No one should be lulled into thinking that Haas or McLaren have a chance of winning at Bahrain next weekend, but yet all eyes are trained on these two teams for wholly different reasons.
Haas had the good fortune to be one of those fairytale–like teams that, with the help of it’s big brother Ferrari, has produced a car that is proving itself to have the raw speed and handling that it’s number one driver, Romain Grosjean, has been craving.
This fact, however, is muted by the screeching from the other competitors of the American team cheating somehow. According to Otmar Szafnauer: “I don’t know how they do it, it’s magic,” he said. “It’s never been done before in Formula 1. I just don’t know how it can be right that someone who’s been in the sport for a couple of years with no resource could produce a car [like this]… does it happen by magic? If it does, I want the wand.”
The sentiment is echoed throughout the paddock, however, it rings hollow. Did anyone expect Mercedes to be a unicorn when the first true Hybrid formula was introduced in 2014? It’s as if it was “Magic”. No one, save Ferrari can seem to come close to the overall package that Mercedes produced and yet Formula One has done little to speed up the process of rules change that would allow more competition.
Therein lies the rub. If Haas has taken too much information and help from Ferrari then it’s a breach of the rules. If not, fair game. But how do you really quantify that sort of exchange. McLaren-Gate? Track down texts and emails from the two teams? Water-board the mysterious courier? There’s nothing to see here, let them investigate a ghost. Haas just got it right.
Bahrain should be more of a ‘tale of the tape’ than was Australia, which but for two, count them two, mishaps of the same type in the pits, Haas would have come close to taking a podium. If Haas performs at Australia levels, or above with updates, expect the villagers to light the torches and man the pitchforks.
Then comes McLaren with it’s pre-season testing woes. A team that couldn’t make sense of the Honda power-plant to the point of switching manufacturers to Renault, seemingly an old friend. At least to Fernando Alonso.
Barcelona wasn’t kind to them in terms of normal testing gremlins keeping them from gathering enough information to make updates ready for Australia. Flawless driving from Alonso and Vandoorne, a reliable, but much less powerful Renault engine, quick thinking on a Virtual Safety Car pit stop and most notably, the implosion of HaasF1 gave the Papaya Orange team valuable points. 5th place for Alonso and 9th for Vandoorne.
It’s being touted that these Bahrain updates will give McLaren several tenths of a second per lap. I can’t imagine that aero (although Bahrain has a long straight) and suspension bits will yield that much without a go-ahead from Renault to remap these power-plants to give out more horsepower. If they do, then Renault itself and Red Bull will benefit as well. That’s a wash.
Bahrain is a night race in a desert kingdom. That alone will up the horsepower slightly from what the cars saw in Australia as humidity and pure heat wont be as prevalent thus giving the benefit of more condensed air, not a lot, but a boost nonetheless. Hopefully, Renault will give the customers, as well as themselves a slight mapping upgrade, although the French manufacturer has said that it will remain conservative for the first few races while it works on reliability. Another negative by-product of the new three engine rule for 2018.
We should expect to see Ferrari on par with Mercedes here as neither team will run as conservatively as they did in Australia. Haas should return to its Australia and pre-season testing form and be up front in the race for mid-pack honors. Renault and Red Bull should be right on par with McLaren and Force India. The rest are forgettable. Williams is in genuine trouble.
As usual it will be a tire management race and overheating power-plants shouldn’t be a problem, though that’s a guess, not a proclamation.
The main focus for this race is on how much faster the McLaren will be with the new updates, whether Haas can keep pace with Red Bull, if not beat them and will Ferrari bring the mapping magic to it’s engines in race pace.
Of course, I could be wrong, it is Formula One after all.