The first day of testing for the 2023 Formula 1 season is in the books, and for the teams expected to be contending for the Constructors’ Championship, it was largely a success. Ferrari’s duo of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc posted the third- and fourth-fastest lap times of the day, respectively. Mercedes finished the day believing that the W14, their 2023 challenger, had helped the team overcome their aerodynamic issues from 2022. And then there was Max Verstappen, the defending Drivers’ Champion, who not only posted the fastest lap on the day, but recorded the most laps of any driver.
Then there is what we saw from Haas. After finishing eighth in the Constructors’ last season — their best finish since placing sixth in 2018 — Haas is looking to move up the table in 2023. Kevin Magnussen is back in one of their seats, joined by F1 veteran Nico Hülkenberg, making his return to the grid.
Their results on Thursday were not flashy — Hülkenberg took the morning session for the team and posted the 11th-best lap of the day while Magnussen’s afternoon effort came in 19th out of 19 drivers — but for Haas, Thursday was not about competing.
It was about working.
In statements provided by the team to media, including SBNation, both Hülkenberg and Magnussen outlined that the first day of testing was not perfect, but it put the team on a path towards where they want to be. “It’s been an exciting few days but I’m happy to now put the ‘theory’ aside and start the practical part of the job, get in the car again, and live it,” said Hülkenberg after Thursday’s session. “I had good fun, 51 laps was quality work I would say – a bit less than maybe what we wanted to do – but they were quality laps. It’s about starting somewhere and then learn as you go with the car, making changes and see how the car reacts, so in that respect it was a successful morning.”
Magnussen shared that sentiment.
“We had a few little issues but we got through what we planned – maybe two laps were missed,” stated Magnussen, who secured Haas’ first-ever pole position at Interlagos last season. “It went smoothly for the first day of testing and we haven’t got anywhere near qualifying simulations yet so we’ll see tomorrow when we get slightly closer to those levels, but I’m pretty happy so far. I think everything indicates that we’re in a good position and right now it’s about working – not competing – just collecting knowledge on the car.”
Ayao Komatsu, the team’s Director of Engineering, shared that Thursday was about getting the “fundamentals” of the VF-23 right, with performance coming later. “The objective of the first day of pre-season testing was to understand the fundamentals of the car – ride-height, stiffness, balance in the right window and mileage and reliability – so we tried to do as many laps as possible,” said Komatsu after Thursday’s testing sessions. “We didn’t 100 percent meet our objectives, but Nico did 51 laps in the morning and Kevin did 57 laps in the afternoon, which is pretty good. We only had minor issues, but we understand the solution. It’s too early to talk about performance but our initial feeling is good from what we achieved – so it’s a good start for day one.”
There was something else notable about Haas on the first day of testing. During live coverage on F1TV, it was noted that the team’s pit wall was much, much smaller this year, with just three seats for trackside engineers, opposed to the six or more you see from other teams.
While there was speculation that this was being done to save money under the cost cap — as it was noted that the smaller pit wall would save the team $250,000 over the course of the season — it was quickly pointed out that travel expenses are not considered under the cap.
Thankfully Elizabeth Blackstock, who does fantastic work covering F1 and the world of motorsport for Jalopnik, found the answer:
So, I reached out to Haas’ press team to check in, and according to them, the logic behind the reduction is pretty simple: The team realized it wasn’t using all those seats during the race, so cutting down on its pit wall setup would save on freight costs, which have “escalated wildly” this last year.
Part of that comes down to the fact that the shipping industry is still recovering from the chaos of COVID-19. Part of that also likely comes down to the fact that F1 has planned a whopping 23 races this year, and with the way races have been scheduled, teams can expect to travel about 80,000 miles between races alone. That’s not factoring in any returns to the factory between races, either. Consolidating something like the pit wall is a pretty simple way to cut down on expenses, especially for a team that operates on a smaller budget than, say, the multi-million dollar might of Red Bull.
Haas also emphasized its dedication to sustainability to me as well. The series itself has been making an effort to reduce its carbon footprint (which is a bit ironic considering its record-breaking travel this year), and each team has found ways to contribute as well. For Haas, a smaller pit wall means a reduction in emissions — but I imagine that money is a pretty damn attractive prospect as well.
Haas and the rest of the F1 grid returns to the Bahrain International Circuit for the second day of testing on Friday. Magnussen is slated to take the morning session in the VF-23, with Hülkenberg in the afternoon.
With the work started, perhaps now the team can focus on performance.