By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Haas driver Romain Grosjean celebrated wildly as he savored a 'winning' feeling at Sunday's Australian Grand Prix with his sixth-place finish ensuring the U.S.-owned team scored eight points on their Formula One debut.
Pre-race, team principal Guenther Steiner said the stars would have to align perfectly for the series' first American team in 30 years to finish in the top 10 point-scorers.
It seemed fortune was against them when Esteban Gutierrez was taken out early in a high-speed collision with Fernando Alonso that wrecked the Spaniard's McLaren and halted the race.
But the red flag brought a mandatory pit-stop and the team's choice of medium compound tires paid off as Grosjean rode them to the finish while holding off a challenge from Force India's Nico Hulkenberg.
"Guys listen to me: this is a win for us, this is a win," an emotional Grosjean said on the team radio after finishing.
"Welcome to Formula One, Gene (Haas, the team owner). This is the day -- this is history guys!
"It feels like standing on the top step of the podium for us," the former Lotus driver, who started 19th on the grid after a disappointing qualifying, later told Sky Sports.
"It's been an amazing race, an amazing weekend. Australia has never been nice to me so finally a change of color and it worked.
"For all the guys, for the work they have been doing in the last few days, there's so been so much work behind the scenes."
The 29-year-old said he had felt the car had "huge potential" from day one.
"But we needed to get a result, we needed a good qualifying and go in the race to see if that was true. And it is," he added.
"We've got plenty of areas where we can improve, we know it, but that result is a morale boost for everyone and is going to help everyone get confidence and move on from there."
Haas's race was the best performance from a team on debut since Brawn in 2009, and they were the first brand new team to score points since Toyota in 2002.
(Editing by John O'Brien)