It’s fairly safe to say last year was an utter catastrophe for midfield-hopefuls Uralkali Haas F1 Team. The team had been in a steady state of decline from their record high in 2018, and they only managed to muster a measly 3 points across the entirety of the 2020 season. Finishing the year ninth in the constructors’ championship, Haas had to ask themselves a number of serious questions as to what the future held in Formula 1.
The team’s dismal performance was down to a myriad of technical and political blunders that all added up to spell disaster for the American outfit: A poor power unit from engine-suppliers Ferrari, a twitchy chassis with big potential to throw the driver off-track, and a budget that was being well and truly stretched to its limits.
An Interesting New Philosophy
‘But surely the team can bounce back after a tricky season?’ I hear you ask.
The answer is, unfortunately, probably not. Haas seem to have adopted a pretty major alteration to their ‘game plan’, as it were, in order to maximise their chances of reaching the top spot in the next five or so years, and the new approach in question is one that will likely confuse a number of fans.
In signing into the Concorde Agreement which guarantees their spot on the F1 grid for the foreseeable future, Haas have essentially made the decision to sacrifice their 2021 season so as to upscale their development plans for 2022 and beyond. It gives the relatively small marque more time to invest into R&D for the upcoming championship, and also enables them to save money and ensure their financial stability persists.
It makes sense to do this not only so as to maximise development time, but also to prepare for the revolutionary rule change that coincides with the 2022 season. With the hopes that the playing field will be levelled somewhat, the American team will be sizing up the opportunity to seize the title in the next few seasons as the balance of power swings.
But, what this does mean is that 2021 is set to be a rough ride for Haas. Team boss Guenther Steiner has already stated that the year will be ‘challenging’, as all focus has been shifted fully onto the ’22 car- thus rendering the ’21 car a ‘pointless’ project. Chances are Haas could well slip to the back of the pack altogether this season, occupying Williams Racing’s not-so-coveted spot at the rear of the field…
An All-New Line-Up
Although the team have abandoned car development for 2021, they certainly haven’t abandoned driver development. This year sees two new rookies emerge into the glitz and glamour of the Formula 1 paddock, bearing new title sponsorship and familiar names.
The first of the two fresh youngsters to venture into unknown territory at the pinnacle of motorsport is the controversial Nikita Mazepin. Whilst he showed promise during his previous stint in Formula 2, the Russian hasn’t made his transition to the upper echelon of driving competition an easy one. Just weeks after his announcement as a new F1 driver and poster boy for the ‘We Race As One Message’, Mazepin posted a highly inappropriate video to his social media which caused widespread outrage amongst fans across the globe.
The video was deleted and he has since apologised, but Mazepin’s future in Formula 1 was indubitaby placed in jeopardy from the very moment it began. He looks set to join the grid this year with fierce criticism from all sides, and although his talent was partly responsible for him keeping his new seat, Haas made it evidently clear they were swayed by the big sponsorship money Nikita’s father- a billionaire Russian oligarch- would bring.
And it hasn’t taken long for the Mazepin family’s influence to materialise. In order to bypass rules regarding athletes’ running of the Russian flag in sporting competitions due to drug-use infringements, the new VF-21 has ultimately taken the shape of a gigantic Soviet banner- running a very contentious design that has raised the eyebrows of anti-doping sporting agencies across the globe.
Yet, throughout all the questionable changes to the team regarding their new driver, fresh investment into the the team is definitely a positive. It will give them more of a fighting chance for years to come and perhaps enhance their performance in the long run.
Racing alongside Mazepin is a man who bears a name synonymous with success in Formula 1, and wields immense potential to be a future world champion: Mick Schumacher.
The Ferrari protégé has been signed onto the team with the hopes of being elevated into a position at the legendary prancing horse in the next few seasons and looks to follow in his father Michael’s footsteps as one of the all-time greats. He took the Formula 2 crown last year in the final race of the season, and showcased enormous raw talent and skill in doing so.
Given time, Mick could be one of the stars of F1’s ‘next generation’- possibly battling with the likes of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell. It’s a case of whether or not the speedy youngster can withstand the pressure of such an incredibly weighty name, and not fall victim to the same pitfalls as other drivers with renowned bloodlines such as Bruno Senna.
Can Haas Make Something Out Of 2021?
In short, it’s not looking to be the fairytale season that perhaps Haas would have been hoping for. An abandoned car, a restricted budget, and a driver line-up with a lot to learn.
However, the fate of the American challenger is nowhere near set in stone. Who knows, after the chaos of last year, anything can happen. All it takes is a few design mishaps from competitors to shake up the order. Not to forget, engine supplier Ferrari have managed to make significant improvements to their flawed power unit, which could promote the client teams further up the field.
One thing’s for certain, though: It’s an interesting season to come. Haas have put all their chips on black this year in the hopes of playing the long game for 2022, and only time will tell as to whether or not their gamble will pay off.