How a missed setup window led to Haas’ worst race of the season in Melbourne on Friday RaceFans

With 10 points for fifth place in the opening race of the 2022 season, Haas scored more points in one night in Bahrain than the previous 50 race weekends combined.

Not only did it validate the team’s decision to halt development of its VF-21 before it had driven a single lap last season and instead prioritize its car for 2022, it also showed that after three seasons, Haas was a regular points-scorer again in midfield could be the doldrums.

But after Kevin Magnussen added two more points to the team’s tally in Saudi Arabia, Haas’ pace looked to be letting them down in Australia – with Magnussen and teammate Mick Schumacher only qualifying in 17th and 15th before retiring to the race finished 13th and 14th.

So what happened to the VF-22 in Melbourne that caused its pace to appear to have evaporated in the first two night races under the Australian sun?

“Well, we’re still working on finding answers to that,” admitted Magnussen after qualifying on Saturday. “But I think we just didn’t get the starting setup right for this track.”

Already during pre-season testing, the teams had recognized how the combination of radical ground-effect aerodynamics and new 18-inch wheels had made the 2022 cars very sensitive to set-up. On Friday — after Magnussen woke up and “didn’t feel great” — Haas undertook a full training regimen and learned they were struggling to get their car into that narrow power window.

Both Haas drivers struggled with an uneven balance with low fuel economy

The extensive overhaul of the circuit at Albert Park has seen average lap speeds increase by well over 10km/h since Formula 1 last visited in 2019. The team quickly found that the route changes were more impactful than expected.

“It was a little different than what we expected,” explained Magnussen. “I think we expected it to be kind of similar to the old track, but it’s actually quite different. And I think we missed the starting set-up and then had quite a long way to go to get a good spot with the car.”

Haas finished Friday only 16th and 18th overall, with the uneven balance being more pronounced in low-fuel conditions than in race trim, fuel-rich. But after just an hour of extra practice, it wasn’t enough for Haas to get his balance issues under control, and in a “chaotic” qualifying session, Magnussen retired in Q1 for the first time since returning, while Schumacher was last in Q2 after just getting in made the cut during the opening phase of the session.

“Qualifying was chaos with the red flag and all of that just hit us in a bad spot and then I was out in Q1 so that’s a shame,” said Magnussen, although he was optimistic that the team would ” move forward.”

Schumacher, too, was confident their pace on Sunday would prove better than what they were able to achieve on qualifying day.

“After a bad Friday we definitely managed to put some speed back into the car,” said Schumacher, who, like his team-mate, was confident the team would pull through

The race started positively for Haas, Schumacher moving up a place at the start before overtaking Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Ferrari as he struggled after a poor start on hard tyres, while Magnussen made good use of the tough conditions to beat Zhou Guanyu overtaking and moving up to 14th behind his teammate. But at the crucial moment of the weekend, the balance problems that had affected the cars in practice and qualifying reappeared.

On Lap 12, Schumacher went too far on the exit of the fast chicane at Turn 10, letting Magnussen through before Zhou followed on the exit of Turn 11. Then, just a few laps later, Magnussen went off the track at turn nine and crossed it over the grass, but managed to avoid Sainz’s gritty fate, losing 13th place to Zhou in the process.

“You okay, Kev?” Magnussen’s race engineer asked. “Yes, my fault. We’re sorry.”

After Magnussen finally pitted for the Mediums under the Max Verstappen-induced Virtual Safety Car, passing Nicholas Latifi and Yuki Tsunoda while Schumacher was passed by Fernando Alonso’s Alpine, Zhou now left Haas sandwiched between the two.

By the time they hit lap 50, Alonso’s medium had become so grainy that Schumacher was wedged behind the slowing Alpine. But after a half-hearted look at the run to Turn One, Schumacher blocked and went too far, allowing Zhou a second time in the race before passing Magnussen en route to Turn Three. Eventually, Magnussen’s own medium began to fade, allowing Schumacher to slipstream his teammate on the run on lap three and through, Magnussen didn’t stop his younger teammate.

“So we are P13. Kevin, P14,” Gary Gannon informed his driver after the checkered flag.

“Sorry for all the mistakes,” Schumacher offered. “It’s okay, man,” Gannon assured his driver. “We learn something new at every race.”

After the team had missed the target both in the pits and on the track at the weekend, team boss Günther Steiner was magnanimous about the fortunes of his team over the three days.

Mick Schumacher, Haas, Albert Park, 2022
The two Haas drivers went off the track during the race

“It didn’t work out the way we planned,” Steiner said. “The car was strong and the drivers did a good job. So we know that if we qualify better we can get points and we’ll keep trying.

“Like I always say, this year we have a car that can score, we just had a difficult weekend. It’s one of three that was difficult, here we are again in Imola.”

Schumacher was less certain about the root causes of the team’s lack of pace but confident they would get to the bottom of it before the next race.

“I think we still need to understand a few things. I’m not 100% sure why we are where we are now,” admitted Schumacher. “But it’s up to us to analyze it, understand it and hopefully fight back at Imola. Right now it’s all about figuring out why we’re where we are.”

For Magnussen, the conclusions seemed clear. The Australian Grand Prix weekend showed how sensitive these new 2022 ground effect cars are to tune and unlock tire performance. If you don’t get both in the right area early on, you’re in for a difficult race weekend. An important lesson to learn as there will be just one practice session before qualifying next weekend at Imola – the first sprint weekend of the season.

“At Jeddah the car we put on track was good, we were in the right window with the car for this track and I just needed to get going somehow,” explained Magnussen. “We didn’t actually have to make any major changes to the car.

“While this weekend was a different story. We didn’t start like we did in Bahrain and Jeddah. I think with the field this year if you miss your window a little bit you will see it very visibly in the standings because it’s closer this year. So I’m not panicking.”

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