It has been a dream start to Formula 1 life for the Haas F1 Team, who after debuting in the sport this year, have already managed to score points in the first two races of the season.
As the first American team to race in F1 since 1986, it is testament to the squad’s preparation that they have been able to come in and hit the ground running, something that a new team entering the sport has been unable to achieve in quite some time. Marussia, HRT and Caterham all fell by the wayside but the Haas F1 team has not….but why?
Starting out life in motorsport as a NASCAR team owner back in 2002, after setting up his own Sprint Cup squad, the Haas CNC Racing team, Gene Haas has a strong pedigree in the racing arena. The team only contested a few races in that inaugural year, but by the following season they were running the full Sprint Cup schedule. In 2006 Haas relocated to Kannapolis, North Carolina and a new state of the art facility that would see them move forward with development at a rapid pace. By 2008 they had struck a deal with former Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, and their new joint operation was known as Stewart Haas Racing. Points scoring results began to come in thick and fast, before podiums and wins became a common feature of their campaign.
After that there was no looking back, Stewart Haas Racing went from strength to strength and grew to be the hugely successful and championship winning success that they are today.
But the resourceful Gene Haas wanted to develop further in the motorsport arena, and in 2012 he made first contact with F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to advise him of his plans to enter the sport. In 2014 Haas was granted entry into the F1 World championship by the FIA, initially to join the F1 grid in 2015, but after seeing just what would be involved in such a task, Haas decided to put things back by a season to ensure they did not fold before they had even begun. In 2016 they were granted entry once again, and the dream was well and truly alive. As a seasoned campaigner and naturally business astute, Haas was well placed to make this venture, like many of his others succeed.
Initially working out of their NASCAR facility in Kannapolis, they soon set up a European base for the squad located in Banbury England, on the site of the former Manor/Marussia F1 team, to allow them easier access to the Grand Prix that took place and to their suppliers based on this side of the World. Haas knew that working out of the USA, could possibly hamper their development, and they were not willing to be just another team that would struggle to stay afloat in the F1 circus, so two bases were always his target.
Haas set the wheels in motion to create an all American F1 team that would do his country proud, forging ties with Ferrari, who would not only power the team with an engine, but would also provide transmission, parts and support to the new venture. That would leave just the chassis/bodywork for the team to produce off their own back, production of which would be handled by Dallara. But they would even receive assistance from the Maranello based squad for that too, with regular use of the Ferrari wind tunnel available to them as and when required. It was the perfect set up for a team wanting to break onto the F1 scene with minimal output, the turnaround and business model would be much easier to achieve, with R&D costs in theory at least being split between the two squads, another money saving opportunity for the Haas venture.
Haas was also pretty savvy on the people front, employing Guenther Steiner as Team Principal, a man who had a strong grounding in F1 as Technical Chief to Jaguar and Red Bull, as well as bringing on board former Marussia men Dave O’Neill and Rob Taylor as Team Manager and Chief Designer. He was also able to secure the skills of Ben Agathangelou, a former Ferrari employee, as Chief Dynamacist. The right people were in place, now the team was ready to roll. Two years down the line from initially being accepted in to the F1 World, and the dream had been realised, with Haas confident that they would be ready for the start of the season, and not only that they would be competitive.
When it came to driver choices, Haas was also on the ball, securing a big coup by gaining the signature of Frenchman Romain Grosjean, whose experience would see them launch their F1 career in way they could only have dreamed possible. When the former Lotus man initially joined the squad, many observers wondered if he had made the right choice, with rumours abound at the time that Renault would be buying out the flailing Lotus squad. Grosjean’s faith however has been well and truly rewarded with the team’s performance so far, that sees them sitting a solid fifth in the Constructors championship.
Esteban Gutierrez, although not as highly rated as Grosjean, was also a useful inclusion to the team. With 38 F1 races under his belt and a working knowledge of Ferrari, gained during his time as Reserve driver for the Maranello based squad in 2015, the Mexican’s insight would be invaluable to Haas in setting up the VR-16. The former Sauber man has not had the best of starts to the season compared to his team-mate, but that has really been through any fault of his own, having been taken out by Fernando Alonso in Australia, and experiencing technical difficulties in Bahrain, the Mexican still has potential to prove.
The performance achievable by Haas has already been superbly demonstrated by Grosjean, and although the handy deployment of a safety car swayed things in their favour for Round 1, Bahrain was a whole different ball game. Sunday’s race showed that their sixth place finish in Australia was no fluke, and under their own steam Haas can well and truly fight with the bigger boys…
Set up and managed to perfection, the Haas F1 team are potentially on their way to becoming the most successful American team to ever grace the sport!