Why Haas said farewell to its founding father – and ‘DTS darling’ – Steiner

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Guenther Steiner’s plainspoken and self-deprecating manner, punctuated by the odd profane outburst in moments of frustration, made him a breakout star of Netflix’s hit F1 series Drive to Survive.

For a team which tended to compete in the lower half of the midfield, Steiner enjoyed a profile closer more like those at the helm of F1’s best-known and most competitive outfits, such as Red Bull’s Christian Horner or Mercedes’ Toto Wolff.

Now, eight years after Steiner brought F1’s newest team into the championship, Haas has decided he is no longer the person to take them forward.

Steiner is the latest in a series of team principals to find himself moved aside for performance reasons. Similar changes have taken place at Alpine and Ferrari within the last 12 months.

But Steiner’s position at Haas was different to those other bosses as he had done so much to bring the team into F1 to begin with. He had sounded out Ferrari to serve as a supplier of engines and other vital parts, and sold Gene Haas on the plan. His connections within F1 helped smooth the entry of the most recent new team to arrive in the sport – a difficult process to navigate, as Andretti is presently discovering.

Haas also enjoyed a remarkably successful start to life in F1 for a new team. The Ferrari deal Steiner masterminded deserved much of the credit for that. Rival teams variously emulated the approach or pressed for rules changes to the advantage Haas had gained.

The clamour over Haas’ performance was loudest when they turned up in F1 and scored sixth on their debut, courtesy of Romain Grosjean in Melbourne, then went one place better at the next race in Bahrain. They finished eighth in the championships over the first two seasons, then rose to fifth in 2018 (gaining one place as a result of Force India’s mid-season change of owner and identity).

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Things began to go awry for Haas in 2019 when it was perplexed by an ill-behaving car and distracted by a public row with its new title sponsor. This was the year the Netflix cameras captured Steiner’s notorious ‘fok smash my door’ remark at Silverstone, and the lengthy telephone debriefs with Gene Haas about the team’s latest setbacks.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 2020
Haas’ future was in doubt during Covid-struck season
Haas was therefore in a vulnerable position when the Covid-19 pandemic struck the following year. The team only avoided sinking to last in the standings by three points and Steiner admitted they were close to collapse.

In 2021 they did finish last, after Steiner took the calculated gamble of effectively writing off the season. He replaced their experienced drivers with a pair of rookies, which brought or attracted vital sponsorship, and the team elected not to develop its latest car, throwing its weight onto its 2022 machine in order to capitalise on a major change in the regulations.

At the beginning of the next season it seemed Steiner had played his cards and had fortune on his side. Factors beyond his control had forced the ousting of their underperforming rookie, Nikita Mazepin, allowing the experienced Kevin Magnussen to return. He found the VF-22 a competitive machine from the off and delivered fifth place at the opening round in Bahrain, the team’s best result for four years.

As the season neared its end, Magnussen scored an inspired and opportunistic pole position for the sprint at Interlagos. But given the team’s early promise, eighth in the final standings seemed less than they should have been capable of – even taking into account Mick Schumacher’s slight contribution to their points tally following a few too many crashes, amply highlighted in another Steiner-focused episode of Drive to Survive.

Their 2023 performance therefore came as a significant disappointment. Steiner got the experienced driver line-up he was keen for, pairing Magnussen with Nico Hulkenberg, yet the season felt like a repeat of 2019 at times. The VF-23 was beset with serious rear tyre degradation problems, and a string of promising qualifying performances resulted in precious few points.

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The team hit a low after introducing a heavily revised chassis at the Circuit of the Americas, the 18th round of 22. It wasn’t enough to prevent them sinking to last place, and Hulkenberg reverted to the early-season specification for the final races.

Guenther Steiner, Kevin Magnussen, Mick Schumacher, Bahrain, 2020
Haas’ 2022 breakthrough proved short-lived
He made his frustration plain at the team’s failure to make progress. “The lack of development is a disappointment,” he said at the season finale in Abu Dhabi. “It’s not great.

“It’s not good enough, frankly, and we have to address that. We have to do a better job next year because we started off, I think, in a decent position, but we just didn’t find performance. We just didn’t improve the car and others did, substantially, and that’s why we got left behind.”

Even in its strongest seasons, Haas had a tendency to fall behind its rivals over the course of a championship. That, plus their failure to build on their strong start under the current technical regulations, appears to have finally spelled the end for Steiner.

In the press release announcing his replacement by Ayao Komatsu, Gene Haas made it clear the team’s lack of results is the reason behind its change at the top. “It was clear we need to improve our on-track performances,” said the team owner.

“We have had some successes, but we need to be consistent in delivering results that help us reach our wider goals as an organisation,” he added.

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Steiner achieved a great deal for Haas in bringing it into F1 and establishing it as a credible team. Few get the opportunity to do that in the first place, and making a success of it is a massive challenge.

The team’s fall too last place in the championship three years ago could be seen within the context of the decisions it had to make to ensure its survival following the Covid years. But propping up the table for the second time in three years, following the promising start made in 2022, proved one setback too many, and the team now feels a change at the top is needed to make the next step forward.

As Steiner admitted in the unvarnished style which makes him such a breath of fresh air in F1, he is the person who has to be held accountable for the team’s situation. “Another thing that the managers these days are very good at is blaming the team when something goes wrong,” he wrote last year in his book Surviving to Drive. “If I fail at something I cannot blame Ayao or Pete [Crolla, trackside operations manager] or Gene Haas. I blame me and I have to take full responsibility.”

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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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30 comments on “Why Haas said farewell to its founding father – and ‘DTS darling’ – Steiner”

  1. DTS jokes aside, 2019 was such a concerning year for Haas, and seeing some of the same issues prop up in 2023 justifies Steiner’s sacking imo.

  2. Although I can understand the urge to purge based on the results of the last season I doubt elany team boss will really fare better at Haas. Who will they get? And then… How can a new team boss turn this team around without other major changes in the staffing? I fear this will be exactly the same as Alpine. A head must roll but the team only falls further in disarray.

    1. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
      10th January 2024, 18:04

      Williams made the change and have seemingly improved.

      1. Problem for Haas is the budget (Haas not cap) and Gene doesn’t want to invest in development during the year that is the difference with Williams as they have now a solid money base who invest in development.
        Williams probally would do beter when the update their equipment/factory.

        1. Vowles knows what prices are missing at Williams. From what he’s said in interviews Williams were decades behind in some regards. Still, building a team up the right way even with money takes time.

          The problem I see with Haas is they’re largely made up of Ferrari rejects. They need to nab some promising engineers who want to prove themselves.

          1. *pieces not prices. 😇

  3. Why? Because they sucked. But whoever is leading that team is irrelevant, the result will always be the same unless they really, really intend to improve.

    1. I cannot really but feel their team structure with the way how they outsourced a big chunk of their tech department and depend on Ferrari to deliver much of the mechanical part of the car is inherent in holding them back in in season development and also makes it harder and harder for them to get away from that structure since they just never develop their own resources in house to really understand the car.

      But maybe that is what their new, more tech/engineering oriented management is about changing?

      1. @bascb even so, they often say they are changing this or that to be more sucessful in the future yet who have they signed from the technical side? all teams show up in the news with new engineers or technical folk… Haas, never. Their replacement isn’t even sourced from outside.

        I get the feeling Gene is just waiting for a proper offer and that’s it.

    2. Haas and Stroll two wealthy North American businessmen. Their approach to F1 so far polar opposites.

  4. Just because someone gives good soundbites doesn’t make him a good team principal.

    I was never a member of the Steiner fan club. Aside from brokering the partnership with Ferrari and reaping the obvious benefits, what has the team actually achieved under his tenure? Nothing.

    A terrible record of in-season development. Points have been by luck rather than design.

    Zero imagination on driver signings, preferring to run a retirement home instead of nurturing talent (I still think Mick Schumacher was treated harshly).

    Stingy expenditure throughout the team. The oldest, smallest motorhome in the pits and a tiny pit wall. I expect the staff have to bring their own sandwiches.

    Dubious judgement on sponsorship deals.

    That Gene Haas only appears to have made two public statements in the past five years, one of them being today’s sacking, says a lot about this team. Something is very wrong at the heart of it.

    As I have said before, if an F1 licence is really worth a billion dollars right now, I have no idea why Gene hasn’t cashed out already.

    Good luck to Ayao Komatsu. This change was long overdue.

    1. As I have said before, if an F1 licence is really worth a billion dollars right now, I have no idea why Gene hasn’t cashed out already.

      It obviously isn’t, as the last team sold was nowhere near that figure. But Haas – for reasons best known to himself – seems to be getting his money’s worth out of F1. Whether that’s because he loves bringing corporate guests to the races, or if he’s able to run the team at a profit thanks to the guaranteed pay-out is for him to know and us to guess, but he might not even care to sell the team even if those propped up figures were true.

      The fact that Haas is making basically no investments, hiring drivers that showed a little bit of promise 10 years ago but haven’t done anything noteworthy since, and also having seemingly no real desire to bring in sponsors suggests that Haas F1 as a business is working out quite well for Gene Haas, even if as a sporting team it’s a big failure.

      1. Assuming Andretti make it to the grid and the distribution of prize money remains 1st-to-10th position, I can see Haas running into trouble if the new guys put some effort in…

    2. “if an F1 licence is really worth a billion dollars right now, I have no idea why Gene hasn’t cashed out already.”

      Because Haas F1 Team is merely a vehicle to advertise Gene’s HAAS Automation business, hence why the primary team sponsor is HAAS. While it serves that purpose Gene is happy, I guess.

    3. I agree but I think firing Mick and fetching Hulkenberg was an inspired move. This is a team that needs safe pair of hands and Hulkenberg is one of those.

      I’m all for a fast but crash prone driver but Mick wasn’t even that fast anyway and coated the team.a fortune.

      1. Yes, I don’t think mick deserved being fired, but hulkenberg did a great job so far, I didn’t expect he’d have beaten magnussen by this much.

    4. Agree that Steiner was entertaining to the Netflix mob, but his model of running a team was flawed. That and the huge underinvestment from the owner resulted in consistently poor performance. Success in F1 is measured in the number of points not number of cheers.

    5. I expect the staff have to bring their own sandwiches.

      Thanks for the coffee spit over white shirt and the good laugh. It’s so close to reality.

    6. Chris Ferguson
      23rd January 2024, 5:49

      Andretti could by them. I don’t see them being a partner situation either.

  5. Most internet comments are hard on Steiner, but from the get go in DtS season 1, Gene Haas has a serious part in the blame as well.
    A good leader would have seen what kind of idiots grosjean and kevin were, having the worst dynamic (especially grosjean) and then would have let one of them go. But they lasted 3, 4 (?) seasons and then they were BOTH kicked out
    then they hired that Russian for money, who then disrespecfully plastered their car in the russian flag colours, which was a loophole because it was illegal.
    Now with two rookies, with Nikita being the worst we’ve seen in more than a decade, Steiner and Haas were still nowhere. They couldn’t even know if the car was any good.
    Again, a decent CEO or Team boss , team leader of CEO would have seen that and intervened
    but Mick and Nikita were kept on.
    This was not only the fault of Steiner because he was vocal that he needed the money from Schumacher and the Russian to actually run the team, this was shown very clearly in Drive to Survive.

    Steiner had a weird way to communicate but Gene Haas has a very very big chunk of responsability in all of this. He could have gotten rid of Grosjean of that disastrous second season, he could have gotten one paydriver and one to benchmark the car, he could have given the outfit more money to adapt their development but he didn’t . In these nine years they never changed their flawed approach to design and develop an F1 car.

    1. Oh it’s the bash Grosjean for no obvious reason comment as usual. How original.

  6. ….and also having seemingly no real desire to bring in sponsors….

    Seems a bit backwards; I’m sure they want sponsors but the sponsors don’t want them….

    1. MoneyGram in 2022.

    2. F1 cars, even those at the back of the grid and sometimes especially those, used to be plastered front to back in stickers. After all, advertising at Arrows and Minardi was much cheaper than the big teams and still gave the sponsors a spot in F1 and the teams could use every bit of cash thrown their way.

      These days, the teams don’t really need that kind of sponsorship because they get so much money from the commercial rights payouts – regardless of their lack of success. So they’ll happily run the owners’ own logos if they can’t get a premium-paying title sponsor. And for a team like Haas, who outsources as much as they can, there is also no real need to make investments in the way Aston Martin is doing.

      1. The HAAS stickers are a sponsor, of sorts, because they are the branding of Gene’s automation business. His F1 team has always been a advertising board for his CNC Machine Tool company.

  7. I’m sorry to see Guenther go. I hope he gets a better job soon. He worked very hard to get the team where it is today, and while that doesn’t sound a lot, the fact is it takes a lot of work just to stay where you are in F1.

  8. I still find myself asking the question the headline supposes to answer. There has to be more to the story, why now? Why in this way without a clear and obvious path forward?

    It would be something else if HAAS brought in someone with experience from another team to work with, or had a renewed sense of investment to bring, but promoting their engineer to run the team?

    There’s no sense to it. At least Steiner had this vision of being able to succeed with this outsource-heavy, resource-light team. Saying that he was the problem, but keeping his philosophy. There’s no sense to it.

    1. You’d have to think that Gene Hass was tired of doing the same thing, and has lost trust in Steiner. While I’m sure its a skewed view of their relationship, every conversation between Steiner and Haas on DTS always seemed to have Steiner saying “Just trust me Gene”. Despite the press release, I don’t think Komatsu is an obvious replacement as a Team Principle for them. The timing suggests some sort of falling out.

      After 8 years running the team, there’s been no consistent uplift in performance under Steiner, so you can’t really blame Gene Haas wanting to make a change. Mind you, does swapping out the Team Principle necessarily make them a better team, that’s more able to bring performance to the car & improve consistently? That remains to be seen…

      1. Mind you, does swapping out the Team Principle necessarily make them a better team, that’s more able to bring performance to the car & improve consistently?

        Only if the team principal was preventing an eager and competent technical team from spending the big money pile from the team owner on big, innovative, improvements in the car design.

  9. I read at the time that Ferrari offered Leclerc to Steiner for a year maybe two before he was to replace Kimi in 2019 or 2020. He refused the offer and stuck with Grosjean and Mag.

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