Nobody in their right mind would have chanced a single dirham on Formula One newcomers Haas and their first-year driver Romain Grosjean heading four times world champion Sebastian Vettel and the mighty Ferrari in the championship chase after only two races.
And I forecast it will not be too long before the other midfield hopefuls, outsmarted already by Haas in their technical tie-up with Ferrari, begin to bemoan incessantly the American team’s astute thinking and planning well ahead of their debut season in the top flight.
They are placed fifth in the drivers’ championship with the rival likes of Fernando Alonso, twice the champion, and Jenson Button, another former Grand Prix king, stranded well down among the also-rans in their hugely financially-backed McLaren-Hondas.
Already I have heard the rumblings of jealousy echoing along the pit lane as envious backmarkers take in Grosjean’s and the Haas outfit’s impressive opening threat with a sixth place in Australia and an even better fifth last time out in Bahrain.
There is every chance Frenchman Grosjean, on a one year pay deal worth $3.2 million (Dh11.8 million) — compared with Vettel’s $40m — will go even one or two better in Shanghai with a tasty Chinese takeaway result. Such is his confidence.
And in the light of his skill and daring on the track and his marathon hours of work off it in development aid to the back room staff, no team would be more deserving.
“It is an amazing performance from all of us,” said Grosjean. “Being sixth in Melbourne was with a bit of luck, but fifth in a normal race is fantastic. Crazy. And it won’t stop there.
“The main concern is to keep our feet on the ground and realise there will be harder races to come. But we are ready, willing and able to go for it. Big time.”
His team boss, Gunther Steiner smiles: ”It has been a dream of a start to our future in F1. And we have to use it as a boost to our morale which is already towering.”
But let’s go back to the grumbles triggered by the precious technical tie-up with the Italian legends.
Steiner, mindful of a backlash, insists: ”People should not attack us for our business venture. Every other team had the same opportunity to partner a manufacturer. We took the chance.
“These grumblers should all worry about their own problems before criticising us for our forethought. We didn’t do anything different or wrong. The regulations are the same for everybody. So are the opportunities.”
I get his drift. If those disenchanted, disillusioned doubters and slow-to-act midfield runners, all with the very same opportunity, failed to BUY into the Ferrari supply chain of engines, suspension and transmission as did team owner Gene Haas in his infinite wisdom and with ready cash in hand, then who is at fault?
Grosjean listened intently to the excitingly ambitious and eager Haas at the team HQ in Kannapolis, North Carolina and opted for a route of risk riding, for, let’s be honest, what could well have turned out to be a disastrous charger for Grand Prix glory. Good for him ...
“We needed a known quantity. And he has paid for himself already,” adds Steiner,
”if we had taken on a ‘pay’ driver, as so many in coming teams do, we would not be where we are in the championships.
“He is a driver of calibre, an asset. And we will give him all the support in our power to help him to even more great results. I always said I do not want us to finish last — and I don’t think we will.”
Team Haas, I believe, needs now to arrive at an agreement with F1 kingpin and money-minder Bernie Ecclestone for a fair share of Formula One’s annual $890 million prize fund to help ease the weight of the $100 million-a-year burden they are currently carrying.
And I must say, bearing in mind the promising Haas team potential and their flying F1 start, there are less deserving cases cashing in on Bernie’s reward role.