The 2017 Monaco Grand Prix proved to be a milestone event for Haas F1 Team as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished eighth and 10th, respectively, in the 75th running of the iconic race.
It marked Haas F1 Team’s first double-points finish, and it showed the team’s growth since its debut more than a year earlier in the 2016 Australian Grand Prix.
Haas F1 Team hasn’t stopped growing. In fact, the third-year outfit is in a growth spurt, with the speed it displayed in preseason testing at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya carrying through the first five races of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Three point-scoring drives have already been had by Haas F1 Team, but there’s a tinge of pain in that the American squad should really be five-for-five in point-scoring finishes. Despite missed opportunities so far this season, Haas F1 Team is sixth in the constructors’ standings with 19 points, 21 points behind fifth-place McLaren and one point ahead of seventh-place Force India.
Even with Monaco’s tight confines and lack of overtaking, Haas F1 Team sees opportunity at the 3.337-kilometer (2.074-mile), 19-turn street circuit. Its worst finish at Monaco is 13th and it has an average finish of 10th, and between last year’s double-points haul and the speed it’s shown so far this season, Haas F1 Team is ready to run along the French Riviera.
Juxtaposed with the glitz and glamour of Monaco is the gritty and grizzled layout of Circuit de Monaco, which has remained relatively unchanged since 1929 when Anthony Noghes, son of a wealthy cigarette baron, proposed a grand prix through the streets of Monte Carlo. That inaugural race on April 14 was won by William Grover-Williams in a Bugatti and it came on the same basic layout that challenge today’s Formula One drivers.
Challenge is the key word, for there is no more challenging venue than Monaco. The 78-lap race features many elevation changes and the tightest corners on the series’ 21-race calendar. It also lays claim to having the only tunnel in Formula One, which forces drivers to adjust their eyes from glaring sun to shade every lap.
Monaco is the shortest circuit in Formula One and home to the sport’s slowest corner – the hairpin turn six – which drivers navigate at a pedestrian 50 kph (31 mph) while in maximum steering lock. It’s why three-time Formula One champion Nelson Piquet said racing at Monaco was “like trying to cycle around your living room”. Monaco is the smallest and most densely populated country in the world, so it’s only appropriate that its racing circuit emulates the locale.
Grosjean and Magnussen have nine Monaco Grand Prix starts between them – six by Grosjean and three by Magnussen. Grosjean’s best result is eighth in 2014 and 2017. Magnussen’s is 10th, also in 2014 and 2017.
Magnussen comes into Monaco with a hot hand. He has scored as many top-six finishes in his last four races (two) as he had previously scored in his entire Formula One career. His most recent result was a best-of-the-rest sixth place drive in the preceding Spanish Grand Prix, where the only cars ahead of him were from the Big Three of Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull.
Grosjean, meanwhile, is up against a stacked deck. He will serve a three-place grid penalty in the Monaco Grand Prix as a result of an accident in the series’ last race in Barcelona. But with 10 podium finishes to his name, Grosjean has proven his ability to scrap for position and get results, even on a nearly 90-year-old street circuit lined with menacing Armco barrier.
A strong result on Sunday begins with a strong qualifying result on Saturday. Expect the newest tire in Pirelli’s lineup – the Pink hypersoft – to play a starring role. This is the softest and, subsequently, fastest compound Pirelli has ever made, and its racing debut comes at Monaco. The hypersoft is suitable for all circuits that demand high levels of mechanical grip, but the trade-off for this extra speed and adhesion is a considerably shorter lifespan.
Teams have tested this compound extensively, most recently May 15-16 in Barcelona, and have given it rave reviews. It’s no wonder teams have overwhelmingly chosen a high amount of hypersofts for its 13-set allotment. Grosjean and Magnussen are no exception, with each opting for nine sets of the hypersofts to use in practice, qualifying and the race.
With their cars outfitted on hypersofts in a region known for hyper exuberance, Haas F1 Team is ready to roll with the high-rollers. Don’t bet against them.
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
Last year’s Monaco Grand Prix saw Haas F1 Team’s first double points finish. It was a milestone moment for the team, and one year later, the team is competing at its highest level since its debut in 2016. Can you talk about the kind of growth Haas F1 Team has experienced from last year’s Monaco Grand Prix to this year’s race? GS: “The team has just grown everywhere. In general, the aero and design teams produced a good car, and the race team brings it to the tracks and tries to get the best out of it. We are a lot better in understanding tires and getting them into the window to work, but it’s always easier to get that if the car is good. The car is good, so it’s easier to do that. We’ve just gotten better over the last two years. We’re only now in our third season, and I look forward to more to come.”
Haas F1 Team continued to show speed in the Spanish Grand Prix. How satisfying was that considering it’s the benchmark venue for teams because of all the time spent testing there, and because of all the new upgrades other teams outfitted on their race cars? GS: “We proved that the car is quick, and it’s been quick in all five races this year. We just need to get the points. There’s no point in being quick and then going home without points. I think for the whole team it’s very satisfying to have shown up in Barcelona and continued to have the pace we did when we were there for winter testing.”
Does the pace displayed in Barcelona showcase the inherent speed in the Haas VF-18, as it remained quick throughout the Spanish Grand Prix without a host of upgrades? GS: “Sometimes just getting everything out of what you’ve got is better than to keep on upgrading. I speak only for ourselves, because as we’ve seen, the car is still good. And sometimes with the upgrades, you need a little bit of time to make them work. Our upgrades will be coming as well, so we’re in a good spot.”
Magnussen has really come into his own this season, and Barcelona was a case in point as he qualified seventh and finished sixth, behind only the Big Three teams of Scuderia Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. What are you seeing out of Magnussen this year that has allowed him to excel? GS: “I just think he’s very comfortable with this year’s car and he knows the team. He has confidence and he knows his guys. It’s just a combination of a lot of little things that makes him comfortable. He’s just put himself in a good spot to be able to deliver the performances he has.”
At the other end of the racing, spectrum is Grosjean, who has also shown speed but doesn’t have the results to show for it. How do you manage that side of the garage amid the success of the other side of the garage? GS: “Sometimes in your career, and in any sporting career, you have downs. Romain is a good driver and he will get back where he belongs. He’s now got Monte Carlo coming up, where he’s always fast, and I’m sure he cannot wait to get there to prove the naysayers wrong.”
Perhaps unseen amid the adversity Grosjean has faced this year is his ability to shake it off and return to the next grand prix with a fresh outlook. How important is that when you’re still in the early stages of a 21-race schedule? “In sports, you need to be able to do this. If something goes wrong, you come back stronger. That’s the only thing you can do. We’re not even a quarter of the way through the season, so we don’t need to panic. With a car like this, he just needs to say, ‘I will have a flawless weekend and I will be fine.’ A professional can do that, and he’s a professional.”
Qualifying is always important in Formula One, but is it exceptionally more important at Monaco because it is so tough to pass? GS: “The race is on Saturday in qualifying. Overtaking is almost impossible, so if nobody crashes or nothing eventful happens on track or during the pit stops, it can be very difficult. Strategy is key for this race. The only place you can overtake is in pit lane if you are close to somebody.”
Knowing how hard it is to overtake at Monaco, how important is race strategy and then executing that race strategy to come away with a good finish? GS: “Three quarters of the race is decided with qualifying, and the rest is strategy. Normally, it’s very difficult – almost impossible – to overtake. You can gain places through pit stops at the right time. We won’t really know our strategy until we test the different tire compounds. But if you’re good on Saturday, then you normally come home with points on Sunday.”
You sampled the Pink hypersoft tire extensively during the recent in-season test at Barcelona. How did it perform and how helpful will your time spent running that tire be when it makes its race debut at Monaco? GS: “It looks like the hypersoft is a very good tire. The drivers like it, it’s consistent. I’m pretty confident that we will get the best out of it. We tested them at Barcelona just after the race, and the drivers liked them. They work very well. They’re consistent, which is the most important thing for a driver to have. They’re ready for Monaco.”
With the racing debut of the Pink hypersoft tire, how will that play into your strategy for qualifying? The tire will give you a fast lap, but it won’t last as long in the race. GS: “The best would be to qualify on something different than the hypersofts, but that would be very difficult. The hypersoft is so much faster than the ultrasoft. If you get into Q2, you’re almost forced to qualify on the hypersoft. Even if you start 11th with a better tire, the only chance you’ve got to overtake is with strategy, and we still don’t know how many laps the hypersoft will last around Monte Carlo.”
Specific to Grosjean, who will serve a three-place grid penalty in the Monaco Grand Prix stemming from his accident in the previous Spanish Grand Prix, is there anything specific he and his engineers will work on to qualify up front and then overcomes those three positions in the race? GS: “The only thing is to qualify as good as he can. With a three-place grid penalty, I don’t think you can scheme anything. The only thing you can come up with is to qualify as well as you can and then deal with the penalty.”
It seems Haas F1 Team has a better handle on tire management this year. Is that accurate? GS: “I’ll confidently say that we’ve gotten better at tire management. We’ve added engineers to help us with that, as we were a little bit weak there last year. We decided to do something, and with everything in Formula One, it takes time. The other personnel started at the beginning of this year and it seems to be working. We are very happy with that.”
Monaco in Formula One is like the Indianapolis 500 in Indycar and the Daytona 500 in Nascar. Obviously, Monaco is special, but what is the Monaco Grand Prix like for you? GS: “For me, Monaco is a race like all the others. We’re there to perform and score points. However, it’s always special due to the glitz and the glamour. The biggest difference with Monaco is the distance between everything. You have to walk a lot, so I would say it’s one of the most logistically challenging circuits. And during the race it’s quite intense, because if you make even a small mistake you can be in the wall. Overtaking is difficult too, so there is more pressure on Saturday during qualifying than there’s actually on Sunday, because by Sunday the positions are set and unless something special happens, you end up where you start. Saturday will be intense.”
When it comes to Monaco, fans see glitz and glamour. But for those who have to work to make a Formula One car go fast at Monaco, do they get to see any glitz and glamour? GS: “I wish they could. However, they don’t usually as it’s such hard work and there’s always the risk that the car goes in the wall and their workload goes up. Our guys won’t get the time to see the glitz and glamour, but sometimes on Friday afternoon – because we don’t run on Friday in Monaco, its only Thursday, Saturday and Sunday – the guys can get half a day to go out and see a little of the town but, usually, when they’ve nothing to do they sleep because they are tired from the work.”
Things look pretty tight in the paddock and on the pit lane. How difficult are the logistics of Monaco? GS: “They are the most difficult of the year because there’s no space. Everything you need to do you’ll have half the space, and the distances between things are about 10 times further than any other grand prix. There’s a lot of walking, a lot of scooter driving and everything takes longer. You need to plan for that because if you need something from the truck, you need to go up in the garage to get it down to the paddock. It’s definitely the most challenging one, logistically, of the year.”
Haas F1 Team continued to show speed in the Spanish Grand Prix. Despite the outcome of your race, how satisfying was that considering it’s the benchmark venue for teams because of all the time spent testing there, and because of all the new upgrades other teams outfitted on their race cars? RG: “It was really good to see that Kevin (Magnussen) had a good race and that the pace was there. We were both in the top-10 in qualifying. Obviously, yes, it’s a shame when your race ends on the first lap, but it does happen sometimes. The most important thing was that Kevin was fast. We then went testing and I had a good feeling in the car.”
When you endure some adversity in one race, what do you do to come into the next race with a fresh perspective, especially when we’re still in the early stages of a 21-race schedule? RG: “We’ve got 16 races to go. It’s been a tough series recently, with tough luck. There’s a lot more races, and as we’ve said, the car is fast at a lot of circuits. I’m very much looking forward to the next race.”
Qualifying is always important in Formula One, but is it exceptionally more important at Monaco because it’s so tough to pass? RG: “Qualifying in Monaco is pretty much everything. Then in the race, you need to stay in between the walls and wait. Sometimes nothing will happen, sometimes a lot will happen and you can gain some positions. We’re going to focus on qualifying.”
You already have some adversity to overcome with a three-race grid penalty to serve in the Monaco Grand Prix. Does that factor into your strategy for qualifying at Monaco, or does it not matter because, despite the circumstances, you’re always trying to qualify as close to the front as possible? RG: “It’s probably one of the worst races to get a penalty. It is what it is. We’ve got to live with it. Our strategy will be to qualify as high as we can and move from there.”
You sampled the Pink hypersoft tire extensively during the recent in-season test at Barcelona. How did it perform and how helpful will your time spent running that tire be when it makes its race debut at Monaco? RG: “It’s a good tire – probably the best Pirelli has produced so far. I think they should work pretty nicely in Monaco. They were working very well in Barcelona, so let’s see.”
With the racing debut of the Pink hypersoft tire, how will that play into your strategy for qualifying? The tire will give you a fast lap, but it won’t last as long in the race. RG: “They’re going to be faster and I think the endurance of the tire will be good enough. Knowing we could do some pushing in Barcelona during the test – the energy is much slower in Monaco, so it should last for a good amount of time.”
It seems Haas F1 Team has a better handle on tire management this year. Is that accurate? RG: “Yes, that’s correct. We’ve got a much better understanding of the tire. The boys are doing an amazing job to help us to put them in the window and, therefore, it’s much easier to drive the car.”
The posh, elegant lifestyle around Monaco meets head-on with one of the most demanding and unforgiving circuits in Formula One. Monte Carlo is obviously a cool place to visit, but how difficult is it to race there? RG: “It’s pretty difficult to race there. Every city racetrack is complicated. In Monaco, you can’t make any mistakes or you’re straight into the wall. It’s hard to find the right limit of the car. You always have to drive underneath (the limit), unless you’re in qualifying on a very fast lap. It’s very tight there, and it goes very fast between the walls. It’s a great challenge.”
The Monaco Grand Prix has been held since 1929. Does the history of that race resonate with you, and is there a particular race that stands out for you? RG: “I do remember Monaco in 1996 when Olivier Panis won. He was the last Frenchman to win a grand prix. I remember that race, especially, as it was a crazy race. He started 14th and was one of only three cars to cross the finish. Of course, the history of Monaco, and all the racing cars, and the changes to the circuit over the years – we love it because Monaco is Monaco.”
Because Monaco is so technical, do you consider it a driver’s track, where one’s skills can trump another car’s sophistication? RG: “That’s a tricky question. Yes, it’s a driver’s track, where you need to have confidence in your car. But, on the other hand, if your car doesn’t give you any grip, you won’t have any confidence and you cannot make any difference. It’s just finding that very fine balance in between the car, the driver pushing it, and the fact that yes, once you’re very confident, you can actually make a bit of a difference.”
It seems like good days at Monaco become great, but bad days turn even worse. Is success at Monaco so cherished because it’s so difficult to succeed? RG: “That’s probably true, yes. It’s probably one of the most difficult races to win. Everything needs to be perfect, from the first free practice to the end of the race. You need a good pace in practice and, hopefully, get a top-three place in qualifying. After that you need a good start, a good strategy and a good run to the end. It’s very difficult to get that right.”
You mentioned how Monaco is sort of a home race for you. Is your family able to join you? Are you able to enjoy the area on Friday when there is no on-track running? RG: “My wife is probably going to be onsite working, but my kids are not going to come. I love being in Monaco. Having the Friday off is cool. There are always meetings in the afternoon, and meeting fans, which is great, but in the morning you can have a quiet one far from the crazy glamour that is Monaco.”
You’ll have an actual home race in about a month with the return of the French Grand Prix. How important will that race be to you and what experience do you have at Circuit Paul Ricard? RG: “I don’t have any experience at Circuit Paul Ricard. I’ve only raced there once in a GT car, so it’s kind of going to be like a new track for me, but I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s going to be amazing to race in front of my home crowd, and I’m hoping we’re going to have a good race there.”
What is your favourite part of Monaco and why? RG: “I quite like the run up the hill to Casino Corner. It’s a high-speed part of Monaco.”
Is there a specific portion of Monaco that is more challenging than other aspects of the track? RG: “Every part of Monaco is quite challenging, even the straight line going into turn one is very bumpy, the same under the tunnel. It’s one of those circuits where you cannot rest.”
Explain a lap around Monaco, especially now after having competed there with the faster, current-generation car. RG: “It’s one of the places where we’ve gained the most time, and you really feel a lot of difference with the new cars. There’s a lot of minimum speed you can carry and you’ve got to be much more precise than you were before, which is great fun.”
Do you have any milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Monaco? RG: “I won the GP2 race there in 2009. I would say that was a good moment.”
Haas F1 Team continued to show speed in the Spanish Grand Prix. How satisfying was that considering it’s the benchmark venue for teams because of all the time spent testing there, and because of all the new upgrades other teams outfitted on their race cars? KM: “We obviously had a good weekend in Spain. We’re especially satisfied with that result because a lot of other teams brought upgrades for their cars and we didn’t. We still managed to stay ahead. Our upgrades are coming, and we’re looking forward to that. We’re not going to sit still.”
Qualifying is always important in Formula One, but is it exceptionally more important at Monaco because it’s so tough to pass? KM: “Monaco is a very tricky race as you’re constantly building up speed. It’s not an easy track. You’ve got walls everywhere, and the consequence of a mistake is very high in Monaco. You build up all the way through the weekend, and on top of that, the track is evolving a lot as it’s a 100-percent street circuit, with all of the streets used for traffic even within the weekend. There’s a lot of track evolution. The track is changing all the time. You have to adjust and adapt to that. Then, of course, it’s flat out for qualifying. The race is very difficult in terms of overtaking. Basically, the whole race is more or less decided by qualifying and the first lap. Of course, you can overcut or undercut with the pit stops, but I’m guessing we’ll have a one-stop race this year, which means you only have once chance to do that. Qualifying, for sure, is very important.”
You sampled the Pink hypersoft tire extensively during the recent in-season test at Barcelona. How did it perform and how helpful will your time spent running that tire be when it makes its race debut at Monaco? KM: “We did run the hypersoft tire in the Barcelona test. Obviously, the tire is going to perform a lot differently in Monaco, where tire energies are a lot lower, and temperatures will be different as well, tarmac, etc. We’ll get there and try to learn as much as we can about the hypersoft tire at Monaco.”
With the racing debut of the Pink hypersoft tire, how will that play into your strategy for qualifying? The tire will give you a fast lap, but it won’t last as long in the race. KM: “We’ll approach it exactly the same way as any other race. I don’t think the hypersoft is going to be wearing out any faster than the softest tire has done at any of the other races this year. It’s going to last well. Again, the tire energies in Monaco are quite low, so I don’t think the hypersoft tire is a particularly soft tire for Monaco. It’s actually a very good tire in terms of how good the performance is versus wear. I don’t think we’re going to see too many problems with it in terms of extreme graining and so on. It’s going to be fine.”
It seems Haas F1 Team has a better handle on tire management this year. Is that accurate? KM: “I feel like we’ve made steps in the right direction with tire management and tire understanding, in general. We’ve got Tommy-san (Hiroshi Tomitsuka) who’s come in this year, who is our dedicated tire engineer. Together with him and the rest of the team, we’ve moved closer to a better understanding of the tires, in general. That’s a very positive thing and part of the reason why we’re stronger and more consistent this year.”
The posh, elegant lifestyle around Monaco meets head-on with one of the most demanding and unforgiving circuits in Formula One. Monte Carlo is obviously a cool place to visit, but how difficult is it to race there? KM: “Monaco is a great venue. It’s one of the most historic races of the year. On top of that, it’s just a really cool track to race at. I think it’s one of the best of the year.”
Because Monaco is so technical, do you consider it a driver’s track, where one’s skills can trump another car’s sophistication? KM: “I think it is a track where you can make a difference as a driver. You feel closer to the limit because of the walls and the high consequence of mistakes. Good drivers feel comfortable on that limit, or close to that limit, and will excel in Monaco.”
It seems like good days at Monaco become great, but bad days turn even worse. Is success at Monaco so cherished because it’s so difficult to succeed? KM: “From my side, Monaco is the same as any other race. Obviously, winning Monaco would be a dream, but we’re not really fighting for the win there. From our side, we’re still fighting for points, trying to have a good weekend and taking away points. I can understand, though, why the drivers who have won at Monaco feel really happy about that.”
What is your favourite part of Monaco and why? KM: “I would say my favourite part of Monaco is probably around the casino, or the swimming pool complex. All the fast bits are exciting.”
Is there a specific portion of Monaco that is more challenging than other aspects of the track? KM: “Around the casino, again, is a very challenging part of the track. The chicane around the swimming pool is flat with these new, fast cars. It’s not as big a challenge as it used to be, but it’s still a cool feeling.”