Steiner explains why Haas will return to their 2016 high – or better – next year

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The 2021 F1 season has been a grind for Haas, but team principal Guenther Steiner believes much brighter days lie ahead.

His squad went into the summer break pinned to the bottom of the championship table. Their score reads zero and, what’s worse, Haas have not looked like realistic points contenders at any stage. It took a pile-up which eliminated a quarter of the field in Hungary for them to register their first lap completed inside the top 10 this year.

The Haas VF-21 chassis is a lightly reworked version of last year’s car, which itself was closely based on its 2019 predecessor. And so, despite the obvious progress made by power unit supplier Ferrari over the past 12 months, the team’s predicament is clear to Steiner.

“The components were not an issue with Ferrari,” he stresses, though admitting the Scuderia “struggled in their own little world” with their power unit in 2020.

“Obviously we depend on some of the technology from them and if it isn’t good enough that is where you end up. But in our case, I wouldn’t put the blame on them because it was our own doing.

Grosjean gave Gene Haas’ team a points-scoring debut
“In ’19 the car aerodynamically wasn’t good. And then when you don’t develop a bad car, that is where you end up.”

As tough as the season has been so far, the team nearly didn’t make it at all, as owner Gene Haas came close to pulling out. “When the pandemic hit Mr Haas wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue or not,” says Steiner.

Rivals Williams were taken over by Dorilton Capital around the same time and are now reaping the benefits, delivering their first points score for two years in Hungary. But Gene Haas wouldn’t necessarily have found a new owner for his team, Steiner confirms. “He didn’t go out actively to sell.”

“I always said if Mr Haas wants to sell the team it will done like I think Williams did the right way, to get a law firm involved,” he explains. “That is how you do it, and that is how we would have done it.”

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But Haas neither bailed out nor sold up. With sweeping new technical regulations coming for next year, plus the introduction of a budget cap and revised prize money distribution from this season, they saw an opportunity to take a major step forward. Steiner makes it clear that without the rules shake-up the team “wouldn’t be here anymore”, and he expects F1 will soon make much better financial sense for smaller teams.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020
Haas only beat Williams last year, and trail them now
“I think for the future – not only for Haas, for everybody here – you can actually make a stable business out of it to have a team running with the new regulations and with the new distribution. But you still need to do a good job to get higher up so you get more money.”

Given their current position, Steiner’s expectations of the team’s chances next season may seem unrealistically high. “We have got a good plan going forward,” he says. “I think we will be back next year where we were in ’16 at least. I’m very confident about this.

“We have been successful in ’16, ’17 and ’18 – in our world successful, I know that we didn’t win races, it’s all relative – so why should we not do it again?”

Haas blazed into Formula 1 five years ago, taking sixth on their debut in Australia and going one better at the very next race. They’ve only bettered that once since, with fourth at the Red Bull Ring in 2018, on their way to fifth in the constructors championship.

That stunning 2016 debut was achieved off the back of a year in which they only had the upcoming car to work on. Steiner says the same applies today.

“We have preparation time this year as well because we don’t develop the [current] car,” he explains. “There is a strategy behind that, it’s not like we are doing things random.

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“We know what we are doing, that was the plan last year: How do we continue? How do we get back where we want to be? We make this a transitional year, that is what we did. So we have got a year to prepare it.”

Analysis: How Schumacher and Resta fit into Ferrari’s new-era customer team model at Haas
With his characteristic frankness, Steiner bats away rumours he could be replaced in charge of the team: “That’s complete bullshit”. But he admits last year proved the most stressful time in of his motorsport career to date.

“I would say so, on the business life, absolutely,” he agrees. “Because also with the doubt how we continue, if we continue, there was a lot of ifs and in the end it was very stressful.”

The anxiety over the team’s future left him with “more grey hair”, Steiner says.

“I think I’m, as a person, pretty balanced – except when I go racing, then the devil comes out. But that is what I like to do. So I think it didn’t affect me because I always kept a clear focus.”

The team needed to “take a step back to make two forward”, says Steiner. “I wanted the team to continue because there’s a lot of people depending on it and I feel responsibility for this. I’m pretty ethical in this stuff, I always try to do the best.

“If that is not good enough or something comes in the way and I cannot do it, at least I can look in the mirror and say I have tried my best.”

Among the difficult decisions he took was to release the team’s long-standing drivers Romain Grosjean – who scored those breakthrough 2016 results – and Kevin Magnussen. Among their replacements was Nikita Mazepin, who was widely expected to gain promotion from Formula 2 alongside backing from his father’s Uralkali company, Haas’ title sponsor as of this year.

While some expressed doubts over Mazepin’s capabilities as a driver, more widespread and furious criticism of his conduct followed when he posted a video on social media of himself grabbing a woman’s breast. While the team was quick to condemn his behaviour and Mazepin issued an apology, Steiner admitted he was surprised by the strength of the reaction then and since.

“I think without that situation, the negativity wouldn’t have been this bad,” he says. “That happening, obviously, I was surprised how long it went on.”

Criticism of Mazepin “flattened out”, Steiner believes
The condemnation of Mazepin has “flattened out” since then, says Steiner. “But in the beginning, I didn’t expect that it would be this aggressive towards him, towards a human being, and this long-going.

“In my opinion actually people out there which have nothing else to do in life than try to make this bad. What was done wasn’t right, I’m not saying, but he apologised and sometimes in life you need to let go. You cannot pick on something just being awful with some people who did something which wasn’t right.”

Having never previously run a rookie as a full-season driver, Haas is fielding two this year. But despite their poor results, it’s clear Steiner doesn’t consider either Mazepin or fellow rookie team mate Mick Schumacher chiefly responsible for their plight.

Haas is “absolutely” lacking the benefit of experience in its driver line-up at present, Steiner admits. But he is content to stay patient with his youthful charges while the team works on the 2022 car he hopes will make them regular points contenders once again.

“That’s what the task is now,” he says, “to get these guys there so we have got that again for the future.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 15 comments on “Steiner explains why Haas will return to their 2016 high – or better – next year”

    1. The title may be slightly misleading, given 2018 is their high final WCC position-wise. Despite sacrificing this season pretty much entirely, I don’t expect much better from the next campaign, given field tightness.

      1. Have to @jerejj

        I admit I was very excited about Haas joining F1 in 2016 and they looked rather respectable as a total new green team showing up and racing in Melbourne. 2017 was flat, then 2018 was their best season finishing 5th. Then 2019 came around and they had to deal with the Ferrari PU debacle.

        I can understand the philosophy of putting everything towards developing the best package for the new regs.; arriving ready and fast (theoretically), as opposed to spending good money trying to dig themselves out of a hole in the existing regs with very diminishing returns.

        But then, when you review back the several years of their development abilities and racing prowess, I have to agree it’s not looking too good and sadly, I don’t expect a whole lot from them. Even if they get a powerful PU from Ferrari they still need to learn how to design & tune in a stable and aero clean chassis to stay on the track and get the most out of the PU. A lot of the teams in the lower ranks have really stepped up, gaining momentum while Haas has been going in the other direction. We now have a better understanding of what Grosjean & K Mag. was going through and feel more for them.

        It would be awesome to see Haas step up and mixing it up with the mid-group next year solidifying their place in F1 (and financially), as F1 fans we need more teams to be financially stable & solid but we shall see. Fingers crossed.

        1. Even if they get a powerful PU from Ferrari they still need to learn how to design & tune in a stable and aero clean chassis

          Well either they do or Dallara does. Do Haas have design input at all? They use a lot of components from Ferrari and Dallara designs and builds their chassis. Where does Haas engineering fit in this process? The whole entry was predicated on purchasing as much as possible and I suspect that was a road that shouldn’t have been traveled down…… Who designs updates during the season? Dallara? That’s passing the job on indeed.

          1. Good question, but what to what degree is probably closely kept info aside from what do’s & don’t are written in rule book.

            Like any car purchaser, they get to ask for an ash tray, stereo, A/C, custom colors and any extra doo dads to suit personal taste and needs.

    2. I really doubt it. For all their success it’s been a trend from them to hit trouble and never finding out why or how to fix it. It doesn’t seem like a flexible team that could jump from being dead last to bettering what was probably the highest achievable position for a team like this, specially considering the opposition and their current lineup

      1. @fer-no65 They could do a coup at the beginning though, with the engineering power of Dallara. But they still have to prove they can develop a car in-season. Also it will depend of the Ferrari components, I guess they will have 2022 same-spec Ferrari parts.

    3. Though nobody knows how next season will shuffle the pack and who will come out the winners and losers. I can’t help but feel pessimistic for Haas. Fundamentally they have nothing that the others teams don’t have themselves, and others have plenty that they don’t have, including committed owners, experienced drivers, facilities, staff, the list is endless really.

      Yes, in the future, new regs, cost caps, prize money will help, but unless their model changes, they’ll always be starting a few yards behind everyone else.

    4. I’m not as certain as he is. They never seem to know quite how to fix their own car and I think they’re missing the experience of Grosjean and Magnussen pretty hard. Schumacher should do okay, but Mazepin’s a lost cause and the team has virtually no identity of its own anymore. Maybe next year will present a hard reset for them but I’d be surprised if the team is anything above last or even ‘Haas’ within the next three years.

    5. What a sad record for F1 if Haas ends up quitting the sport. Just think how many new teams have we had in the past decade and a bit, and what has happened to all of them?

    6. Reminder: Their 2021 livery is the worst one in their entire history.

      1. But not from a financial point of view. Remember that the situation they are in now is in no small part due to their involvement with Rich Energy. The rubles may have a caustic origin, they are more real than Storeydollars.

        1. Without that flag, their livery would’ve been an OK one. Could’ve had the title sponsor’s corporate colors or just taken notes of Haas livery concepts.

    7. I was so thrilled when our US team scored an amazing 6th on debut. It’s been rough to be a Haas fan these last few years. Hopefully next year they’re back fighting for points. No matter which team, a team struggling this bad is not good for the sport.

    8. Michael Andretti must be looking real handsome to Guenther right now.

    9. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      24th August 2021, 14:48

      There’s only 1 way that can happen and that’s if Steiner doubles down on the cursing! Haas’ performance has a direct correlation to the amount of cursing that Steiner does!

    Comments are closed.