Next week’s season-opening 2016 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix will see an increased field of 22 cars and drivers – and a debut by the first American team to compete in Formula One for three decades.
The Haas F1® Team, based in Kannapolis in North Carolina, will add more than a calling card from the United States and another level of volume: it will increase the competition and the intensity -- and the global spread of the sport.
The new kids on the F1® block will race with a chassis created by Dallara and power units supplied by Ferrari. Yes, very Italian…
The drivers are Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez, respectively representing France and Mexico (though Grosjean was born in Geneva and holds dual French and Swiss nationality). So, yes, very international…
And the team boss, Gunther Steiner, is an Italian-born American citizen who is a former technical director of Jaguar and Red Bull, among many other roles in a multi-faceted career.
He has worked in Belgium, Britain and Italy and speaks German… Yes, a true cosmopolitan.
But the international make-up of the team should be no surprise.
It is typical of Formula One where teams may represent manufacturers or nations, but are composed of talents from anywhere and everywhere.
“We want to be successful,” says Steiner. “Being at the back and being all-American is not a lot of use, is it? That wouldn’t go down well.
“So, in the end, you want the best people you can get… What is important is their talent, not their passport.”
Steiner is optimistic that his team can create an upset at Albert Park, relatively-speaking, providing they can stay in control of the gremlins that upset the final days of pre-season testing in Spain.
There, at the Circuit de Catalunya, a brake-by-wire issue caused problems that were resolved thanks to some solid work by the engineers.
"We had a good final day and came out, again, with our heads up," said Steiner. “But we learned a lot and we know that, in Australia, this problem will not come up. Sure, we had a few challenging days, but that is to be expected with a new team.”
In addition to the braking issues, the team also suffered turbo problems and a front wing failure on the VF-16 car. Steiner was not surprised.
“We knew what to expect. I think we can be in the lower midfield and, if we are reliable, we can be a surprise a few people in Australia.”
His hopes were echoed by Grosjean. The former Lotus man, who switched teams to lead the new adventure, said: “The guys worked so hard to fix this and we found a good solution.
“The car felt safer and more competitive. If you don’t have brakes, it is very hard to drive the car. I think everyone did an amazing job.
“The way everyone has worked and reacted has been impressive. The morale has never been down. It was tough, especially for the guys who were away from home for a month.”
The team has its home near Charlotte, in the United States, and a European base at Banbury, in England. It has Americans, Britons, French and Indonesians on an international staff and it has unlimited ambition.
But first, it has simply to arrive and survive in Melbourne, where the lights go out for the season-opening Australian event on March 20. Then, as they say, the talking stops…