By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Much has been made of Haas F1’s inaugural season in Formula 1.
From scoring points in their debut in the Australian Grand Prix with Romain Grosjean to remaining within striking distance of Toro Rosso and McLaren-Honda in the Constructors’ championship battle, the US-based squad led by team principal Guenther Steiner has enjoyed a strong amount of success early.
However, with the summer break nearly over the team must decide what to do about its driver lineup for next season.
Grosjean has scored an astounding four times in 12 races, amassing 28 points over that span. His experience alone serves Haas F1 well and it, along with his pace, was the key component in bringing on the Frenchman. Obviously, the 30-year-old hasn’t disappointed and should remain with the team and as lead driver going forward.
Enter Esteban Gutierrez.
The 25-year-old Mexican has finished 11th in four races this year, contributing zero championship points in the process. In fact, the only time Gutierrez has finished in the points was at Suzuka in 2013, when he finished seventh. Although young, the opportunity to help the team progress forward appears to be hindered by the former Sauber driver’s race craft. Even though Gutierrez is a reserve driver with Scuderia Ferrari, whom Haas F1 share a close technical partnership, it may be best to look elsewhere in the driver market.
So, what are the possibilities?
Some believe they should look to put an American driver alongside Grosjean, and if so, that Alexander Rossi makes the most sense. Why wouldn’t it? He remains as a reserve driver with Manor and was sensational in five appearances last season, nearly scoring a point in his rain-soaked home grand prix at Circuit of the Americas. The affable 24-year-old from California also finished second in the GP2 Series championship to likely soon-to-be McLaren-Honda driver Stoffel Vandoorne. In his time away, Rossi only won the biggest race in the world – the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, and has enjoyed a solid rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Many have raved about Rossi’s technical feedback and adaptability in a race car and at the moment, there is no better American candidate to put behind the wheel of a Ferrari-powered Haas VF-16.
However, if Steiner wants to go with another experienced driver to help continue to build the program before finding its young superstar, then perhaps they need someone such as Jenson Button or Felipe Massa.
Button is rumored to possibly replace Massa at Williams and honestly either would be a fine choice to help develop the car. At 36-years-old, Button has endured a rough outing at McLaren as they continue to build their program up with the Honda power, so the 2009 World Champion may be reluctant to join a team such as Haas.
Massa started the season off well, but whether it is the development at Williams or just time catching up with the 35-year-old, the results have fallen way off since. Although one of the most beloved figures on the grid, the Brazilian is likely to be replaced as he may have hit the end of his career in F1. Caution must be stressed with Massa a driver that could lose his race seat due to results in a car that is considered better is an automatic red flag for any team looking his way.
All things considered, perhaps being back under Ferrari power is exactly what the 11-time grand prix winner needs to rejuvenate his career.
The attractive concept is Sergio Perez.
The current Force India driver was rumored for to replace 2007 champion and current Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen, but a recent contract extension put an end to that speculation. What makes a move to Haas all the more attractive is that the 26-year-old Mexican recently announced that he is unsure if he wants to remain with the Silverstone-based squad. Having reached the podium twice already this season, possibly looking for a new beginning, perhaps Perez is the one Haas should look to sign and bring one of the more lethal lineups in Formula 1 in 2017. The only question is whether or not Perez wants to be on a team that, at least for this season, is further down on pace than Force India’s VJM09.
Perhaps Haas look inward at current reserve driver and GP3 Series championship leader Charles Leclerc. An 18-year-old from Monaco, Leclerc has begun taking part in FP1 sessions and is also a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. Leclerc is a wild card, but someone that is certainly a possibility.
Last on this list is Felipe Nasr.
The talented 23-year-old Brazilian is a former reserve driver for Williams, whom they may look to as Massa’s replacement in addition to Button, and has endured the last two seasons at Sauber. Reports have come out that Nasr may want to take his Brazilian money elsewhere if Sauber can’t right the ship. After having scored 27 points over six races during his rookie campaign last season, including a fifth in Australia, Nasr hasn’t finished higher than 12th thus far this year.
If there is a chance, I think Nasr is the best candidate for Haas to put alongside Grosjean. He is outperforming the Sauber C-35’s capabilities, a machine that is arguably the worst on the grid. Nasr is perhaps the best combination of youth and experience heading into a season of huge technical changes.
In Gutierrez, they have a driver that isn’t up to pace, wrecks race cars and takes away valuable track time to help with date to development. With Button and Massa, they could both be one-and-done drivers that wave the checkered flag on stellar careers after one season, but maybe one season is all Haas needs before they get the driver they truly desire in the cockpit and perhaps that driver is Rossi or Leclerc. Both Perez and Nasr have pace, experience and youth on their side, all of which are a benefit for the US-based team if they push for either driver.
Stability is the key for Haas when it comes to development, so whichever driver they decide on bringing in, expect them to have pace to keep up with Grosjean as they look to move up the ladder of contenders in Formula 1.