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Haas previews Bahrain pre-season test

NEWS STORY
08/03/2021

Haas will reveal its 2021 challenger in the moments before pre-season testing gets underway on Friday, with Mick Schumacher first to try the VF-21.

Heading into its sixth season the American squad has an all-new driver line-up of rookies Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.

Both drivers showcased their talents in last season's F2 championship, both scoring a brace of feature race wins, with Schumacher going on to lift the title and Mazepin finishing fifth overall at season's end.

Schumacher will commence testing on the morning of Friday, with Mazepin behind the wheel in the afternoon. The pair will continue to run half a day each - alternating sessions throughout the remaining two days of the test.

The tam will perform a physical unveil of the VF-21 at 08:30 local time in the pit lane outside of its garage in Bahrain, before Schumacher kicks off the team's preparations.

Travel restrictions over the winter have undoubtedly disrupted any hopes of a 'normal' off-season and build-up to testing. What issues has the team faced in relation to those disruptions and was there any relief, in terms of the team's workload, in the sense that much of the car is a carry-over from 2020?
Guenther Steiner: "There were quite a few issues with it - the pandemic and all the travel restrictions. Everything was more difficult. For the first time we did the car build in the U.K. and not in Italy. This was only possible as we had a lot of carry-over parts from last year - the car at its base level was the same as last year's. Otherwise things would have been more difficult. For example, we couldn't fire the engine up before going to Bahrain. All the systems have been checked but we can only fire up in Bahrain as the Italian engineers and mechanics, if they'd traveled to the U.K., they'd have had to quarantine there. And then when they would have gone back to Italy, they'd have gone into quarantine there too. There just wasn't enough time. It was quite disruptive, but as always, we find ways around it."

With just a day and a half of testing scheduled for your two rookies in the VF-21 - what are your expectations from the test both for them and the team with such limited track time?
GS: "On one side we have an advantage as the car is such a carry-over, or a lot of it is carry-over from last year. We know it better than you would normally know a new car. But obviously we've got two rookies. Mick drove last year's car in Abu Dhabi and Nikita hasn't driven for us at all yet. The expectation is to do as many laps as possible and get as much data as possible from the new parts of the car with the new regulations on reduced downforce. That's all we can do. We have limited time, so we just have to try to get the most out of it."

Are there positives to be gleaned testing and racing at the same venue to kick start the 2021 season? Bahrain has often been touted as a pre-season test venue but what are the challenges from the team-side in going to a 'fly-away' circuit over a more traditional European circuit?
GS: "I think going to Bahrain to test this year was an obvious choice after the postponement of Australia to later on in the year. We've talked every year about going to Bahrain instead of going to somewhere in Europe, but always for cost reasons it wasn't possible. This time, going to Bahrain, it's financially better than going to anywhere in Europe because we then have our first race there. Everything goes there then stays there. Again, we have to thank Bahrain for stepping up to make all this possible - making test and race venues available to us when we struggle everywhere else. We can learn how this works and maybe in the future we can come back to Bahrain for testing. Let's do this year first though then we can decide on the future."
GS: Building relations within the team and working practices have been adapted to allow Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher as much time with their respective engineers and crews ahead of testing. What's the feedback you're receiving with regards to their integration into the team and their knowledge and understanding of the various protocols they're learning?

"Up to now everything has been positive, which is nice to hear, but there's still work to be done. The team likes the two young guys, they have adapted quickly, and they have so much enthusiasm for this. The drivers obviously like the team too. They can see we have a bit of a family atmosphere within the team because we are pretty small. I haven't heard any negatives. One of my jobs will be to keep all the positives up for the rest of the time they are with us over the next years."

What are your emotions walking into the circuit at the start of a new season? Is there a sense of relief after another busy off-season to be back at track, is there excitement surrounding the unknowns ahead in the season, or is it just another day at the office for you?
GS: "Except for the last bit about being another day at the office, it's really all of it. It's a new season - especially for us this year, we're thankful that we can still be here, and we have new drivers too. There's a lot of excitement but obviously we know it will not be our strongest year. We'll build up strong for the future though with what we take from this year. It's all good. I'm pretty happy to be going back to a race track because at the moment we have too much time to think about other things. Once we get going everything is focused on going racing - there's less time for BS. I'm really look forward to it."

Walking into the paddock in Bahrain as one of the 20 drivers competing in Formula 1 this season - it's obviously the realization of a dream and a significant moment in your career, but is it something you've visualized in the past or do you keep those emotions firmly in check and take it one day at a time?
Nikita Mazepin: "This is going to be an amazing moment that I've waited for the best part of my life. The reason I love my job is that I get to drive the fastest cars in the world together with those 19 drivers on the track.

"I haven't particularly visualized walking into the paddock but getting into the car before my first test day in a new car will be a special moment. I have definitely visualized the thrill of that process many times when it will really sink in that I am in F1, driving with the best of the best. So many emotions around it - very focused on making the most of this year, of rising to the many challenges of this unique time in the sport and actually trying to really appreciate every single moment of my rookie season. It's hard to overestimate my sense of anticipation."

With just a day and a half of testing scheduled for you in the VF-21 - what are your immediate priorities in terms of what you can extract from the test?
NM: "Obviously, the testing time has been significantly reduced this year compared to other years and this makes everything that is already challenging for a rookie more challenging. Every 10 minutes of a test day will be much more valuable for us. So, the key objective is to get up to that limit without overstepping it. The car is going to be new, so hoping for a little luck so as not to lose any track time. I need to get as comfortable in the car as time permits. We have a lot of new components in the car that are tailored to me, which take some getting used to. I haven't driven a Ferrari-powered car before, so I need to learn controls and get to grips with the new machinery. I've been working hard over the winter. It seems like I've had a thousand Zoom calls with the team engineers learning the positions of the steering wheel and studying all the adjustable buttons. I've also requested some tailored components such as heel rest and seat for me in the car based on my body, so it will be interesting to see how everything feels in motion, not just in the factory."

What are your thoughts on Bahrain International Circuit as a test venue? What stands out with regards to the characteristics of the track and how much of the test focus will be looking ahead to the Bahrain Grand Prix?
NM: "Bahrain is a very good test track. You have stable weather, so there's little risk of losing track time due to cold weather this time of year. It also offers a variety of high speed and slow speed turns which will be a great test for the car setup and at the same time the track surface is very abrasive, which makes the tires degrade much faster in long runs compared to other circuits. This will make for a good 360 evaluation of the car and it will be an excellent opportunity to see where we stand going into the 23 races ahead."

Building relations within the team and working practices have undoubtedly been harder due to travel restrictions over the winter - you were only recently able to attend seat-fits in Banbury for example. What specifically have you been able to work on with the team remotely ahead of your arrival in Bahrain?
NM: "There are two key areas. First, it's been about the seat fit and getting me comfortable in the car. It's going to be a long year and if the fit isn't right to the body, it could be a painful experience over a race distance. Another thing is that this is a totally different setup in terms of steering wheel layout, setup names and the whole operations side of things - these are all quite different to what I was exposed to driving F1 cars in the past. Developing a good working relationship with the engineers and understanding the way they like to work and how best to give each other necessary feedback has been a priority. I can say that when I finally got to meet some of the team face to face at the seat fitting, it was really comfortable feeling. We have a great group of professionals at the team and I look forward to the challenge together with them."

With a longer calendar and longer races than you've faced before in Formula 2, what elements of your conditioning program have you focused on ahead of your Formula 1 debut? Did you allow yourself any rest after the 2020 Formula 2 season or did you focus immediately on preparations for Formula 1 - knowing there's a physically more intense season ahead?
NM: "It's important to understand that mentally it's going to be a completely different challenge than in previous seasons because we have 23 race weekends in the year - which is not something I'm really used to. I've never had to fly so much or cross so many time zones. The races are longer, more laps, more physical demands - all of which require additional attention. I've been very focused on cardiovascular, strength and neck training ahead of the 2021 season to be in top shape to meet the physical demands. My team has given me a good 10 days after Bahrain to regroup and get myself mentally ready for the season ahead."

Walking into the paddock in Bahrain as one of the 20 drivers competing in Formula 1 this season - it's obviously the realization of a dream and a significant moment in your career, but is it something you've visualized in the past or do you keep those emotions firmly in check and take it one day at a time?
Mick Schumacher: "Obviously now being one of the 20 drivers in Formula 1 is very special. As a child, I've been dreaming about this for 15 years - and now it's actually happened. It's emotional and just something very nice. My father actually had his first race in Formula 1 30 years ago this year - that makes it even more emotional and even nicer."

With just a day and a half of testing scheduled for you in the VF-21 - what are your immediate priorities in terms of what you can extract from the test?
MS: "The definite priority is to get even more comfortable in the car and just trying to sort out everything that needs to be sorted out from driver kit, the seat, driver position, through to how the car feels on track and working with the team. These are all focus points I set myself some time ago. And now we're at the point we're going testing it'll be the case we can work on that. I'm looking forward to that and figuring out everything we need to be ready for the first race."

What are your thoughts on Bahrain International Circuit as a test venue? What stands out with regards to the characteristics of the track and how much of the test focus will be looking ahead to the Bahrain Grand Prix?
MS: "It gives the teams a lot of information naturally if you're testing at a track then you race there a week later. It's like an extended weekend where we have extra mileage. It'll give us the opportunity to drive on a circuit that has high degradation, the track is very abrasive, so we have to look after our tires. Also, in this case, it will allow us to learn more about where the drop-off point in the tire is. Coming from Formula 2 we have very little experience on the Formula 1 tire. But we do have a good amount of experience with Pirelli tires, so that's really going to be one of our focus points. We need to get even more information on how to prepare a single lap and also how to prepare the tire for race distances. The races this year are very much longer than the ones we had in Formula 2 and obviously now we only have one race each weekend. We have to be able to extract as much knowledge from the free practice sessions and qualifying to be able then to put everything into the performance for the race."

Having tested with the team in Abu Dhabi, has that helped accelerate your relationships within the team - something that's undoubtedly been harder due to travel restrictions etc over the winter. What specifically have you been able to work on with the team remotely ahead of Bahrain?
MS: "It was great to have had that weekend together in Abu Dhabi in general. It wasn't just about the track time it was the benefit of spending a full weekend with the team. Having had my seat fit earlier in Bahrain that also gave me first contact with the team on a personal basis - which was great. I received a warm welcome which always gives you a good feeling as a new driver coming into a team. Over winter it was a bit difficult for me to travel with the restrictions. I'm a driver that loves to spend time with his team, so it's been hard, it hasn't felt right. But thankfully I was able to get to England and do things like my seat fit. Regardless, we've had online meetings, a good alternative given the circumstances we found ourselves in. We've had check lists and we've gone through all the points we had to. I really do feel like I'm 100 percent prepared."

With a longer calendar and longer races than you've faced before in F2 and F3 - what elements of your conditioning program have you focused on ahead of your Formula 1 debut? Did you allow yourself any rest after your winning F2 campaign or did you focus immediately on preparations for Formula 1 - knowing there's a physically more intense season ahead?
MS: "I really wanted to give myself a week off of training but I didn't manage. I took one day off, I was bored, so I just went back into the gym and started training. My focus points were my neck muscles, they're under the most duress for the duration we're in the car. That was one of the everyday training elements I did and still do. I feel I'm very much prepared on that side. It's the same on the physical side obviously. That's been a bit different - obviously, I now have power steering which will be a lot more comfortable to get the car around the corners. You still have to prepare your body for the g-forces we'll encounter in the races. Even after being out of the car for a week, your body then has to readapt once you go driving again. I've also been trying new things. I went cross-country skiing which was very fun. I got to train with some great people who showed me all the right techniques - which is everything in that sport. It was just good to learn how to do new things, it helps you adapt to different things, this is why I try every year to do something new."

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