Haas F1 team principal asks fans to respect the process of building a winning team
Fourth-year Formula 1 team mired in ninth place in constructors’ standings
Some race fans think that the Gene Haas-owned Haas F1 Team has been a disappointment—that’s what happens when a team languishes in ninth place in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship standings—but others argue it has achieved an enormous amount in a relatively short space of time.
“I think it has been a long time since a new team scored points in its first races and scored a fifth place in its first season,” team principal Guenther Steiner says. “We are now in our fourth season, and we are already 21st on the list of teams who have scored the most F1 points in their histories.”
A few more points finishes will mean that Haas will overtake teams such as British American Racing, Toyota and Jordan on that list.
“So what is achievement?” Steiner says. “It’s relative, isn’t it? If people dream that they can come into F1 and win races after four years, then they are dreamers. They don’t know what they are talking about. Could we have achieved more this year? Sure. We are not happy with our performance, but that is just one year and you have to see it over a period of four years, and I would argue if someone says that we underachieved, I’d ask how they think they would do it better.”
Steiner says he isn’t qualified to say whether F1 has delivered for Haas Automation.
“It is a big company, and I’m not involved in it,” he says. “I have my hands full here! But I would say that for brand recognition, F1 is still a brilliant tool. Has it done as much as Gene wanted? I cannot judge that, but … I think it has done something as a brand. Haas is now better recognized as a global brand, much more than it was before.”
The team makes no secret of the fact it is now looking for more financial support.
“We want the company to be commercially viable,” he says. “This is not a fun sport. It is a business, and now we need to increase the outside income. … We made a good start, but now we need to look to stand on our own two feet. Obviously Haas Automation will always be part of this team, but we are looking for sponsorship, and as much as we are criticized for what happened this year with Rich Energy, we got some sponsorship money out of it. We didn’t get to the end of it, but we got halfway there.”
The word is that the next step will be a deal for Robert Kubica to become the reserve driver of the Haas team, with his sponsor, Orlen, becoming the title sponsor next year, now that Rich Energy has disappeared. Kubica has a good reputation as a development driver, which would help solve the problems—and the money would help reduce what Haas has to pay.
Ask Steiner what he’s heard about the rumors that Haas is being sold to Saudi Arabian interests and he prefers to be off the record, but suffice to say his response is in the negative—and linguistically rather colorful.
An interesting rumor relating to Haas’ decision to stay with Romain Grosjean for the 2020 Formula 1 season, rather than hiring Nico Hulkenberg, was that not only did the two parties not agree on money, but that Hulkenberg was looking for a three-year deal while Haas was only willing to offer one year.
This led to rumors about Haas considering quitting Formula 1. The team was launched in 2016 and finished eighth in the constructors’ championship. In the second season, it was eighth again, but things improved in 2018, with Haas moving up to fifth. The 2019 season, though, has not been a good one, with the team currently ninth in the standings.
It has been difficult, but the lack of future planning is not about performance—rather, it’s about the politics of the sport.
“At the moment, it is a very difficult situation,” says Steiner. “And we are not the only ones in this position. … We don’t have a contract with the Formula One Group beyond 2020, and so in literal terms, that means that there is no Formula 1 beyond 2020 because no one has a contract. As a result, we cannot give contracts to anybody beyond 2020.”
This all means that Gene Haas can be flexible and see if he does like the new rules for 2021. He currently buys much of its equipment from Ferrari and Dallara, and if the rules in relation to this arrangement were to change, he would need to invest a great deal more—which he might not wish to do.
“We have been told what the new rules will look like,” Steiner says, “but that doesn’t mean anything because once we have an offer made, then it could be something completely different. Until you really know, you don’t know—and so it is best not to assume what you don’t know. I would say that we are just being careful and following the principles of good governance and are not extending ourselves beyond 2020.
“If everything is what it should be, I think we are still here. There is not good reason why we wouldn’t be here.”