One-lap pace is great, but Nico Hulkenberg would happily trade that in for a Haas challenger which shines in race trim.
The German racer emerged as one of the surprise candidates excelling over a single lap at the Spanish Grand Prix, taking the Haas VF-23 into Q3.
He would finish that session P8, though gaining a spot on the grid due to Pierre Gasly’s pair of impeding penalties, Hulkenberg went into race day seemingly well placed to end a run of three races in a row without points.
Such hopes failed to materialise though in dramatic fashion, Hulkenberg forced into a three-stop strategy at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and ultimately finishing P15, while Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas crossed the line P18.
It was a race where team boss Guenther Steiner claimed Haas simply could not “keep the tyres alive” on this challenging circuit for tyre degradation, and Hulkenberg would happily give up the one-lap performance to fix these race day struggles.
“I’d rather have it the other way around,” said Hulkenberg of the qualifying performance versus race trim, as per Motorsport.com.
”But that’s the trend and the characteristic we see so far this year, and we need to try and balance it more between Saturday and Sunday.
“Because obviously whilst it’s nice to bang out a nice qualy it always then raises expectations, and you get a downer on Sunday which is not so easy to cope with and to explain to people all the time. So some work for the longer-term future, I think.”
Hulkenberg admitted he was “eaten up alive” as he near enough from the race start “ran into heavy graining on front and rear [tyres]”, with the move to a three-stop strategy representing the “bail-out option”, though a necessary one.
Hulkenberg then was asked to lift the lid on what may be causing these troubles for Haas, and worryingly he believes multiple issues are combining to create this tyre management difficulty.
“I think it’s probably like always a mixture of reasons,” he suggested.
“For sure downforce, and probably a little bit in some suspension stuff, compliance. I think our car is not so compliant. And that is pretty hard on tyres, usually.”
Shades of 2019 for Haas
For Haas, struggles to turn qualifying pace into strong race performances is not actually a new problem, and in fact marks a potentially worrying trip down memory lane.
It was back in the 2019 campaign where they also had this issue, the team dropping off dramatically in race trim, which would actually trigger them to go back to their car specification from the opening round of the season in a bid to ease the confusion and find out what was going wrong.
That season the team finished P9 in the Constructors’ standings and things only got worse from there until the regulatory overhaul in Formula 1 for 2022, at which point Haas went from battling with themselves adrift of the pack, to suddenly now leading the midfield.
It has been another slow decline since then, and this returning trend of race days being a struggle needs nipping in the bud before Haas potentially find history repeating itself.