Sunday, April 21, 2024

Haas Hoping VF-24 Can Banish Last Year’s Problems

After finishing last in the 2021 constructors’ standings with zero points, Haas at least managed to get off the mark in the first season of the current Formula 1 rules cycle in 2022. However, after taking one step forward, its results under the ground effect era went a further two steps back last year as it returned to the foot of the table.

The American-owned team’s backward momentum was followed by team boss, Gene Haas, overseeing a major staffing overhaul, headlined by the departure of Guenther Steiner from his long-held post as team principal and promoting technical director, Ayao Komatsu, in his place. Considering he is the face of a new era, Komatsu came out surprisingly pessimistic about the Haas VF-24’s potential ahead of the new season, stating that he expected the car to start ‘towards the back of the grid, if not last.’

The bar could not have been set lower, but the team wants to raise it as the season progresses, not least Komatsu who has a chance to prove himself as team leader. The organisational shuffle included the promotion of former chief designer, Andrea De Zordo, to technical director, and some other movements within the staff hierarchy.

Despite Komatsu’s downbeat outlook (based on his claim that Haas lost two months of VF-24 development time as it worked on a late-season 2023 upgrade) the latest car has not been a disaster. That’s probably enough to be considered a success considering how badly the previous campaign went. At round two in Saudi Arabia, Nico Hülkenberg ended an eight-race pointless streak to give the team’s 2024 programme an early boost.

The Haas VF-23 struggled all year, especially on tyre wear, and was out of the mix even after a big upgrade at COTA (XPB)

Tyre wear was the main reason why last year’s Haas floundered in races. The VF-23 was occasionally hot in qualifying, reaching the final session 11 times, but points were only scored on four occasions. Correcting that imbalance has been high on the agenda for 2024 and Haas hammered that point home when it prioritised long runs during pre-season testing in Bahrain, where it clocked the most laps.

‘Probably the characteristics of the car last year were not the best,’ admitted De Zordo. ‘It performed very well in certain conditions, but in others it had big losses. This made it a lot more difficult to drive. When you have new tyres, it covers some of these bad characteristics and makes it easier for the drivers.’

Haas wanted to make the VF-24 more stable and predictable for the team’s experienced drivers, Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen, who are in their second season as teammates.

‘This is a big help for the tyre,’ De Zordo noted. ‘At the same time, there is also driving style and how you manage [it]. During the last year, we improved a lot and understood better how to do [that]. Only as we improve that, as we [improve] the general performance of the car, the others are making improvements more than us. Even in the last part of the championship, when we understood better how to use the tyres, we lost some competitiveness, and the results didn’t come. So we are working this year to put both together.’

Haas continued with the pushrod front, pull rod rear suspension layout that is also used by its power unit supplier Ferrari

The early signs have been promising, although Haas is still far off the competitiveness it showed in its first three F1 seasons when it was regularly challenging for the top five.

‘I’m kind of pleased – not over the moon, as we didn’t score points – but it seems like we have a car which is a bit better on the tires this year, not necessarily quicker than last year but at least better on tires, and I think we’ve shown that today,’ said Magnussen after finishing 12th at the Bahrain season-opener, held at a circuit with an abrasive surface that produces high degradation.

Things got better at Jeddah – a smoother track with greater focus on outright speed – as Hülkenberg finished 10th after getting some help from Magnussen to bottle up a group of rivals.

The design of the VF-24 can trace its roots back to last year’s United States Grand Prix where Haas rolled out the 2023 car’s only major upgrade. Fully embracing the downwash-producing sidepod profile that Red Bull made so effective, the package also featured tweaks to the downforce-generating floor, the front brake duct and cooling system. While Komatsu described that rollout as a burden on the VF-24’s development, De Zordo later said that it did at least help to inform on some design aspects. However, it’s not a straight carry over.

View of the Haas VF-24 sidepod cooling system packaging at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where Hülkenberg hit the points

The sidepod inlets on the VF-24 are narrower than those seen at COTA, complementing a deeper undercut. Haas also further developed the front wing, adding a third exposed flap to the rear outer corner of each end plate, and re-working the dive plane on the outside of the end plates to become some of the most detailed in the field.

‘This car is just the development of that [update],’ said De Zordo. ‘[It is] the same direction, just before [at COTA] it was just at the beginning. Now it’s a lot more developed. Even if it didn’t perform as you would hope from a big upgrade package, it was in line with what the numbers said it should have been. So it was positive.’

After a disastrous 2023, the VF-24 has emerged as an acceptable starting point with consistent attributes that can be improved on. With its changes to the management structure, Haas now has a greater focus on engineering from the top. Komatsu, an experienced engineer who has been in F1 since 2005, and De Zordo plan to oversee significant updates at an earlier point in the season compared to last year, which could help to drag Haas out of the murky depths and free up development resources for its 2025 car.

Click here for the full article about the Haas VF-24 in the April issue of Racecar Engineering.

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