In the second and final part of Motorlat’s exclusive interview with Haas F1 Team’s Guenther Steiner, from last weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, we hear his thoughts on the leadership of Kevin Magnussen; how close his team came to collapsing during the pandemic; Steiner’s earliest F1 memories as well as whether we will ever finally see the first F1 Team Principal Parade. All this and other topics were discussed in a far-reaching discussion with the man leading Haas F1 team - and he was his usual charismatic self.
With Guenther Steiner at the helm, Haas F1 Team has overcome their recent struggles and are now well set for the future as the team attempt to extract the full potential of the VF-22. Motorlat asked Guenther Steiner as to whether his experience with Jaguar racing is helping. Steiner first joined the world of F1 in 2001 and demonstrated his strength at managing costs and personnel. Therefore, does this mean that Haas F1 Team is well positioned during a time of rising inflation and unexpected expenditure. The reply which followed, accompanied by Steiner’s trademark grin and laughter, was ‘I would hope so’ before he continued in greater detail.
“I think, yeah, even going back to Jaguar times. I mean when we established Haas it was with a clear view. We need to be efficient you know, we don't want to be more of the same and do this for a few years and then run out of money or run out of passion. Gene Haas was very [clear], when he started this, we need to look at not just more of the same but trying to do it a little bit more efficient than other ones and then we can make some gains.
“I think he achieved it and then obviously the 2020 year came with the pandemic, and everything went a little bit upside down but now we are recovering I think pretty nicely. We made a big step this year performance wise. The budget, we are trying to keep our budget as good as we can with inflation going up because at some stage you just have to let go. You know, you always can save money if you don't have it, you can save it because otherwise you aren't staying alive. So, that is what we’re doing so I think I know how to be efficient, and I respect money a lot.” Steiner said.
2020 certainly did turn everything upside down so was there a strong chance that Haas F1 Team could possibly collapse? “Absolutely, I mean in 2020 it wasn’t sure…the team only continuing when the new rules were released with the budget cap and with a more favourable money distribution to smaller teams with the new Concorde agreement. If it would have stayed like it was before I would be pretty sure that Mr Haas would not have continued.” came the reply from Steiner.
Due to the struggles and financial challenge of being in F1, Guenther Steiner was then asked for his thoughts on the much-publicised speculation around the Andretti name seeking a return to the sport. Steiner has previously spoken about the Haas model and how it succeeded when US F1 failed over 10 years ago. So, was the idea of Andretti entering a new team into Formula One a move he welcomes? His answer, understandably, mentioned the importance of reciprocity in any discussion of any new team joining the F1 circus at its peak.
“We are ten teams here, Formula One was never in a better position than now. There are ten solid teams if a team doesn't bring anything which helps the other one as well or Formula One in general, in the moment, I think it is not my decision to have Andretti or not, it’s an FOM and an FIA decision. We need to look into It, do we need it or not? If we don't need it then why should we do it?” Steiner remarked.
One thing F1 Team Principals seem likely to not do anytime soon is the much-anticipated ‘F1 Team Principal Parade’. Having been originally scheduled for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, the parade didn’t actually come to pass. So, would it be mooted or again or is there a limit? “I think yeah, the second, there’s a limit. I don't think that people want to see ten old guys on the back of a truck waving to people, you know so I think that will not come back.” Steiner said in response. However, even if people supposedly do not want to see the team principals on show in such a way, Formula One is banking on the fact that people want to play as F1 Team Principals.
This summer sees Formula One release F1 manager 2022. Players will now channel their inner Guenther Steiner or Christian Horner (to name but a few) to bring their team to glory as F1 seeks to borrow from the globally successful Football Manager model since PlaySport Games released Motorsport Manager on Steam and Nintendo Switch. Did the man leading Haas F1 Team, since its inception in 2014, ever think that the position of an F1 team principal could be elevated in such a way?
“No, I wouldn’t have thought that five years ago that it would ever happen… it’s like the races, if the interest is here then why not? We should do it because people do not purchase this stuff just because they want to spend money, they purchase it because they are interested and they get satisfaction out of it and enjoyment so if we can do it, it’s fine, if somebody wants to play to do my job, they’re more than welcome to do it.”
One can certainly hope Guenther Steiner is in his job for many years to come. Last Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was his team’s 130th F1 race. Unfortunately, the occasion did not see Haas F1 Team return to point scoring ways. Mick Schumacher crossed the line 14th and his teammate Kevin Magnussen was unable to finish after a power unit issue on lap 33 when he had been running in P11. Nevertheless, Kevin Magnussen’s unexpected return to F1 has brought much joy to the paddock. From the outside, K-Mag seems to be a very big motivator, optimistic and a positive presence. Guenther Steiner explained why he feels Magnussen has returned to the sport in such a way.
“I think that came with time and with age of him, he was away from the sport. Now, he has been asked to come back to the sport. That always gives you a certain amount of confidence and he has got a family now, which also makes you more responsible so he just picks it up I would say, you know, and he's now in, I think, his seventh season in Formula One and it's natural that at some stage you need to use your experience to be a leader.”
A leader who Guenther Steiner greatly admires was the man who famously recruited him to Jaguar Racing - the legendary Niki Lauda. The much-loved and greatly missed three-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion was mentioned by Steiner when asked by Motorlat to recall his earliest memory of F1. “Watching it on TV when I was a kid in the early 70s, you know, when Niki Lauda raised to fame. You know I'm coming from Italy but very close to Austria, so he was a big hero there and I remember that one watching it on TV, on black and white TV, in the 70s you know and since then I followed it.” Steiner recalled.
Guenther Steiner’s passion for F1 is clear to see. Unfortunately, due to Haas F1 Team’s current position on the grid, there is always the chance other team’s higher up the running order may look at recruiting his personnel. The question posed to Steiner as to how he would respond in such a scenario.
“If somebody gets an opportunity which we cannot give people I'm always open to discuss it I mean I think yeah in life you need to be fair to be people. If they’ve got a chance to progress you cannot stop it anyway even if you want so, why would I be against it you know obviously I like to have for my people here a working place where they are happy to stay and not to move on but if they get a big opportunity you have to let go. I mean you know obviously they have to stick to their contractual obligations because you signed something and you need to learn as well to respect that but otherwise, I would say, ‘hey if I cannot offer you the same and somebody else wants you’ - why not?”
Someone hoping for an opportunity within Haas F1 Team in the near future would be American-born Brazilian racing driver, Pietro Fittipaldi. However, Haas F1 Team’s test driver, who competed in last weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours, may find competition from Robert Shwartzman due to Haas’ close collaboration with Scuderia Ferrari. So, has the team decided who will run in the two mandatory FP1 sessions for rookies this season?
“No, not exactly but we are getting closer to that one because we need to make the decision when we are using the days up you know to be the best for the guys which race with us so they don’t, even if they lose a session, it is the least damage we can do by making them lose a session.” Steiner concluded, understandably keeping his cards close to his chest. Whether Pietro Fittipaldi or Robert Shwartzman, this shows the talent within Haas F1 Team at present and how strong its future is.
It was a privilege to spend some time hearing Guenther Steiner’s thoughts on a sport which is bigger than ever. A well-known saying which is frequently used by Steiner is ‘never give up’. One thing is for certain, it would have been very easy for team owner Gene Haas to give up on Formula One in 2020 or even 2021 but the pinnacle of motorsport is all the better because he chose not to. The sport is also all the more better off with personalities like Guenther Steiner in it – just don’t expect to see him waving from a truck anytime soon.