Craig Murto: America’s team heads home

America’s Formula One team did well last weekend, and hopes to continue the performance when they head home.

For the second time in Haas F1 team’s two-year history, Haas F1 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean both finished in the points, eighth and ninth respectively, in the Japanese Grand Prix last Sunday at the Suzuka Circuit.

Magnussen started 12th and Grosjean followed his teammate throughout the race after starting 13th. The first time both drivers finished in the points was 10 races ago at the Monaco Grand Prix where Grosjean finished eighth and Magnussen was 10th.

The good points day put the American team seventh in the constructors’ standings, with a single-point advantage over the Renault factory team and only five points behind Torro Rosso.

F1 cars are not allowed to refuel during a race, but must pit at least once to change tire compounds. Both Haas cars were on a one-stop pit strategy in the 53-lap race, and after pit stops about lap 20 it took until about lap 40 for both cars to be secure in the top 10. The best battle of the race for both Haas drivers was when they each passed Felipe Massa’s Williams and put the Brazilian back to 10th.

The real heroes on the team, however, were the crew members that rebuilt Grosjean’s car after he crashed hard in qualifying.

“It’s our second double-score for the team, so that’s pretty awesome,” Grosjean stated in a team press release. “I’m very happy for the team. I knew yesterday I had some great pace in the car. I couldn’t show it as I was always behind Kevin all race long, but I had much more pace in the car. I wish I could’ve been ahead. I think I could’ve fought with the Force Indias, so that’s pretty good. We figured out how to get the tires to work a little bit better. It’s clearly the key. When they work, it’s so much faster. When they don’t, you just struggle. We still need to improve that, but I felt much better in the car. I was happy with the brakes, everything went well. It’s going to be great heading to Austin (Texas) now for our second race there. It’s such a cool track. I’m looking forward to seeing all the fans welcoming us and, hopefully, getting some more points there, as well.”

Magnussen was equally as pleased with the team’s performance.

“I enjoyed my race,” Magnussen said. “We maximized our potential as a team getting P8 and P9 and scoring points. I don’t think we could’ve hoped for better, so I’m happy for us. I feel I’ve had some good races lately, but just haven’t had that bit of luck that I needed to get the points. Today, it worked out. Hopefully, I can keep this going and score more points over the last bit of the season. Results like today are definitely not easy to get. You need to get everything right, and I think we did today, so well done to the team.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner, undoubtedly under a lot of stress after Grosjean crashed in qualifying, stated, “It’s a great result for the team. It’s our second time with two cars in the points. Both drivers drove a great race. It was flawless. It’s the best we can do and we did it. I’m very proud of everybody. It was a weekend that started badly. It was complex, but it ended well and that’s all that counts.”

Founded by Gene Haas, the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America, the Haas F1 team debuted in 2016, becoming the first American F1 team to compete in 30 years. It is based in the same Kannapolis, North Carolina, complex as his championship-winning NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

Lewis Hamilton, a three-time F1 champion, won the Japanese Grand Prix from the pole for his 61st career win. Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo joined Hamilton on the podium. For the third week in a row Ferrari had serious problems; Sebastian Vettel did not finish the race due to engine issues.

Four races remain on the 20-race 2017 F1 schedule. The Haas team will be on home turf when the 2017 F1 World Championship battle resumes Oct. 22 for the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.