Race Weekend Central

F1: Is the Haas VF-18 Design Too Similar to the 2017 Ferrari?

As the Grand Prix of Bahrain approaches this weekend, many of the regular top teams such as Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing are in their normal positions at the top.

The midfield, however, is getting more exciting, and the one more noticeable than the other is the American Haas F1 Team, which in its third season of existence, showed improved pace during winter testing in Spain, and even better, qualified fifth and sixth in the opening race in Australia. Unfortunately, the team suffered a setback when both Kevin Magnusssen and then, Romain Grosjean were victims of a cross-threaded wheel-nut malfunction which ended what could have been potential podium or double points finishes in the first race.

But for some reason, even despite that both cars failed to finish, some rivals were not happy. They held suspicion that suddenly a team in their third year with a low budget could beat and stay in front of such drivers as Max Verstappen with no difficulties. Even more, rumors, which have caught the eyes of Force India’s Otmar Snafnauer and McLaren’s Zack Brown, are that the design of the Haas VF-18 is a carbon copy of last year’s Ferrari.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has called the car “a replica of last year’s Ferrari.” Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner, claimed that his cars when on track in Australia “were stuck between a 2017 and a 2018 Ferrari.”

But the most critical was Snafnauer, who will bring up the subject to the FIA this weekend at a strategy meeting for a clarification.

“I wonder why that is. I just don’t know how it can be right for somebody who has been in the sport for a couple of years with no resource to produce a car like that.” He said. “Does it happen by magic? If it does, I want the wand. I don’t know how it is happening. How many people do Red Bull have? 800/900? They have a wonderful wind tunnel – one of the best, great aerodynamicists – one of the best technical directors. Haas has a quarter of the people, no big aerodynamicist that I know off, no [Red Bull Chief Technical Officer] Adrian Newey. And they are faster. How does that happen?”

When they arrived in Formula 1 in 2016, Gene Haas had the idea that he did not want to go through the same failures that former lower budgeted teams as Caterham, Marussia, or even the failed USF1 project, which never even fielded a car. His idea was to look for a major manufacturer which could supply them engines, transmissions, suspensions, hydraulics and electronics in addition to the company having the chassis, bodywork, cooling, wings, and floor, which includes the diffuser, to be produced responsibly by Haas themselves.

Haas was clever in his goal and was able to sign on with one of the best teams, which was Ferrari. In addition, he kept the Italian influence flowing, by subcontracting the chassis, thanks to Dallara. With these moves, there cannot be a disaster like the other ex-F1 teams, and the team can focus their budget, the smallest in formula 1, on development at the team’s base in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and at their European facility in Banbury, England.

But Haas team manager Gunther Steiner believes that their team is doing nothing wrong.

“Everybody can say what they want but we know what we are doing and we have a team which can be proud of what it is doing and what it is achieving at the moment,” he said. I don’t care, they can say whatever they want. We are not doing anything we can’t or anything we shouldn’t be doing. We are completely honest.”

The bottom line here is buying equipment is nothing new in this sport. Lotus first did it in the 1960s and Sir Frank Williams began his career as an owner by buying a Brabham as its first chassis. To counter Snafnauer, Mercedes gave Force India their engines and gearboxes, but nothing else. So even to Charlie Whiting, FIA’s official race starter, brought up the subject at the last race, but could not find anything wrong with what Haas are doing.

“We know exactly what’s going on between Haas and Ferrari, which is completely legal,” said Whiting. “Last year we had one team expressing some concerns, but we have not seen anything that concerns us at the moment.”

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This will be an interesting case. The thing that F1 teams have fought, and in my opinion quite rightly, is customer cars.
So is the Haas a clone of the previous Ferrari? And if so does that qualify as a customer car?
On the other hand if it is a last years Ferrari what does that say for the midpack?
I look forward to what they have to say about it.

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