After racing along the French Riviera in Monaco, Haas F1 Team and the rest of its counterparts in the FIA Formula One World Championship head to Montreal, home to the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve within Parc Jean-Drapeau on the St. Lawrence River.
The 4.361-kilometer (2.710-mile), 14-turn circuit has hosted Formula One since 1978, and in its 37th grand prix to be contested June 12, it hosts 11 organizations including Haas F1 Team, the first American Formula One team in 30 years.
Haas F1 Team comes into Round 7 of the 21-race Formula One schedule eighth in the constructor standings, two points behind seventh-place McLaren and 16 points ahead of ninth-place Renault. Twenty-two points have been earned by Haas F1 Team via three point-paying finishes, the most of any new team in this millennium. When Jaguar debuted in 2000 and when Toyota came on the scene in 2002, each entity managed only two point-paying finishes in their entire first seasons for a combined total of six points.
Romain Grosjean has earned all 22 points for Haas F1 Team, but teammate Esteban Gutiérrez is poised to add to that tally. With back-to-back 11th-place finishes in Barcelona and Monaco, Gutiérrez is knocking on the door of a point-paying result.
In two career Formula One starts at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Gutiérrez has a best finish of 14th, earned in the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix. Grosjean has four career starts in the Canadian Grand Prix, and his first was his best – a second-place run in 2012. As the duo return to the most populous city in the province of Quebec, they look to return to the front-running form shown when Grosjean finished sixth in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and fifth in Round 2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
An in-season test following the fifth race of the season in Barcelona allowed Haas F1 Team to further develop its racecar and come to grip, literally, with the Pirelli P Zero Purple ultrasoft tire, which made its racing debut in the Monaco Grand Prix. The ultrasoft compound is the softest tire in Pirelli’s range, with rapid warming and massive performance. It is best used on tight and twisting circuits where mechanical grip is at a premium.
Haas F1 Team is employing an aggressive tire strategy at Montreal, choosing to use just two of the three tire compounds provided by Pirelli. Only three sets of the P Zero Yellow softs have been selected for each driver, with the remaining 10 sets to each driver consisting of ultrasofts. The P Zero Red supersofts have been totally eschewed by Haas F1 Team.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a semi-street circuit with long straights and tricky hairpins. It’s a low downforce track, notorious for hard-braking zones and the Wall of Champions – an unforgiving barrier on the track’s final chicane that can make world champions feel like world chumps.
It’s a challenging layout offset by Montreal’s charm, a juxtaposition highlighted by the wheel-to-wheel racing amid the remnants of Expo 67 and the 1976 Summer Olympics. And where medals were earned by Olympians from around the globe 40 years ago, Grosjean and Gutiérrez will put the pedal to the metal in pursuit of points and, potentially, a podium of their own.
Both drivers mentioned at Monaco that despite their result, they felt more comfortable with the car. What’s different from what they experienced in Spain?
“In just doing the test in Barcelona after the Spanish Grand Prix, we gained back confidence in what we were doing. In China and in Russia, we struggled with finding the proper working range of the tires. Now, we just have more confidence in our whole package. We’re back to where we were at the beginning of the season.”
As the season has progressed, what has been the rate of development for teams in Formula One? Does it seem to ratchet up another few notches because the drivers and teams get more and more experience with their car?
“Absolutely, because there is no testing allowed anymore during the season except for the two days we had in Spain. The testing is done at the racetrack, and every time you drive the car, you learn. The drivers learn more about the car and how to set it up. If you have problems like we’ve had on Fridays and Saturdays, you don’t learn so much. The more you can run, the more you learn. At the same time, the gains we make get smaller and smaller because we’re constantly fine tuning, and so is everyone else.”
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a semi street circuit. Is there anything you can take from Monaco and apply to Montreal, especially considering Pirelli is bringing the same tire compounds?
“Pirelli is bringing the same tires – the ultrasoft, supersoft and soft. We’re only using the ultrasoft and soft. It’s a challenge to find the perfect working ranges for these tires. We’ve never had the ultrasoft in Canada. It just debuted in the last race at Monaco. We need to see how that tire works, specifically, in Canada.”
You’ve gone with a pretty aggressive tire strategy for Montreal – no supersofts, only three sets of softs and 10 sets of ultrasofts for each driver. Only you and Renault have opted for no supersofts. What’s the methodology behind this decision?
“We only tested the ultrasofts once before making the decision to use them in Canada, and that was in Barcelona. We will see in Canada if we made the right decision. We know more about the ultrasofts now after having used them in Monaco. We just need to do our best to make them work as best as possible.”
Canada is known as the hardest-braking grand prix of the year. What do you need to make the most of your car’s braking capability, and how do your drivers manage their brakes for the entire, 70-lap race?
“The biggest thing is the confidence of the driver in the brakes. More confidence means more speed. They need to be confident that the brakes always operate the same, at the same point, at the same time. That is the most important thing. The team can monitor the wear with telemetry, so if we get in danger we can actually tell the driver over the radio that they’re having a problem.”
Last year when you came to Montreal as a spectator, you were asked by media where you would like Haas F1 Team to be when it arrived at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2016. You said that you hoped you had scored some points by then and were putting forth a respectable effort. Mission accomplished?
“I think what we promised, we did. We are respectable and we have some points, but you always want more. That’s racing. You’re never happy with what you’ve got, and you always want more.”
Montreal marks the first stint of back-to-back races, as the new Baku City Circuit debuts the very next weekend. Considering that Montreal and Baku are both flyaway races, how difficult are the logistics of moving a team across an ocean when you only have two days to pack up from one venue and arrive at another?
“It’s hard work for the team. The logistics are very well organized for F1 and for the teams, but people need to work late and get up early and fly direct to Baku. A lot of people fly direct with a charter plane from Montreal to Baku. It’s very demanding schedule.”
Knowing that the turnaround time between Montreal and Baku is incredibly tight, how important is it for both racecars to finish the Canadian Grand Prix in one piece?
“For sure it’s important, but if something happens, we’re ready.”
Earlier this year, Haas F1 Team was fifth in the constructor standings. Heading into Round 7 at Montreal, it’s eighth in the constructor standings. Are you paying attention to the points, or is your approach more about putting forth the best effort and letting the chips fall where they may?
“We always put forth the best effort. Where we end up is difficult to predict, because other people score points too. For sure, we keep an eye on the points. We are eighth now and want to be better than that, and we’re putting in a lot of effort to achieve that.”