Steiner wary of unknown threat from team’s rivals

Kevin Magnussen on his way to setting the sixth quickest time of all the teams during testing in Barcelona
Kevin Magnussen on his way to setting the sixth quickest time of all the teams during testing in Barcelona

It is a different kind of Australian Open as the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship heads down under for Sunday’s opening Australian Grand Prix.

While the championship battle will be waged among the big-three teams of Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull, the ultra-competitive midfield is wide open.

Every season, or at least just before the start, is the most challenging, as you don’t know what you’re going to be in for

Haas F1 Team boss Guenther Steiner

Seven teams consisting of Haas F1 Team, Force India, Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso, McLaren and Sauber appear to be on relatively equal footing as the 21-race season kicks off at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.

A dark horse in the horsepower-laden Australian Open is Haas F1 Team. The Banbury outfit enters its third Formula One season after turning heads in preseason testing at Circuit de Barcelona, Catalunya.

On the penultimate day of testing, Kevin Magnussen put down a lap of 1:18.360. It was the second-fastest time of the day and it ended up being the sixth-quickest overall time achieved during the eight days of testing.

Team boss Guenther Steiner said: “Every season, or at least just before the start, is the most challenging, as you don’t know what you’re going to be in for. You don’t know how strong the opposition is.

“It’s always a challenge, but there’s not one more than the other. It’s always a big challenge every year.

“Normally, you can get well prepared, as you should when you have eight days of testing. This year, unfortunately, due to the weather, we only had five clear days of testing.

“Then again, it’s the same for everybody. So, you get as best prepared as you can.

“I would say we’ll know the potential of the car after qualifying in Australia. After the test, we can say we’re in the midfield, and hopefully in the top half of the midfield. I think we are cautiously optimistic.”

Speed, however, must be paired with reliability in order to garner results. Magnussen’s team-mate Romain Grosjean showcased the team’s reliability in the final day of testing when he led the way with 181 laps to set a new benchmark for the team.

Prior to this year’s test, the highest single-day lap tally of any Haas driver during preseason testing was 119 laps by Grosjean last year.

Magnussen and Grosjean have proven to be quite adept at navigating the Albert Park layout.

Magnussen made his first Formula One start in the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Grosjean finished sixth in 2016, the team’s first race and it is still the best debut for any team since 2002.