Nico Hulkenberg believes that the inherent weaknesses of Haas’ VF-23 were initially masked by the early-season struggles of the US outfit’s competitors.
Haas enjoyed a relatively strong entry into its 2023 campaign with its VF-23 – its second ground effects car – with the team scoring three top-ten finishes in the first five races of the season, including a P7 for Hulkenberg in Australia.
But while the team displayed on occasion a strong pace in qualifying, its performance on race day quickly receded, undermined by the chronic tyre degradation issues that would persist for the remainder of the year.
In hindsight, Hulkenberg suggests that’s Haas early form was flattered by the struggles of its midfield rivals.
"Obviously, it was a process, and signs were there early in the season," Hulkenberg explained, quoted by Autosport.
"But we got away with it early in the season because other people also were struggling more.
"And then once they cleaned up and then brought some real developments, that's when we really started to pay the penalty.
"The last or the second half of the season has been really tough. I think there was only an opportunity to score a point or two for me in Singapore, which we missed by the wrong strategy call.
"Apart from that we just never had the pace to do it. Even when there were a lot of cars dropping out, we were just too far away from it.
"So of course that's not great. That's why we need to do better."
Despite its tyre degradation conundrum, Haas opted not to update its VF-23 on a regular basis throughout the season, contrary to its rivals.
Instead, the team only introduced a heavily transformed package in the back half of the season, in Austin, in a bid not only to improve the performance of its current car but especially to establish a solid baseline for next season's contender.
But the end result of such a plan was a team that continued to go nowhere fast, while the benefits of the changes introduced in Texas never really materialized.
In a bid to gain more clarity on the changes it had implemented, Haas chose to revert Hulkenberg to its older spec car in Las Vegas and in Abu Dhabi while Kevin Magnussen stuck with the team’s updated Vf-23.
"I don't think there's a huge difference between them," commented Hulkenberg. "Minor differences.
“Last weekend [in Las Vegas], I felt actually the new package had an edge over the old package on a low downforce configuration.
"This weekend, obviously I didn't do the Friday, but from Saturday, I felt quite okay. Kevin didn't feel so happy. I mean, both are similar.
"But that's in itself obviously is not good enough. An update is supposed to be better, and fix some of your issues, and unfortunately that didn't happen. So, we need to try and do better there next year."
"We just need to pick up our feet, and do a better job, we need to work hard, because we want to do better,” concluded the German.
"I want us to do better ultimately, and I think everyone in the team wants to do better. So we just have to try and come up with better solutions."
On a personal note and despite the struggles, Hulkenberg enjoyed being back full-time on the grid.
“Just being in the competition again, fighting on Lap 1, that thrill, that excitement, and altogether the work with the team… even the travelling, the [other] stuff, it’s all good,” he said.
“I feel happy and ready for another one.”