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How Haas delivered its F1 "game changer"

Having expressed concern over the winter that it could start the year on the back foot, and potentially even be on the last row, its situation is much better than that. Amid the pack of five teams picking up the rear, its tally so far leaves it seventh in the constructors' championship.

But the biggest transformation at Haas is not something that can be measured in points. Instead, it can be gauged only in mindset, and that is something that drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg have openly raved about.

They talk of a totally fresh attitude, of the team no longer going into race day with a sense of dread about slipping down the order because of tyre degradation woes. Hulkenberg liked it to being "a runaway train in the wrong direction."

Instead, its new car and engineering-first approach has left it with a challenger that means it can look forward to being in the fight on Sundays – and that is the key to consistent points.

As Magnussen said: "The fact that we can fight on Sunday is such a big thing. It's a game changer. That was so frustrating last year, and even in '22 we saw signs of that. But yeah, it's just like a new fresh start."

Asked about Magnussen's game-changer assessment, Hulkenberg added: "It's definitely that we're in a different environment and world compared to last year."

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-24 (Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images)

Ultimately the biggest gain has come from the Haas car characteristic moving away from being quite peaky to one that is more benign.

"We flattened out the aero map, desensitizing the car," added Hulkenberg. "It seemed very crucial and key for the moment."

But the change from having a Saturday car to a Sunday car is not something that is delivered with just the flick of a switch. Teams do not just pen a design that automatically is easier on its rubber.

Improved tyre management is the culmination of both aerodynamic and mechanical approaches, and it is these two factors that have come together to help.

And while the progress is promising, technical director Andrea de Zordo is eager to point out that it would be wrong for anyone to suggest that Haas has answered everything it needs to on tyres.

"Fully understand is a big word!" he said. "But I think we made a big step in that."

He sees progress as a two-fold thing. First, the VF-24 design happens to be better in this area not by total accident, but also not entirely by choice.

Reflecting on the step change made this winter, de Zordo said: "I think we learned a lot, but at the same time I think there are some characteristics that maybe were even not planned.

"It just happened like that, that for some reason you pay more during the race than during the qualifying or vice versa. So this year the car is maybe a little bit better in the race, and it was probably a surprise also for us.

"But the good thing is we are looking at it and we are understanding step by step what the reason for that is - both in the mechanical and the aerodynamic side. Then, looking at that, we are trying to work in a direction that is good for both."

There were also big lessons learned from the pre-season test in Bahrain, where Haas devoted itself to long-run performance to understand all the dynamics in place with its car.

"That allowed us to discover a lot of things," added de Zordo. "Maybe small details in set-up and characteristics that make everything a little clearer. I think at the end, the issue we had last year, it depended on a lot of things, not only one thing.

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-24 (Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images)

"It was aero characteristic, it was set-up, and driving style. And it seems that we have tried to put it all together. A lot more understanding this year. And we also know a lot of things that we can do.

"Of course, it takes time to do. So, we are working on it. And it's quite encouraging because probably means that we can improve also during the year."

Team boss Ayao Komatsu has talked too of a car that isn't necessarily faster in all areas, but it is better where it matters.

"It's not like it has got overall more grip because if you look at high-speed corner performance, I don't think we're much quicker than last year," he said.

"But in terms of, let's say, useable downforce on the rear especially, it's much better. So, the drivers know what to expect.

"Last year's car was so unpredictable, so difficult to use, that whatever we did on set-up or driving, it still fell off.

"But with this year's car, it's got just enough consistency. Although it is not quick enough, there is still enough consistency that we can make a difference. So, the foundations are there, so then now we really need to try to get upgrades onto the car. That's the challenge."

That challenge begins in China this weekend, where the team plans to introduce its first upgrade package of 2024.

And on a sprint weekend, where there are two qualifying sessions and two races, it will be fascinating to see if the team can build on what has been a hugely encouraging opening to the new campaign and continue life in its different world.

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