ONE pit stop issue in an F1 race is brutal, but forgivable. Two from the same team is inexcusable.
But that’s what happened to the Haas F1 Team during the Australian Grand Prix. After a strong qualifying performance, the American outfit punched above its weight throughout the opening stages of the race with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean running fourth and fifth respectively.
Then came the pit stops and a dual calamity that was as inexplicable as it was cruel.
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Magnussen was the first to box on lap 23 but almost immediately after exiting the lane from a regulation stop reported a suspension failure. He would only make it to turn four, before pulling up by the side of the road.
But what felt like a broken suspension to the Dane was actually a left rear tyre which hadn’t been fitted properly. Pit stop replays revealed Haas crew members on the left rear frantically signalling for the car not to be released, without success.
But worse was to come for the weekend’s over-achievers (up until that point, anyway) as teammate Grosjean pitted on the next lap to make the most of the Virtual Safety Car conditions.
What appeared a regulation stop for the Frenchman also ended in disaster, when he barely made it past turn two of his out lap before himself griding to a halt.
Incredibly, replays confirmed that an almost identical issue to Magnussen’s stop had occurred once again, this time on the front left, causing aggravated scenes in the Haas garage as the enormity of the situation dawned on them.
Along with costing them their places in the race – and a haul of 22 world championship points – they were fined a total 10,000 euro (A$16,050) for releasing the cars from the pit stops in an unsafe condition.
“Very tough one to swallow,” Magnussen said post-race.
“For the whole team, with both cars not finishing, in such good positions, with so much anticipation coming up to this race and being in such a good position with both cars, it’s so heartbreaking to finish like that.
“We’ll get on top again and we’ll fight back and do it all again.”
Grosjean concurred, lamenting the circumstances after showing better than expected speed all weekend.
“Yeah we did (have good pace), all weekend,” Grosjean said.
“I was happy with the low fuel pace and the high fuel pace. Today I had great pace. I’m sure I could’ve stayed a bit more with the frontrunners if I’d been in front of Kevin early in the race.
“But we will analyse everything, understand what happened exactly and come back stronger as we always do.
Neither driver was able to pinpoint the cause of the issue — whether it was related to the wheel guns, nuts, human error or otherwise — but offered slightly different takes on the situation.
“No, right now everyone is down and we need to analyse everything to make sure if it’s a problem with the guns or if it’s a problem with the mechanics,” Grosjean said.
“We didn’t have any problems in winter testing, so it’s a bit strange. It’s a lot of points lost today, but if we can repeat that performance over and over, we’re gonna forget that one fairly quickly.”
Magnussen’s tongue remained slightly more in his cheek: “The lovely thing about F1 is you go straight from these horrible moments to talking to you guys, so I haven’t even met them (the team) yet.”
But the situation had further ramifications for the event, with the ensuing Virtual Safety Car period (followed by full Safety Car) allowing Sebastian Vettel to leapfrog Lewis Hamilton in the pits.
The reigning world champion would never regain the lead, as Ferrari struck the first major blow of 2018 by taking out the race.
The Haas disaster also aided Daniel Ricciardo, who jumped from sixth to fourth thanks to the dual retirements, the position in which he would finish the race.