Haas opted against developing its car for last year so it could focus on preparing for the new technical regulations arriving in 2022, believing they held a greater opportunity to make a step forward and gain performance.
It resigned the team to a transition year in 2021 where it failed to score any points with rookie drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, leaving it last in the constructors’ championship.
But the final three races of the season saw Haas get close to lower midfield rivals Alfa Romeo and Williams in terms of outright pace. Schumacher qualified within two-tenths of a second of an Alfa Romeo car in both Qatar and Abu Dhabi, and was even less than a tenth off Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in qualifying for the Saudi Arabia race.
Haas F1 boss Steiner stressed the importance of keeping the team motivated despite its competitive position, but admitted he was surprised by the late-season gains on the rest of the midfield.
“What you have to watch is that people don’t get complacent, get used to it and don’t do their best any more,” Steiner told Autosport.
“[You have to] tell them that ‘you guys have not gone stupid or bad, it will get better, it’s just our car is not developed’. It’s too simple the answer: if there is one year you don’t do anything, this is where you end up.
“Then again, in the last two races, I could not believe we were only a tenth or two away from the end of the midfield. I don’t get it with a car that’s almost two years old.”
Asked if the gains were in part down to the growing experience of his drivers, Steiner still felt the other teams should have created a bigger gap to Haas by developing in 2021.
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1, Mick Schumacher, Haas F1, Nikita Mazepin, Haas F1
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
“The other ones should have made the gap bigger, they developed their cars,” Steiner said.
“The last two races were very odd to me. In Saudi Arabia, where the lap is very long, we were only one and a half tenths behind. And we fought in the race with one of the Williams. Maybe they were going slower?
“As soon as you can fight for something, it’s a different scenario, a different vibe, a different way of living.”
Schumacher was able to fight with Williams driver Nicholas Latifi throughout the Abu Dhabi season finale, keeping him behind for 22 laps before Latifi crashed and sparked a late safety car.
Schumacher said the late-season progress was “possibly” a result of his growing experience, but also thought the team had found new ways to set-up the VF-21 car.
“We as a team also have just found a different way of approaching weekends, and approaching set-ups,” Schumacher told Autosport.
“I think we’ve really just found what we want from the car. Is it entry stability, is it oversteer, that was just something that showed over the last few weeks. I think we perfected that a bit.”