There is some great racing in the midfield in Formula 1 this year and it will be a close fight amongst the teams outside the top three all season long. Williams has been dragged into it, while three teams have yet to get off the mark points wise.
Kevin Magnussen’s eighth place finish in the Chinese Grand Prix has got Haas F1 off the mark with points and this weekend sees the team return to the scene of its best result in F1, fifth last season.
The American squad finished eighth in the constructors’ championship in its debut year in the series in 2016, with many of its points coming from good results early in the season, such as that result in Bahrain.
This year hasn’t been such a fairy tale; a water leak cost Romain Grosjean any chance of points when he was running well in Australia, but Magnussen produced a battling performance in Shanghai last weekend to score his first four points for his new team.
Haas F1 switched both its drivers from the intermediate tyres to slicks on the second lap of the wet-to-dry race in China, and Magnussen moved from 12th place in the early stages to record his first points finish since Singapore last year, catching and passing the two Force India drivers, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, in the process.
The Danish driver, who has now driven all four of F1’s hybrid engines (Mercedes, Honda, Renault and Ferrari) at grand prix events since the start of the 2014 season, identified his ability to keep his front tyres alive – a challenge with the long corners at the Shanghai circuit – as the key to his good result.
He said: “It was a good race. I had fun out there. I had a good car all the way through the race. I’d made a really poor start, so to come back from that and push, I was really happy.
“I was able to look after the front tyres, which I think was key, along with working with the team to get the car in the right window. The race was really well managed from the team. It was good strategy to get me out on the supersoft after the intermediates. You had to fight for it, in terms of passing. It’s not easy, but you also have grip, so you can take different lines and get close in alternative ways.
“It’s so much more fun when you’re fighting in the points. I’m happy for the team and we’re looking forward to the coming races.”
Haas’ team principal Guenther Steiner hailed Magnussen’s performance in China and outlined his belief that consistency would be the key to his squad repeating its 2016 successes in its second year. Grosjean, who started 19th in Shanghai after being given a penalty for ignoring yellow flags in qualifying, made an extra stop behind the safety car compared to his team-mate but fought his way back to 11th, one spot away from giving Haas its first ever double points finish.
“For Kevin to score points on his second race is fantastic,” said Steiner. “I think Romain had a challenging weekend. In Australia it was Kevin’s turn to have a challenging weekend and here it was Romain, though he wasn’t lucky in Australia either.
“Again, I think we showed what we can do and that we are what we think we are. We just have to do it consistently. We can then look to a good season in front of us.”
Magnussen’s eighth place has moved Haas four points clear of Renault, Sauber and McLaren – all three of those squads are yet to score in 2017 – and it is just eight points behind Toro Rosso, which is fourth in the constructors’ standings on 12 points.
Force India has 10 – Perez and Ocon gave the Silverstone-based team its second double points finish from two races so far with ninth and tenth in China – while Williams, which lost out when Lance Stroll retired on lap one after a collision with Perez, and Felipe Massa dropped down the order after losing tyre temperature behind the Safety Car, has eight.
Renault failed to score last weekend after its drivers struggled following their switch to slicks (Jolyon Palmer also started 20th after dropping out in Q1 and was also penalised for ignoring yellow flags), and Nico Hulkenberg was hit with 15-seconds worth of time penalties for overtaking under the virtual and real safety cars.
Sauber’s weekend in China was mainly notable for Antonio Giovinazzi’s two crashes – one in qualifying that caused the yellow flags Grosjean and Palmer were punished for failing to slow enough for, and his race ending shunt that brought out the Safety Car. The Swiss team did at least score its second race finish of the season as Marcus Ericsson came home 15th.
McLaren had another tough weekend. Stoffel Vandoorne did not progress out of Q1 and a fuel problem ended his race after just 17 laps, while Fernando Alonso retired when a transmission problem struck his MCL32. Alonso had been enjoying a strong race and was running well in the points and fighting with Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz (who finished seventh) just before the issue occurred.
Renault and McLaren look set to score points before too long and, although Sauber’s situation remains difficult, the midfield fight is set to be very close in 2017. Haas’ early points could therefore be vital to its finishing position at the end of the season.
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