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Guenther Steiner departure leaves big questions for Haas’ F1 operation



Guenther Steiner departure leaves big questions for Haas' F1 operation
Naturally, Guenther Steiner’s exit from Haas is a loss for Formula One, but it is also a major blow to the organization he is leaving behind and raises concerns about Gene Haas’s long-term goals.

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With the unexpected revelation on Wednesday, the American team will begin a new season without Steiner’s beloved leadership for the first time since its 2016 debut. The replacement of one of F1’s longest-serving team principals with a rookie, Ayao Komatsu, is a significant risk taken by Gene Haas at what appears to be a pivotal juncture in the company’s history, especially given that Haas has failed to demonstrate any discernible development in 2023.

At first glance, one may easily assume Steiner is just the goofy, funny man with a slightly muddled accent; however, people are frequently surprised to hear that he is actually Italian, originally from the northern Tyrol region, not German or Austrian. One of the most well-known and iconic characters from the Netflix documentary Drive to Survive is Steiner, who discussed his run-ins with drivers like Nikita Mazepin and Kevin Magnussen.

One of the most notable aspects of the most recent DTS season was Steiner’s encounters with the latter in particular; in one episode, following a harsh exchange between Mazepin and his engineer, Steiner is heard yelling “F— him.” People f—— detest you because of this. It was just one quotation from a list of his most memorable moments from the program. Steiner leveraged his enormous notoriety to write the book Surviving to Drive, which was published last year. This year, the paddock will miss his easygoing demeanor and willingness to answer almost any query.

However, the humorous persona Steiner has developed for himself belies the excellent work and significant contribution he has made at Haas. In 2014 and 2015, when considering the logistics for a possible F1 team, Gene Haas first went to Steiner. Steiner had expertise working with newly formed Formula One teams from his time at Red Bull and Jaguar, whereas Haas, in his own words, was a racing novice who had mostly followed NASCAR.

Behind the scenes, there has been talk that the Haas team as it exists today would not be possible without the Italian, and that seems like a fair assessment given that, even though Gene Haas’ name is on the equipment, Steiner has been leading the team since 2016 and managing the majority of the day-to-day operations ever since.

Because to his straightforward demeanor, Steiner has gained a great deal of popularity among the squad members. For better or worse, Magnussen, who was sometimes the target of Steiner’s verbal abuse, once expressed his gratitude for always being aware of the Italian’s position on any given matter. Both in public and private, he is unafraid to be direct and unafraid to stand up for something he believes in. The absence of a Steiner quotation in Haas’ statement on Wednesday hinted at some direct discussions that may have taken place in private in the previous several days and weeks.

According to that announcement, Gene Haas left Steiner primarily because of last year’s disappointing results, in which Haas finished last. This is corroborated by the news that technical director Simone Resta resigned from his position. Concerns about the team’s lack of resources and investment have been causing increasing friction lately. With the exception of a stunning fifth-place result in 2018, Haas has placed eighth, ninth, or tenth in each of the other competition seasons.

When COVID struck in early 2020, Haas was among the teams on the verge of collapse. As a result, Steiner took a bold strategy the next season to keep the team afloat: minimizing on-track upgrades while maximizing revenue. As a result, Mick Schumacher and his father’s business, Uralkali, as well as Russian driver Nikita Mazepin, were signed to comparatively low-cost rookie contracts. It was hoped that the financial boost would give the club the stable foundation it required to eventually develop into a formidable midfield unit. That never occurred; in early 2022, as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Haas broke away from Uralkali and the Mazepins.

This strategy paid off in early 2022 when the returning Magnussen posted several fantastic top-six finishes. However, aside from the Danish driver’s well-publicized pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix at the end of the year, Haas once more fell behind the others.

Then came last season, when it was evident from the start that there was a problem with the American team’s overall functioning. Even though the squad has benefited greatly from the addition of new title partner MoneyGram, the club has suffered from a lack of further funding from above. Its plant in Banbury, which is located just west of the Silverstone track, needs to be upgraded, as does the paddock hospitality center, which is frequently used to court new partners.

A large portion of the equipment it brings to races is older than what its competitors are using. A list of more serious problems begins to take shape when you consider that the aerodynamic department is still divided between the UK and a separate region of Ferrari’s headquarters in Italy.

2023 saw Haas as the exception to the rule. Haas persevered through the season until October’s U.S. Grand Prix and a long-awaited upgrade of their own, while other teams had spurts of true promise or improvements that obviously moved them up a rung or two in the competitive order.

The 2023 modifications were not good; Nico Hulkenberg performed better after switching back to the previous specification vehicle. All of this is not to imply Steiner should carry no culpability for Haas’ stagnation in recent seasons, as F1 is a results-driven industry, but often it has felt like the team has been fighting with one arm tied behind its back.

This brings up a more general point: with the increasing noise made by America’s Formula One team in the paddock lately and the departure of Steiner, the leading advocate of more funding and new facilities, the team will likely be in the spotlight once more in 2024.

What’s next for Gene Haas?
Insiders in Formula One have long felt that Gene Haas doesn’t fully understand the sport. The news on Wednesday only strengthens that notion. To begin with, it’s puzzling that Steiner was replaced by a relative unknown outside of Komatsu’s cramped paddock. Haas stated in the news statement on Tuesday that the decision “truly reflects my desire to compete properly in Formula One,” but it’s hard to understand that desire at a time when a smaller team like Haas might be succeeding in the sport.

Before Haas joined the team in 2016, there was no budget limitation in place in Formula One. The current budget cap caps annual spending at approximately $135 million per season. At the time, a significant investment had a low chance of having an impact on on-track performance, and Haas openly admitted that these circumstances had caused him to question if it was worthwhile to stay in Formula One in the long run.

All of that has now altered. The cap was imposed in 2021 with the intention of uniting the field and giving any team’s advancement a more concrete sense. There’s never been a greater financial basis for Formula One teams looking to make big purchases and succeed when you combine it with the rise in income, which are distributed equally among the teams. Ironically, though, Haas appears to be trapped in the more traditional way of thinking, which is odd for the newest team in the sport.

Just take a peek at what Haas’s direct competitors have been up to lately or have planned. Red Bull’s Milton Keynes facility will host a portion of AlphaTauri’s Formula One operations. Starting in 2026, Sauber—formerly Alfa Romeo and scheduled to participate as Stake for two seasons—will be a works Audi team. Williams has the support of Dorilton Capital and is moving forward steadily if slowly.

Teams at the top of the order are also adapting to the new F1 reality. Alpine welcomed a well-known investment last year, and Lawrence Stroll, the owner of Aston Martin, created quite a stir at Silverstone with the opening of a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility. Red Bull, the current world champions, intend to improve its facility, which CEO Christian Horner previously compared to a Cold War relic. McLaren has recently finished building a new windtunnel.

According to Gene Haas, it is evident that something comparable is needed to prevent his squad from becoming the castaway team on the grid. Another clear situation awaits him if he refuses to acknowledge the new realities of Formula One. Renault’s F1 squad was valued at approximately $900 million when Alpine sold a quarter of its team to an investor group for slightly more than $218 million the previous year.

Not too long after, a Forbes story pegged Haas’s worth at about $780 million. Although that seems like a high amount and is based primarily on what investors were ready to pay for a portion of Alpine, it is undeniably true that owning an F1 team is now more profitable than it has been in a long time.

The worth of any team’s entry will be much greater if F1 does reject Andretti and Cadillac’s attempt to enter as an eleventh team, and it’s not out of the question to picture a driven bidder offering enormous sums of money to take over Haas’ position should he decide to sell.

For Haas and Steiner, what comes next?
It’s difficult to guess what Steiner will do next at this point. Being a “F1 team principal” on his resume will make him one of the few unemployed persons with that title, but reports suggest a return to that post is improbable. He had nearly total control over everything at Haas, so it’s difficult to imagine him playing for another team without being drawn into the unsightly politics that he detests. According to sources who spoke with ESPN, he may be more likely to enter the media or take a larger, more detached position with a different organization.

The team will have some consistency going ahead with to the recruitment of Komatsu, who rose from serving as Romain Grosjean’s race engineer at Lotus to trackside engineering director and, currently, team boss at Gene Haas’ squad.

With the likes of former Ferrari manager Mattia Binotto available, it’s a risky move, albeit the Italian may have been equally as vocal as his friend Steiner about what the squad needs to succeed. In order to relieve Komatsu of some of its workload, Haas intends to employ a COO, which might be an ideal chance to bring some Formula One experience into the mix. For example, ESPN is aware that former Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer should be available by the middle of the year, and the American has shown a desire to stay in Formula One once he is allowed to relocate.

In any case, throughout 2024, Komatsu’s performance and Gene Haas’ reasons for holding onto his valuable asset will be closely examined.




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