Gene Haas is the "spokesperson" of the American brand and since his entry into Formula 1 had a specific objective: to make the US brand Haas Automation known to the whole world. In fact, we can say that F1 was its launch pad globally.
Going back to the arrival of Haas in Formula 1 in 2016, we can say that its start went very well, thinking of Australia and Bahrain, even if at the end of that season the team finished in eighth position in the Constructors' Standings with 29 points.
Changes were made to the 2017 Haas and the team scored 47 points, always finishing in eighth position.
The team seems to have found stability in 2018 and the partnership with Ferrari has led to the creation of a suitable car that has brought them to their best finish of the season, fifth in the Constructors' Standings with 93 points.
Unfortunately, after the amazing season of the previous year, in 2019 the team's performance dropped and that year the total of points obtained was even lower than that of the debut season, only 28 points. This decline marked a very difficult three-year period for the team during which they stopped updating the car to save money.
“I’ve always talked to the drivers, and I think in 2018 and 2019 we were spending between $20-40 million per year for these updates, and every time I talked to the drivers it was like 'Well, that didn’t do anything!'” he says.
“So why are we spending all this money on updates?
“That is one of the things we eliminated pretty quickly, was doing all these updates, because I was pretty convinced we weren’t going to do any races. [...] We didn’t really bring any updates per se – and I’m not really sure who did bring a lot of updates – but from a practical standpoint, they didn’t seem like they really improved the car much.”
“I think up until 2019 we were really doing very well, and we had plenty of horsepower and the cars were very competitive,
“But then we wound up doing fuel mileage races where we actually had to do a lot of lift and coasting, so that really hurt us. Then in 2019 we were down on horsepower considerably compared to the Ferrari cars, and that hurt.
“Then in 2020 when Ferrari had a reduction in their horsepower, it was pretty obvious that all of the Ferrari engine cars had horsepower deficits compared to Mercedes, Honda and Renault. Our boat’s tied to the Ferrari ship, so when they’re going slow we’re going even slower.
“We have no control over the parts that we obtain from Ferrari. We have faith that Ferrari can fix the problem, and not only does Ferrari have this problem, but so does Honda and Renault – everyone’s at a deficit to the Mercedes engine. They built an extremely high performance, high fuel efficiency, durable engine that no other team’s been able to come close to.
“To me, it’s really killed what Formula 1’s all about. More power to Mercedes for being able to dominate so much of the thing, but who wants to go to a race when you know who’s going to win every frigging race that’s out there? That just gets boring.”
A sense of frustration emerges from his words. Also linked to the precarious condition in which the Formula 1 teams were placed during the COVID-19 pandemic that could have spelled the end of many of them.
“It really wasn’t difficult. Early on as a group we took the viewpoint that this COVID thing was going to be a bigger lockdown than when people said it was just going to be a few months and then go away. So we immediately shut down the spending monster of spending huge amounts of money, mainly because we weren’t going to be going to the races.
“The most expensive part of going to the races is usually freight and travel, so we shut a lot of that down almost immediately. We got a big saving there, and that was really helpful. So instead of us having a budget of $150 million, it went down to like $80 million and $35 million came from FOM and then more from sponsorship, so we actually did pretty good.”
Looking ahead and thinking about the budget cap that F1 will introduce next season, Haas fears that this will limit the chances smaller teams might have to invest.
“I’m optimistic about the future, I know that this year’s going to be difficult because we basically have the same car as last year and the power plant from Ferrari is going to be very similar to last year, so we know that’s not going to give us any competitive advantage. So I think that we have the mindset of realizing our position is always going to be probably three of four positions behind Ferrari.
“And that’s OK, this is Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor racing. We know we’re not going to be beating any of the Mercedes teams, so we just have to take what we have and learn to make the best of what we’ve got, which isn’t bad. This whole sport is a lot more than just the engineering challenges and the engine development and all that stuff, it’s also participating in races and drivers and the whole other aspect of the glory of Formula 1 racing. Which is fun!”
Although the team was hampered by the Ferrari power unit last season, Haas still managed to collect some points. This is where his optimism comes from.
“When we got in the middle of the global pandemic last year, Guenther Steiner and myself came to an agreement on ‘OK, how much money do we actually want to spend on this?’
“I actually set a very lean budget, and quite frankly we actually scored more points relatively with a smaller budget than we did with a bigger budget. I just feel like maybe it was eating too much, and sometimes being leaner, you can produce more results.
Moving towards the business concept, Haas says: “From a business standpoint, being in Formula 1 has been extremely successful as far as promoting our brand name,
“We’ve brought a lot of customers to races, and I hope that Formula 1 can continue to bring that kind of prestige and excitement to races.
“A satellite team? Yeah, we want to be the best satellite team we can be. Do I want to take the investment and try and duplicate a Mercedes, Red Bull or McLaren? No. Because first of all the budget cap won’t let you do it, so you can’t do it anyway! So the best we can hope for is to be fundamentally a good satellite team, and to have a strong relationship with the team we’re satellite team to, which is Ferrari.”
Gene Haas concludes the interview with a comment on the upcoming seasons giving hypotheses: “Going forward in 2022 and 2023, maybe doors will open. Maybe things will happen. Maybe some of the big teams might call it quits. This whole electrification of the whole automobile industry is going to be very upsetting to the tried and true conventional builders of cars, so you never know when one of them might pull out and there might be some opportunities to do something else there. So who knows…”
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