There was a brief window during qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday where it seemed like Haas, and driver Nico Hülkenberg, might have something up their sleeves for the field. Hülkenberg made his way into the third and final qualifying session and appeared to qualify eighth, which would have put him in position to challenge for points on Sunday.
But that window quickly closed.
Hülkenberg’s time was nullified for exceeding track limits in Turn 4, dropping him to tenth on the grid for Sunday’s race. And with teammate Kevin Magnussen starting Sunday in 17th, Hülkenberg seemed the team’s best chance to leave Bahrain with some points banked. But those hopes were dashed early on Sunday, as Hülkenberg came into contact with Esteban Ocon early in the race, a collision which caused some damage to the front wing of Hülkenberg’s VF-23.
That quickly dropped Hülkenberg from 10th on the grid to 15th. Instead of fighting for points, Hülkenberg and Haas suddenly were fighting to survive.
When all was said and done, it was Magnussen who crossed the line first, finishing 13th. Hülkenberg came across the line moments later for a 15th-place finish.
“It was a tricky race – especially the first half. I had contact with someone on lap one which I didn’t really notice so that was a bit frustrating,” admitted Hülkenberg after the race in a statement given to the media, including SB Nation. “I had quite a lot missing from the front wing and lost a lot of load and grip with that, and that made the first half of the race very tough. We tried to hang in there, but I was going through my tires like a hot knife through butter, so we decided there was no point in continuing like that and we pitted for a new front wing.”
Magnussen, who worked his way up a bit in the field, was a bit more positive after his 13th-place finish. “I was pleasantly surprised with our race pace. We started P17 but still made up a few positions and it felt like the pace was alright in terms of where we came from,” said Magnussen after the race. “I think we were struggling a lot in testing and on Friday with tire wear and in the race it seemed like we made a step, which is positive. It wasn’t the weekend we dreamed of, but we learned a lot.”
Team Principal Guenther Steiner admitted that Sunday’s finish was not what the team expected, and conceded that things could have been done differently. “The result wasn’t what we expected – Nico didn’t have a great start losing a front wing endplate and Kevin was, in hindsight, on the wrong tire at the start.”
Magnussen was the only driver on the field to opt for hard tyres to start, with the rest of the field rolling out on the softs. Like his teammate, who slid back in the field after his contact with Ocon, Magnussen fell all the way back to 20th as the rest of the field pulled away on the softer compound.
However, both Magnussen — as noted above — and Steiner found a silver lining: THe improved race pace from the VF-23. Heading into Sunday, that was one of the biggest questions facing Haas. While the results from Bahrain were not what the team was hoping for, the better-than-expected pace has Steiner and the team hopeful for the future.
“I think race pace was better than we expected and that’s what we take away from here – there is good potential in the car. We qualified in the top 10 and maybe could even have been in the top eight if everything went perfectly,” said Steiner after the race. “In the race it didn’t go our way, but we learned a lot and we now know that we’re in the ballpark on race pace like everybody else. We go to Jeddah well prepared, and we’ll see what we can do there – I think points are possible.”