It was a gut punch. After running fourth and fifth with 35 laps remaining in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix Sunday at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean suffered separate retirements, jettisoning what was slated to be Haas F1 Team's strongest result in its still young history.
The speed displayed in winter testing at Circuit de Barcelona - Catalunya carried into Australia, where Magnussen qualified sixth to equal the American squad's best qualifying effort to date. Grosjean qualified right behind his teammate in seventh, and with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo incurring a three-spot grid penalty, the Haas F1 Team duo moved up to fifth and sixth, locking out the third row.
The speed of the Haas VF-18 paired with the calculated aggressiveness of Magnussen and Grosjean paid off at the start.
Magnussen grabbed fourth place from Max Verstappen as he deftly overtook the Red Bull driver on the outside of turn one and then held the spot as they motored off the corner and into turn two. Grosjean, meanwhile, held steady in sixth.
Verstappen doggedly pursued Magnussen, but on lap 10 that pursuit sent Verstappen spinning off turn one. Magnussen drove away while Grosjean picked up the position, putting the Haas F1 Team drivers fourth and fifth with 48 laps to go.
The pressure from Red Bull was still on, however, as Verstappen's teammate, Ricciardo, was sixth, right in the tire tracks of Grosjean.
Magnussen, having wrung all the performance remaining from the Pirelli P Zero Purple ultrasoft tires on which he qualified, pitted for a new set of Red supersofts on lap 22. But as he headed down the pit lane and ventured back onto the track, a frantic radio call came from the pits to Magnussen. "Stop the car! Stop the car immediately!" It was a loose wheel. Magnussen's day was over.
Grosjean pitted two laps later, as he also needed to exchange his ultrasofts for a new set of supersofts. Then a case of déjà vu after the stop, as a loose wheel forced him to stop on the racetrack.
Just like that, after being this close to the podium, Haas F1 Team's third appearance in the Australian Grand Prix ground to a halt. Grosjean was listed with a 16th-place finish and Magnussen was credited with a 17th-place finish.
Romain Grosjean: "We had a good car all weekend. I was happy with our low- and high-fuel pace. I had great pace today, and I'm sure I could have stayed a bit more with the frontrunners if I'd been in front of Kevin early in the race. We'll now analyze everything and work out what happened exactly. We'll come back stronger as we always do. It's a lot of points lost today, but if we can repeat that performance over and over, we're going to forget this very quickly."
Kevin Magnussen: "It's a very tough one to swallow for the whole team. To have both cars not finishing - having been in such good positions and with so much anticipation - it's just heartbreaking to finish like that. We'll get on top again. We'll fight back. I'm beyond disappointed right now, but we'll get over it."
Guenther Steiner: "It was a disappointing end to a very promising weekend. We had two failures on the pit stops - didn't tie the wheels on correctly, so we had to stop the cars. As much as you don't want to say it, it's racing. It happens, even though it shouldn't. It's almost unbelievable to have this in one race, and on two cars, while running fourth and fifth. It's very disappointing. The good thing we can take away from this is that the car is competitive. We just need to get our heads up again, to get well prepared for Bahrain. We'll focus on that one and get our pit stops sorted out."