“We don’t have to be here” – but Steiner expects the Haas model is here to stay

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Guenther Steiner is an extremely entertaining chap, as anyone who watched the recent Formula 1 Netflix series “Drive to Survive” could not have failed to notice. His frank observations and staccato delivery enliven many a press conference, and those fortunate enough to have spent some off-record time with the Italian invariably find it an enlightening experience.

Still, these are personal observations in a sport where only results count. Here Steiner’s track record over the three-and-a-bit years at the helm of Haas F1 Team is nothing short of impressive – and not only for the US team’s climb from nowhere in 2016 to fifth in last year’s classification.

He had the foresight to exploit F1’s listed parts regulations – as detailed in this interview a year ago – which facilitated the team’s rise up the ranks. The fundamentals of those regulations were in place for at least a decade, yet it took a rank outsider whose last competitive posting was in NASCAR to exploit the loophole.

Could Steiner have persuaded machine tool magnate Gene Haas, then seeking to complement his successful Stewart Haas Racing NASCAR programme with a global marketing platform for his products, to enter F1 via a traditional constructor programme rather than persuading Ferrari to act as supplier of all permissible components? That is open to conjecture.

But what is given is that Steiner was always going to end up on the pit wall as boss of an F1 team, so driven is the man. And if his family’s modest fortunes – he is the son of a south Tyrolian town butcher – did not provide the means, he would enter via some other means. That eventually meant an apprenticeship crawling under damaged rally cars in muddy or icy conditions.

If Steiner’s rise to F1 is impressive, his navigation of the sport’s choppy waters is even more so. Yet arguably the most impressive aspect of Haas F1 Team is its cohesion and morale under his leadership.

True, they have made mistakes through inexperience, yet there is no discernible ‘blame culture’. Whoever can forget the image of Romain Grosjean consoling the mechanic who failed to tighten the wheel nut on the number eight car in Melbourne last year?

Romain Grosjean, Haas, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2016
Race one: Haas debuted with a stunning sixth
Over strong coffee on the eve of the new season, Steiner and I quickly dispense with formalities and get into the nitty-gritty, the strategic stuff. Where does he see the team fighting this year: Surely a top-three spot is obviously out of bounds given the sport’s current set-up?

“Correct,” he says, in his distinctively Italian, German and increasingly American accented English. “I think if we continue to work as diligently as we do, we can fit in where we are now, somewhere between fourth and sixth.

“[Higher up] is not realistic, but we don’t like to fall back, which can happen as well. I think we are strong enough to sit in between fourth and sixth.”

As a newcomer, Haas went without F1’s column one monies for the first two years of its existence. How does sixth work commercially for a team that now needs to start looking at recouping its start-up costs?

“Absolutely, money is always good to have and it helps. I think you think ‘money’, but the motivation is not the more money you get; the motivation is more sporting-wise, that you want to achieve this result.

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“The money, the difference [between sixth and fourth, around $6m] is not big enough to make that big a difference. But it’s the difference to getting good people to work for you to achieve this and to get ready for the next step.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Interlagos, 2017
Year two: Haas stayed eighth in the championship
“That is more important than the short-term money you get, the boost. You create a better atmosphere to work and you just work better. The best motivator for a team is the sporting result.”

There, in a one bite, is what team management is all about. How, then, has he been able to build the team in such a short period of time?

“There’s no secret. You give people what you promise them. We’ve had people leave because a lot of people think the neighbour’s grass is greener. I respect that, I’m not getting upset because I think there has not been a false loyalty. If you don’t want to stay, if you have done a good job for us, I cannot be upset because you leave.

“I think the core people we’ve kept together because we gave them a job, gave them responsibility, we kept our promises, we did whatever we said, ‘We are here to compete, we are not here to try to make a business out of it’.

“We did everything we said [on] the first day [that] we’re going to do.”

Although it is still early days, the stability and loyalty within the team is clear to see, and impressive. Did that come naturally, or was it part of the overall plan?

A pause, maybe due to modesty, then: “I think they came naturally. I think we straight out went for good people, we put more effort in. The other thing is our growth rate isn’t massive. We are growing but we are not growing by 100 people a year, so it’s easier to manage because the people you take on, it’s decided who we take on.

“We try to get the best people we can for the positions. We cannot get maybe not always the best, but you can see we’ve got good people. So I think that most of them feel happy here.”

‘Culture’ is too oft bandied about as a buzzword, yet in F1 it is absolutely crucial to success, for team members need to know where the team is headed. How does Steiner describe the culture at Haas?

Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Red Bull Ring, 2018
Best yet: Haas finished fourth and fifth in Austria last year
“I give a lot of people responsibility with freedom. I know what’s going on, but I try not to micro-manage because then you take away the enjoyment for them because they want to manage themselves. That’s why they came here, and I stick to that.

“They come and ask me [when needed], and I’m always there for them, but I trying not to interfere with everything. The less I do, the better I feel, because then I know that our people [are doing well]… and we have got the results, for sure if we haven’t got the results I need to interfere, that’s my job.

“In fact I think a lot of people joined us because we said ‘We are a small team, we need a lot of responsibility, which comes with accountability as well.’ Responsibility comes with accountability and I’m pretty happy with that.”

The team’s ownership is American, its team principal an Italian from a previously disputed Austrian region, the cars are built in Italy (by Dallara) but the team is based in Banbury in England – how would he describe the nationality of Haas?

“‘Global American’,” Steiner answers immediately, “because the team and the entry is American, Gene Haas is the owner and he makes the big decisions, because it’s his, that is his right. But the people which work here, I wouldn’t say there is any culture; it’s a global culture. It’s a racing culture, nothing else. We don’t look at nationalities.”

It is no secret that certain teams are lobbying to put an end to what is rather unkindly referred to as ‘B Teams’ such as Haas. If the regulations change such that Haas is no longer able to source the majority of parts from a mothership such as Ferrari, would Gene and co. stick around?

“We can take decisions either way. I think we put ourselves in a position that we can do most of it. If the regulations change dramatically, that you cannot buy anything anymore, maybe we change our plan.

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“Maybe we don’t want to do that, maybe we don’t want to adapt to that one. And that is not my decision in the end. Mr Haas will have a big say in that one as well. If he wants to do that or not. But we don’t have to be here [in F1], to be honest.

Chase Carey, Guenther Steiner, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2018
Steiner expects “the right decision” from Liberty bosses
“If the new regulations don’t work how we want to do business… I’m not saying, I’m not threatening anything, but I haven’t seen enough to say which direction, because nothing has been put to the vote, nothing has been decided.”

I put it to Steiner that there is unlikely to be a vote given that for the post-2020 regulations the FIA is working to its International Sporting Code, complete with 30th June cut-off and an almost ‘fait accompli’ process.

Nonetheless Steiner expects “a consensus-driven process” will determine the final rules package. “No, they will not be put to a vote, but I think people will be… given input and consultation.”

Then he qualifies his thoughts: “I’m pretty relaxed about it. I don’t think that there will be anything strange or something. What Liberty Media is trying to do, it’s in the interest of Formula 1, not in the interest of one team or something like this. I’m pretty confident the right decision will be taken.”

Retaining the ‘listed parts model’ is obviously a key requirement for Haas. How confident is he that it will be kept?

“There is somebody who adopted the same business model now,” he says, clearly referring to Toro Rosso, which now sources suspension components from Red Bull in addition to (largely) sharing Honda engines, plus electronics and hydraulics.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Bahrain International Circuit
Other teams are considering the Haas model, Steiner believes
Steiner believes he will gain the support for the model from Ferrari, “plus two Red Bull teams, us, Ferrari, Sauber, and I think Mercedes want to do something with Racing Point.”

“But, again, I think it’s more not what the teams want, it’s more if Liberty, thinks this is a model which will put F1 in a better place, they decide for us.”

Does it makes sense, I ask him, to continue working from three bases – Kannapolis, North Carolina (administration/marketing); Varano, Italy (Dallara, car design and production); and Banbury, UK (race base)? Does it not make sense to put everything under one roof eventually? Is that the endgame?

“Short to mid-term we stay like we are. Long-term we don’t know because we don’t have regulations for ’21. We are back to the same old story, you know? Because you cannot make any plan if you don’t know what is going to happen.”

Is the team now capable of constructing the majority of a state-of-art car? Steiner reckons they are 75 percent of the way towards building their own car excluding, obviously, powertrain and proprietary components. For the rest “we could find ways to do it, yes,” he believes.

However, he adds that at the moment “It works good with Dallara, it works good with Ferrari, so why should we change it?”

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In the event that F1 changes its money distribution as mooted, in turn providing independents teams with, say, an additional $30 million per year but in return insists that teams became full constructors, would Haas switch business models?

“Yeah,” is the immediate response. Then a pause. “Nothing wrong with that. OK, if you have to… but it’s more do we really want to do that?”

Although Steiner has positive things to say about Liberty’s performance under Chase Carey (CEO), Ross Brawn (sporting director) and Sean Bratches (commercial director) he stresses – as he has done several times before – that time is running short.

“Chase, Ross and Sean – I respect what they are doing because I know how difficult a job it is. Some people say ‘Oh, they didn’t get where they [promised]…’ They are working hard and I think they’re on a good way now.

Guenther Steiner, Romain Grosjean, Haas, Albert Park, 2019
Grosjean and Netflix fans know Steiner’s feedback is forthright
“But it’s just that soon we run out of time and then they get some frustration. I think they are trying to do the right thing for the sport.”

One of Liberty’s key goals for 2021 is the introduction of cost controls. Haas operates to one of F1’s most modest budgets ($130m) and lowest headcounts (250), and Steiner is unsurprisingly an advocate of a cap.

But can F1 really police the teams’ spending? “Absolutely” he says. “Look at [it as] a tax audit. It is possible to do. But it’s even easier, because you have somebody sitting there which audits you every year. So after a year they know the tricks you can play.

“After two years they know more tricks and they get better at the job. So I think having somebody there, basically a permanent auditor, an impartial one obviously, it’s a good thing and you cannot get out of it.”

Would Steiner be happy to have a permanent auditor on team premises full-time?

That staccato response fires back: “I have nothing to hide. I’m transparent.”

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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...

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24 comments on ““We don’t have to be here” – but Steiner expects the Haas model is here to stay”

  1. robinsonf1 (@)
    10th April 2019, 14:32

    Did anyone else read this entire article with Guenther’s accent in their head?

    1. except for Dieters accent :)

      1. I don’t have an accent – everybody else does…

        1. Gold! Neither do us Aussies LOL

    2. @robinsonf1 Good to know I’m not the only one, LOL. In general, I tend to read quoted sentences with the voice of the person in question in my mind.

      1. @Jerejj I’m also relieved that I’m not the only one that does this with everybody’s quotes.

  2. I will give him credit for making Dallara to finally produce a good F1 car, after all those years…going back to Merzario, Scuderia Italia, Midland, etc… Maybe the fact that it is largely a Ferrari has something to do with it?

    1. Maybe it helps that they can pay their bills and can afford to pay for upgrades.

      1. At least With Scuderia Italia they have some decent chassis, not revolutionary but all around solidly built and with good overall performance. But I agree it wasn’t the case with the other teams you mentioned .

    2. @gpfacts, to be fair to Dallara, the example of Merzario is flawed – whilst Dallara are cited as the designers, they had been instructed by Merzario to rebuild the Kauhsen WK, which was designed by Klaus Kapitza. The Merzario A4 was lightly modified by Dallara, but they had fairly little to do with the design – they really acted just as a fabricator.

      As Asanator notes, more than a few of those customers were a bit unreliable. In the case of Midland, the owner was marketing the team for sale within months of buying them and only seemed interested in trying to make a quick profit from selling the team to somebody else (that somebody being Spyker) – it sounds as if he wasn’t really that interested in working with Dallara, but more about running the team as cheaply as possible. It was also suggested that the main issue wasn’t with the design of the car, but the fact that the owner didn’t get on with Gary Anderson.

      It was a similar issue with the HRT F110 – Dallara admitted that the car was never finished because HRT never paid them for any of the work that they did on the car, with Campos himself giving an interview at the time where he admitted that “sometimes we don’t have the money” to pay Dallara to work on the car.

      In fact, I don’t blame Dallara for refusing to work with Campos, as Colin Kolles was pretty scathing about Campos and suggested he was utterly incompetent. According to Kolles, all Campos had was two engineers, eight software designers, an empty workshop and an equally empty bank account – he’d done OK in smaller series with spec cars, but seems to have been hopelessly out of his depth in F1. With that in mind, I don’t blame Dallara for dumping him pretty quickly.

      1. @anon: Knew many things from your comment. Thanks a lot.

  3. GtisBetter (@)
    10th April 2019, 16:13

    But is it a loophole/exploit? Cause for me that means you are not allowed to do it, but you find a way to do it regardless, cause of some forgotten or not well defined rule. I thought what they did was clearly legal by all rules and as such not a loophole/exploit.

    1. @passingisoverrated I completely agree that referring to this approach as “exploiting a loophole” is fundamentally incorrect. It seems readily apparent that the regulations were written this way more or less specifically to allow teams on a smaller budget to be more competitive, and that is precisely what HaasF1 have done. Whether you like the model or hate the model, the regulations are intended to allow it. Calling it a loophole implies that the rue makers made a mistake, and it also implies that HaasF1 is cheating at some level. I don’t think Dieter is saying that HaasF1 is cheating, but many posters on F1 websites openly state that they are. If this was a “loophole” in the regulations, it would presumably have been corrected in subsequent years, and HaasF1 wouldn’t be where they are today. The sport is better for their presence and for their success.

  4. I am thinking of starting a Guenther Steiner Fan Club- the man is Gold!
    If I get enough responses I will make it happen.

  5. “I think if we continue to work as diligently as we do, we can fit in where we are now, somewhere between fourth and sixth.

    “[Higher up] is not realistic, but we don’t like to fall back, which can happen as well. I think we are strong enough to sit in between fourth and sixth.”

    This is what doesn’t sit right with me…. a team that is so openly content to be where it is, to maintain its current position and not to keep challenging, is to my mind, not in it for the right reasons…. it cant be.
    This is a sport first and foremost, and while I have admiration for the individuals within the team and their considerable success to date in such a short space of time, to not want to continue getting better and better relative to your competition, means you are in effect not competing

    G

    1. The question was essentially “where are you now”, not “where do you want to be”.

      No team can realistically expect to finish in the top three, with a third of the big three budget. Even if there’d been drastic regulation change.

      The fact that they’re targeting sixth, in their first few years in the sport is an enormous achievement in the cut throat world of F1 @unclegsif

    2. @unklegsif

      to not want to continue getting better and better relative to your competition, means you are in effect not competing

      Same as RedBull ? They are way ahead of F1.5 and barely match F1 on specific tracks.

    3. @unklegsif That’s just silly. If HaasF1 had a $400 million dollar budget, they could fight for podiums, wins and championships. What you are proposing is a sport where no one can compete without a $400 million budget, and F1 could never fill a grid that way. But your comment does highlight a flaw in the basic structure of F1 in that it is evidence that driver skill, team strategy and engineering brilliance is insufficient to challenge for top positions in the finishing order. The prime component needed to achieve that is money, pure and simple. You either have a spec series where everyone competes in basically equal equipment or introduce balance of performance regulations, or you accept what we now have in F1 which is that there are de facto performance classifications of cars and teams similar to what you have at Le Mans. The difference is that F1 perpetuates a sham where all of the cars look the same and are not identified as P1 and P2 thereby hiding the fact that certain teams are guaranteed to be faster and win consistently because they have the money to make it happen.

      It’s been a long time since someone like Colin Chapman could come along with fresh and innovative engineering and take the F1 field by storm.

      1. G (@unklegsif)
        11th April 2019, 9:51

        It’s been a long time since someone like Colin Chapman could come along with fresh and innovative engineering and take the F1 field by storm.

        @gwbridge
        That innovative engineering invariably costs a lot of money…..
        OK so “back in the day” the garagista’s could whittle a few bits of aluminium and come up with a mid engined, stressed member chassis for relatively little expense, while the big boys were still punting out their front engined steel chassis machines, however as we have progressed through the years, these sorts of giant leaps forward have cost more and more an more to realise….

        How much would the modern equivalent of the McLaren MP4/1 cost today?
        How much would the equivalent step forward of the gearbox in the Ferrari 640 cost? Likewise the aero development of the Lotus 78
        Even in 2014, with a fraction of the budget of the big teams, Williams was able to generate a very competitive chassis (and its success wasn’t just dictated by the strength of the Mercedes engine….. McLaren and Force India can attest to that)

        I am not arguing, just pointing out that it can be deceptive to hold history up as the good old days

    4. a team that is so openly content to be where it is, to maintain its current position and not to keep challenging, is to my mind, not in it for the right reasons

      I don’t believe Steiner doesn’t want to win races, I think he does, but being realistic Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull are paid vastly more for their efforts each season than most other teams. F1 is a sport where money does buy improved performance, so one can’t be surprised they are the top three teams each year, simply because they are paid the most each year as well. So maybe Haas could occasionally win a race, but the most logical and realistic outcome is for Haas to finish each season behind them, at least until the distribution of TV rights money is distributed fairly. Until then getting between 4th and 6th is actually a very good result.

  6. I think you’re misreading his Frank reply. I’m sure he, Gene, and the driver’s would love to be on the podium consistently. But the resources are what they are, the mid-field can’t hang with the top 3 unless something changes.

    1. Ditto. I admit he seems a bit resigned, but he knows that without more time and A LOT more money they won’t crack the top 3 anytime soon. Just impossible except in particular races where one or two of the top teams completely fall apart.

  7. “Long-term we don’t know because we don’t have regulations for ’21. We are back to the same old story, you know?”

    To not know your future less than 2 years out, with the kind of budgets in F1, just seems incredible to me. I’m amazed the teams are so quiet about it. I can’t help but think if Ecclestone was still running the show then there would be much more criticism and pressure from the teams to have confirmed regulations by now.

    While the threats to leave the sport aren’t making headlines, they’re quietly there from a number of teams if the direction Liberty choose doesn’t support them.

    On another note I think the introduction of standard parts will be the ultimate compromise to this “B-team” debate. Steiner doesn’t seem to care as long as he can get his parts from somewhere for a good price and Brown was saying he doesn’t care as long as all teams have access to the same parts for the same price. I dont remember anyone being publicly against the idea.

    P.S “B-team” is still the wrong term as it applied to Torro Rosso for a long time, why not call it the listed parts issue? That’s what people are complaining about with HAAS, not B-teams in general. No ones up in arms about TR and AR which are the strongest B-teams with links to their parent teams…

  8. To not know your future less than 2 years out, with the kind of budgets in F1, just seems incredible to me.

    In the UK in the last fortnight the entire nation has been in a situation where we have not known what our regulations would be less than two days from the date of asking. Two years sounds like luxury. Bernie for PM!

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