At Monaco the car went well, but that’s an untypical track in how much it demands of the car’s front end – and it was good in this respect.
But that had the effect of delaying a key realisation for another couple of races: that Grosjean was actually 100 per cent correct in his assertion.
They finally allowed him to go back to the old car from Silverstone onwards and the next few races established beyond any reasonable doubt that the Melbourne-spec car was faster than the updated version. But why? That was much trickier to ascertain.
This is where the team’s small size really tripped it up. There simply weren’t many resources to throw at such a curveball problem, one which required a lot of depth of research and expertise.
“A bigger team would have diagnosed it after Bahrain,” said chief engineer Ayo Komatsu, “and it would have had test parts for Barcelona and introduced it at race seven [Montreal]. But we don’t have that capability.”
Into the last third of the season, from Singapore, Haas decided to treat each grand prix as one big extended test session to get to the root of the problem.
Many experimental parts were tried, lots of pressure taps taken from all over the car, even to the extent of badly interrupting the race team’s efforts at maximizing what they had for that weekend. The bigger picture was more important.
Gradually, a pattern emerged: from the braking phase and into the entry of low-medium speed corners, there was an aero stalling problem around the rear lower flanks of the car.
At such low speeds this would cause the rear tyres to slide and, being incredibly temperature-sensitive tyres, they quickly overheated their surface.
Once this process began, there was no reversing it. The updated car, with a theoretically more powerful flow, was actually even more stall-prone.
As the team came to understand what it was working with, in the last couple of races the car’s slide down the order on race day was nowhere near as vertiginous as before.
It was only a particular set of circumstances – probably initiated by the change of aero regulations into ’19 – that unduly punished the lack of depth in the smaller team’s resources.
So it might be expected that for this season, with largely unchanged regulations, Haas should enjoy a less troubled time.
But it raises further questions, given the regulation re-set in 2021 and whether Gene Haas’ enthusiasm for this project can be re-ignited. The boss himself admits that from the outset he generally under-estimated the inbuilt advantages of the bigger teams.
We may look upon the team as having achieved great things for its size, but Gene just sees less than he was expecting.