perhaps controversial — point in Saudi Arabia when Kevin Magnussen held off the chasing pack and ensured a tenth-place finish for Hülkenberg. Then last week in Australia the team delivered their first double-points finish since Austria back in 2022 when Hülkenberg finished ninth, and Magnussen tenth.

The results are one thing, but the outlook around the team has changed as well.

“I showed good pace but unfortunately I got two penalties, so that’s not a great day for me of course, but I think I made up for it with the effort in keeping everyone behind to create a gap for Nico to pit. He scored a point so that’s super important and right now, I’m not fighting for a championship, so the real fight is in the Constructors’ Championship, and I’m happy that we scored a point today,” said Magnussen after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. “It’s huge for the team, we earned it today, and it’s positive that we have the pace – for a second race in a row we’ve shown that we have good pace.”

“I feel more encouraged today that the car felt better than in qualifying yesterday, which is different from last year, but it’s practical to have it this way around,” described Hülkenberg after his ninth-place finish in Melbourne.

According to Magnussen, this year the team knows they can be in the fight on race day.

“It’s very encouraging and it’s a different way to go racing; last year we woke up on race day knowing it’s not going to be good. Today, I woke up knowing we would have a chance to fight, and it was true. We were stronger with our race pace than qualifying, and we just need to keep working in this direction,” declared Magnussen after the Australian Grand Prix.

To this point, it seems Haas has truly conquered their biggest demon from a season ago. If that sticks, a follow-up question might be this:

Can they be this year’s Williams?

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