As the American team prepares for its second season, first there is the little matter of the launch and then the opening tests.
First images of the VF-17 will be revealed next Sunday (26th), while early next morning there will a "physical unveil" before Kevin Magnussen gets the first day of testing underway at Barcelona. The Dane continues with the car on Tuesday (28th) before handing over to his teammate Romain Grosjean who will drive the car for the next two days.
At the second pre-season test Magnussen will once again have first shot at the VF-17 before alternating with Grosjean over the next three days.
In the meantime, team boss Guenther Steiner and the guys look ahead.
Explain what happens during a test.
Guenther Steiner: "In our first test of the season, you try to make sure everything works as you designed it. You just prove out whatever you did, and in the second part of the test, you try to get performance out of the car. Or, better said, you try to get performance as quickly as possible. First of all, make sure everything works. Everything is new on the car. The first test is quite important just from a reliability factor. You try to learn as much as possible about the car. You get the baseline on the car and you work off that baseline the rest of the year."
What are your expectations for the test?
GS: "The expectation is to run as much as possible, to understand the car and to make it reliable. Our second test last year was not very successful. We had a lot of mechanical problems. We hope we do better on that one, so when we get to Melbourne we are as prepared as we can be."
How much of the test will be spent getting Magnussen up to speed with the team's methodologies and him getting to know his crew?
GS: "I don't think that will be difficult. For sure it will take some time, but I don't think we will spend a lot of time on that one. He'll have been in the simulator by then, already twice, and he has worked with his race engineers. It looks like they've established a good way of communicating. He has done this before. It's nothing new for him. It's just a little bit of change for him from where he was before."
Despite the team having a year's worth of Formula One experience, will the new car regulations make this test feel like the first time all over again?
GS: "Not completely. If you go out there the first time, as a new team, you've got a lot of things which are unknowns. Now a lot of things are known like pit equipment, processes and procedures. We're a lot better on those ones than we were last year, but it's still a new car and we need to learn more about it. It's more about the engineers trying to get the best out of the car, and to try to understand the tires as quickly as possible."
How do you manage personnel during a test, as it seems to be a 24-hour work day, everyday?
GS: "At the test, there is no limit to how much we can work. We have a day and night shift. In the old days, which weren't so long ago, it was the same people doing the day and night shifts. What is done now is you have people coming in around 6 p.m. and have dinner with the guys from the day shift, so they exchange what they learned and know what they have to do. The (night shift) guys take over and work until the sun comes up, then the day shift comes in again and you do the same thing. They have breakfast together and some go to sleep and the others go to work."
How do you prevent personnel from burning out?
GS: "What you do normally, because at the test you run only one car and have two mechanic crews, you swap them over on the second test. You still have to be careful because you will have some who don't want to go home. They want to stay, so you have to tell them 'No, your time is over.' It is quite a challenge. We try to give them a Saturday or Sunday off before they go to Australia. These guys, when they come back to the workshop after the second test, have to rebuild the cars before they are shipped to Australia. You have to be careful so they aren't burned out."
Can you compare this year's car build to last year, and what you learned from last year that you applied this year?
GS: "Last year we went into this not knowing a lot of things because we hadn't experienced them. Now, this year, we know a lot more and we can organize it a lot better because there are a lot less question marks. We started last summer to make improvements and to see where we were weak and where we had problems, and we addressed them with our suppliers and our partners. A lot of stuff seems to be working. It seems to be a lot slicker than last year. That's how it should be."
How has a year of experience helped Haas F1 Team's relationship with its suppliers?
GS: "It's a lot easier. We started talking with all the partners and suppliers in the middle of summer. We had very good, constructive discussions about the areas we could improve. We found areas of potential where we could do better and everybody upped their game. Last year, they didn't know us and they didn't know what we could and could not do. So, everybody learned last year. It seems to be a much more fluent process. We know each other as people now and relationships have developed. It's much easier to talk with people when you know each other on a personal level."
What do you take from the test at Barcelona and apply to the season opener in Australia?
GS: "You prove out your methodology, how you work, how your guys work. You have the time in between - 10 days to fix it. There is so much electronics in these cars, software programs. You try to prove out everything so there are no mistakes. When you get to Australia and your drivers notice the car's behavior isn't right, you will know what to do to get the behavior of the car right. It's a mix of everything. The biggest thing is to run as much as possible at Barcelona and avoid any downtime with the car breaking or something. The more you drive, the more you learn and the better prepared you are for Australia."
On the final day of the first test, staged wet weather running is scheduled. How valuable will that time be for when you do have to run these new tires in wet conditions?
GS: "It's more for the tire supplier, Pirelli, to see what the tire is doing in the wet but, for sure, it will help the driver if he drives on the wet surface when we have a wet race. I think the main effort is on developing the tire, or to see if it is acceptable. By having a wider tire this year - quite a bit wider - water is going to be a bigger issue than last year, and Pirelli just wants to gain as much experience as possible before we actually have a wet race."
You participated in two unique and literally cool events this offseason - the Andros Trophy ice race at Alpe d'Huez in southeastern France, and a cross-country ski race, La Transjurassienne, in the French Jura Mountains. How did you do and can you describe each of those experiences?
Romain Grosjean: "The Andros Trophy is something I do every other year or so. I love going there for the atmosphere, for the driving and for the fun sliding. I love the team I'm with, as well. They're very close friends, so it's always good to be there. There are two races per weekend. The first race didn't go so well. I think I finished seventh or eighth. I wasn't so pleased with that. The next day went much better because I won with the hat trick. I won the qualifying, the super pole and the final, so that was pretty good. There were no parties afterward as I had to drive back home to see my kids, but it was good to be on the podium at least one time in 2016.
"The cross-country ski race was a big challenge, but useful to see where my fitness level was. It also makes for a good goal throughout winter training. It's a tough, intense event. I knew completing it in three hours would be very optimistic, almost an unthinkable goal, and then four to five-and-a-half hours was more what we were aiming for. It was a very long distance, but very good endurance training. It went pretty well. I went through highs and lows. It was tough around 30 kilometers, but I managed to go through that and the last climb and I finished quite nicely."
When you weren't ice racing or cross-country skiing, how did you spend your offseason?
RG: "It was mainly time spent in the gym, out on the bike or running. Those activities were my main focus over the winter - just preparing for the new cars, which will be pretty brutal. The first simulator run I did confirmed that to me. It's going to be pretty exciting jumping in the new car and seeing how fast it can go. I also had two weeks off with the family in the Dominican Republic. We had a really good time and I recharged my batteries after some very tough winter training. Since coming back I've done my seat fit with the team, some simulator work and, of course, more training. The last few days before testing in Barcelona will be dedicated to more physical training and then we'll see where we are before we head to Melbourne."
With the expectation that this new generation car is going to be dramatically faster than the previous car, did you adjust your fitness regimen to compensate for the higher level of g-forces you're likely to encounter this year?
RG: "Yes, quite a lot. The cars are going to be heavier, so we can afford to put on a bit of muscle. We're going to go through more g-forces, so the neck needs to be stronger and the core has to be stronger. Your whole body needs to adjust to those high speeds. The training regimen has changed quite a lot compared to the past. It's been pretty tough, but enjoyable at the same time."
What are your expectations for the test, especially now that everyone has a year of experience working together?
RG: "I think it's going to be great. When I went for the seat fit in Italy, I saw most of the guys and the atmosphere was like last year and it was really good. Everyone was enjoying it and it was like I'd never left the guys. Going testing is always very exciting. We have a new car. Nobody will see the car in one piece until the day we head out on track, so that's pretty exciting for everyone. From the driving perspective, from what I've seen it's going to be pretty brutal and fast. Hopefully everything goes well with things like the tires so we can really push them to the limit. It's going to be a great challenge and great racing."
You're in the car for the scheduled wet-weather test on Friday, March 3, with full wets being run in the morning and intermediates being run in the afternoon. How crucial is that seat time considering there's a new car with a new tire for 2017?
RG: "It's going to be very important. When I was told by Guenther that I was going to be doing the wet day, he said, 'Obviously looking at your Brazil performance we need to put you on the wets.' I was like, 'Thank you, Guenther. That's very kind of you.' On the serious side though, I think it's going to be really important to analyze and see how the wet tires are going to work. Pirelli's been doing quite a lot of work on them. They're wider, and they're going to be trickier with aquaplaning. We need to prepare for every eventuality in terms of maps and setups to be ready for wet sessions. Winter testing is not about making the setup for Barcelona in the winter, it's about the team getting as much experience and learning as much as it can. Kevin will obviously be doing dry running. I'll be doing a bit of dry, then wet. Then in the second week we'll see what setup changes do to the car and get a full portfolio of changes to be ready going into Melbourne."
You're the veteran driver at Haas F1 Team and you have a new teammate in Kevin Magnussen. Did you have much interaction with him prior to him joining Haas F1 Team, and how useful is the test in developing a rapport with him?
RG: "Testing is going to be key for the team, and that's where we're going to share the most. On the racetrack you always want to beat your teammate. He's got the same car as you, so he's your benchmark. On the other hand, from every team I've been with so far, the data and everything has been open and that works pretty well, especially for a new team and especially with a new car. It's going to be great to have him on board. He brings good experience from McLaren and Renault that'll be very valuable. I don't know him very well for now, but I'm sure after winter testing and the first few races that won't be the case anymore and we'll get along well."
With Barcelona's mix of corners and abrasive surface, how physically demanding is the track in terms of what you have to do behind the wheel?
RG: "It's a very demanding track because you've got some high-speed corners, like the first sector, then you've got some very low-speed sections and corners, like the last sector of the track. It's normally a good judge for the car, showing that you're capable of having some good downforce at high speed and good mechanical grip in the low-speed turns."
Describe a lap around Barcelona.
RG: "Barcelona is probably the track you know best in the world. You can name every part of the layout. There's a long straight, then the first two corners right and left. You carry quite a good speed into them, and then there's the famous turn three, which you try to take as flat out as possible. Turn four, there's usually some front-locking. The hairpin into turn five, going down you don't see the apex until late, so it's a tricky corner. Turns seven and eight going up the hill lead to the very high-speed turn nine, which has a new curb on exit. Then you get to the hairpin at turn 10, which is very tricky under braking. Turns 11-15 are almost one corner - as a complex, it's difficult to get a good flow around those corners. You need to get a good balance there. Turn 16 is the last corner and you want to try to stay as flat-out to prepare for the straight and get a good lap time."
How did you spend your offseason?
Kevin Magnussen: "Mainly spending time with friends and family but, obviously, the big focus this offseason was training. It's actually been really nice. I haven't traveled anywhere. I've stayed in Denmark and been training every day. My full focus has been on my fitness. It's been really nice getting into a good rhythm."
With the expectation that this new generation car is going to be dramatically faster than the previous car, did you adjust your fitness regimen to compensate for the higher level of g-forces you're likely to encounter?
KM: "It's a bit difficult as we don't really know 100 percent how fast these cars will be, but the expectation is that they will be much faster than the previous generation of car. The best thing is to just prepare as well as you can and if anything, overdo it. There's no point risking not being fit enough or strong enough, so training has been much harder this offseason. We'll see how challenging the cars are when we get to Barcelona. We can adjust the training again from there."
Did you do more weight training? If so, what areas did you focus on - neck, shoulders, back, arms?
KM: "It's been more strength training. Before you were designing your training program to not gain any weight, now we've relaxed that a little bit and we're able to train harder with more strength-focused training rather than just long cardio sessions."
What are your expectations for the test?
KM: "Hopefully, to get a lot of miles. First of all, I'm just massively looking forward to getting back in the car. It's been a long winter. You miss driving, even after a couple of weeks out. It'll be nice just to get back in and get some laps, to get the feeling back and enjoy the car. Then, hopefully, I'll get lots of running without too many interruptions so we can learn about the car and get as much data as possible."
You spent two years with McLaren and a year with Renault. Each time, you had to develop a rapport with the team. How do you work to find the same level of comfort with your new employer, Haas F1 Team?
KM: "I've been fairly lucky to have been in two teams where people have been very nice. It's been easy, socially, to get along with everyone and feel part of the team. Everyone I've worked with in both teams, and at Haas, have been really nice people. I don't know if that's a general thing inside of Formula One, but it's been great fun getting to know all these people. It's been great to have experience from three great teams."
How eager are you to get to Barcelona and get acclimated to a new car and a new team?
KM: "It's pretty exciting for me now. I'm with a new team that I'm looking forward to starting to work with. I feel excited about these new cars. Everyone is expecting them to be much faster and it looks like it will be a faster car than the previous generation, and perhaps even the fastest car we've ever seen in Formula One. That's very exciting for me as a driver. Obviously, I'm just hoping we'll have a very strong season together. The team did really well last year. They delivered a really strong season and this year we'll try to make use of that experience gained by the team. I have a feeling that everyone on the team feels more prepared and ready for the season than at this point last year."
What was your first impression of Haas F1 Team when it showed up for last year's preseason test at Barcelona?
KM: "When we saw that car in Barcelona, it just looked very nice. You can look at a car and you can see whether it's well developed or underdeveloped, and it looked well developed. We saw it and thought, 'OK, that's quite impressive that they managed to get to that point so quickly.' And then , obviously, as the races went on, the first trace, the second race with P6 and P5, it was very impressive.
"To actually improve on that this year is going to be a real challenge. It's not going to be something that's just a given. We really need to work hard to achieve that level of performance."
Describe a lap around Barcelona.
KM: "The best place in Barcelona is probably turn nine - the very fast right-hander uphill. You have a big challenge on the exit. There's a big gravel trap and then a wall on the right. You can feel that you're going faster. It's perhaps not the most technical corner, but it's a fun corner.
"To get around Barcelona well you need the same thing you need at every track, and that's balance. The balance in the car has got to be good, but to do well, you need to have a lap that is free of mistakes and has a good flow.
"Barcelona is the track we know best. It's a track that we're used to because we've competed there so many times before in other categories before Formula One. And now, we spend a lot of time testing there. So, we know it well.
"Barcelona is very hard on the tires. It's so high energy, which isn't so representative for places like Austria or Monaco, where the tire energies are lower, and even Australia is a place where tire energies are quite low. So, some of the things we learn in Barcelona are not applicable elsewhere. But, for our test there, it's still important to see how the car reacts with different setup changes. You're able to get a feel for the car."