Gene Haas says Romain Grosjean's strong result at the Australian Grand Prix vindicates his decision to opt for experienced F1 drivers over an American in 2016.
Grosjean guided Haas to a sixth-place finish on its debut race in Melbourne, turning in a faultless drive after the restart despite coming under pressure in the closing stages. The Frenchman, who has become one of the most highly-rated drivers on the grid after a tough start to his F1 career, was a surprise signing by the American outfit, joining from Lotus last year to partner ex-Sauber man Esteban Gutierrez.
Haas' original intention was to sign an American alongside an experienced driver, though the team soon opted against that because there was "nobody out there" with enough F1 races under their belts. Before Alexander Rossi competed in five races for Manor at the end of last season, America's last F1 driver had been Scott Speed in 2007.
"That's why we picked Grosjean, because he's had a lot of experience," Haas said after the race. "He's probably done a lot of silly things in his earlier career that's he learned from, and that's why it's a good pairing with Esteban because he's a bit younger. Hopefully Esteban can get some of that experience just by watching what Grosjean does. Grosjean's really a great driver -- he's never won an F1 race but we'll try to fix that this year!"
The team's result was made easier by the red flag on lap 18, ironically caused by the massive accident between Gutierrez and McLaren's Fernando Alonso. Haas believes the immediate points finish vindicates the decisions people made to join a newly-established team.
"For us it's a win. It's probably better than a win because it validates everything we've done for five years to get to this point. It's also a real morale booster for all the guys working here, it validates when the signed on to work for Haas F1 that they made the right choice.
"Especially for Grosjean, he took a big risk when he decided to leave Lotus and come here. In retrospect, it's almost crazy to want to sign up for a team that doesn't exist. He did it and drove his heart out and for us it feels better than a win."
Earlier this month Haas did add an American driver to its roster, signing 17-year-old Santino Ferrucci to a development role.