When considering which Formula 1 team made the biggest strides forward in 2022, Haas was only just pipped to first place by Alfa Romeo.
However, having said that where the latter F1 team started at the top of the hill and rolled gently down, Haas’s year was a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.
Design by Smith
The first team to unveil their car for the 2022 season. The driving force behind its design was the talented Technical Director Simone Resta. On loan from Haas’s engine supplier, one can’t help but speculate about how close these two teams may or may not have collaborated on the VF-22’s development.
Regardless, it performed well in pre-season testing and promised to propel the team from the back of the grid into the mid-field. Then Putin invaded Ukraine.
The demagogue’s actions now made having a Russian driver and a Russian naming sponsor a tad awkward. So much so that contracts with both parties were promptly terminated. Saying dasvidania to any patronage is tough for a smaller team, but when it’s also paying the salary of one of your drivers, it’s a heavy hit.
Despite this, Team Principal Guenther Steiner put a positive spin on things. “There are more ways to get the funding, so there’s no issue with that.” Was the response from the paddock’s “primary doer” as he was once described.
Return of the Mag
And do he did. Moving swiftly, Steiner made what was surely the most cash-efficient driver appointment of the season. Returning to Formula 1, the pilot he reluctantly let go of for Russian money in the first place, Kevin Magnussen. Always popular with Gene Haas, Steiner, and the team, Kmag slotted right back into the constructor’s operation and F1 as if he’d never left.
To underline this piece of sage decision-making, the Dane repaid Steiner’s trust and bagged valuable points in the opening round in Bahrain. Finishing fifth in his first race and leaving Haas third in the Constructors Championship. The car had signalled that its testing form was genuine, and the team were no longer the “Clampetts” of the grid, tooling around at the bottom of the table.
Back to reality for Haas
Unfortunately, by June Haas had returned to their “tooling” and languished at the bottom of the table, well, ninth, to be precise. Despite having the potential to be in sixth, things had not gone the team’s way.
To make it more frustrating, it was difficult to narrow the problems to any particular area. There had been bad strategy calls, engine failures, and driver errors on both sides of the garage. However, the biggest weakness was Mick Schumacher.
A cobbler’s millstone
Like an albatross around the team’s neck, his propensity to break the car had become a financial drain on the team’s scant resources. One highlight was his spectacular off in Saudi, where young Schumi blew $1 million dollar in a single visit to the scenery.
Something you could forgive a driver for if he regularly brought home the points bacon. But he didn’t. He simply wasn’t quick enough to finish in the top ten. Icing was then added to the cake in Japan when he bin’d the car after the chequered flag in FP1. This last act almost certainly sealed his departure.
No honey, without the money
Such was the financial pressure on the team that there were no upgrades for the VF-22 until the Hungary round in July, and then only on Magnussen’s car. Unfortunately, the impact of the new kit was negligible in the scheme of things.
Unsurprisingly, with little money in the kitty, the car had fallen behind in development terms, and they were now unable to challenge teams they had formally beaten earlier in the season.
But there’s gold in them there hills..
Then In October, Haas landed a big fish sponsor in the form of MoneyGram, a financial services company. As of 2023, MoneyGram would become Haas’s headline sponsor. Not much help for 2022 but a comforting thought nonetheless.
But the Gods weren’t finished with the team yet. A miracle occurred in the season’s penultimate round at Sao Paulo as Magnussen topped Q3 for the sprint race.
Yes, there may have been some divine intervention, but no one cared. Finding someone in the Paddock who wasn’t happy to see Kmag and Haas take their first pole was difficult. His teammate, meanwhile, balanced the books by qualifying at the opposite end of the grid.
For the record, it was also the first pole for a US constructor since Shadow sat on the front row at the British Grand Prix in 1975.
Goodbye cruel Circus, I’m off to join the World
Finally, in Abu Dhabi, Steiner announced the news that wasn’t really news: the departure of Mick Schumacher. I genuinely feel sorry for Mick, as evidence only points to him being a decent guy.
Ultimately, he did not show enough potential for a team the size of Haas to retain him without slapping some big mulla on the table. Even the crowd behind the “Save the Mick” campaign earlier in the year had melted away as the writing was clearly on the wall.
In summary, eighth place is probably the best we would have expected Haas to finish before the season started. The fact that they managed it with all the problems they faced is a testament to the team’s grit, the driving of Kevin Magnussen and the leadership of Guenther Steiner.
I look forward to seeing them on the grid in 2023. The partnership of Magnussen and Nico Hülkenburg may not set the world alight. However, if the 2023 car is in a similar performance window with the competition as 2022, then a mid-table finish is a realistic prospect.