Gene Haas: “We’re here to race and learn”

Founder of Haas Automation, Haas CNC Racing NASCAR team (now Stewart-Haas Racing) and Haas F1 Team, Gene Haas talks about the upcoming season, Formula 1’s popularity in the States, Ferrari and getting to know the sport’s garage.

So, Formula 1 – does it all feel more real to you now?

Yes, it’s been a long time coming. We need to go race. I don’t feel anxious or think we’ve had plenty of time. We’re prepared. We’ve gotten all of our haulers and everything’s ready to go. Everything’s happening just as its planned and that’s what’s good.

Going from the US to an international based series – how does that work?

It would be extremely difficult if we didn’t have all the help from our team members. A lot of the members that we hired are from that area, basically, northwest of London. Almost everybody we’ve hired knows the routine, they know how to do it.

We’ve gotten a lot of help from Ferrari, they’ve helped us with suppliers, saying “here’s what you want to do here”. So we haven’t been just out in the cold.

How would you compare the cost of fielding four Cup cars instead of two Formula 1 cars?

I think it’s about the same, except it’s a two-to-one ratio. The four Cup cars cost as much as the two Formula 1 cars run.

We found out that there are different ways of doing things that would be a lot quicker and more productive, so we immediately switched courses.

How are you dealing with working out of three locations (US, UK and Italy)?

In this day and age, it’s pretty uncommon for companies to have one location, so I think that having Kannapolis, Banbury and Italy is not that spectacular. We have a lot of direct communications with them, we have video conferencing. I speak to everybody almost once a week if not visually seeing them and monthly trips there.

When we first started off we had a concept that we were going to do everything in house. But once we became involved and became a little bit more of a serious contender, some doors started to open up and relationships were built. We found out that there are different ways of doing things that would be a lot quicker, faster and more productive. So we immediately switched courses.

What do you see in NASCAR that you can apply to Formula 1?

I think from NASCAR, the one thing we’ve learned is simply how to run a race team: how to manage inventory, how to keep track of costs, all those things are vital to any race team. I think those are the basis for starting Formula 1. Immediately when we went into Formula 1 we could have taken outside people and said “hey, we want you to do this for us”. But we have done all that ourselves as far as managing the company, resources, what we want to buy. I think Kannapolis is a perfect example. As soon as we found a better way of doing something, we’ve reversed course and we’re going to do it that way. We’re not going to spend time and waste money doing something that somebody else can do better.

Where did you hire people like engineers? Will they be local or American?

I think we have 20 or so people working in Kannapolis that are working exclusively on CFD. In Banbury we’ve hired most of the mechanics there. I think there is something like 80 people there. Now we have people working at Dallara, 15 or so, and people working at Ferrari. Almost everybody that’s come on board has had prior Formula 1 experience all the way from the bottom to the top. Guenther‘s been involved in Formula 1, so knows that better than anybody else.

Is the benefit for Haas Automation worldwide exposure?

Absolutely, I think being able to be in Formula 1 says a lot because we’re in the ultimate sport of racing cars, and I think it gains a lot of respect. As long as we run decent, I think that will reflect on our ability to produce machine tools, and that’s the message we want to get across.

What will you work on during the season?

Well, mostly we’re going to be working on intellectual property, that is the CFD chassis development. As time goes on, we’re learning. The more we can do in Kannapolis, we’ll bring everything over. But there is no timetable or any rush to do that. The primary purpose is to race cars and that’s what we’re focusing on.

New Formula 1 teams have typically struggled. Do you think you’ll experience similar struggles?

Yes, they’ve struggled immensely. However, we don’t want to struggle, we’re here to simply race cars, and racing in the back is not one of our purposes. So our goal is to get our walking legs, learn how the sport works. I don’t think anything people do in a Formula 1 garage is that much different from what they do in NASCAR. Some people do say Formula 1’s a lot harder, and that may be true, but the expectation here is that we have to learn how it all works, and learning usually comes easy to us.

How will the partnership with Ferrari help you?

We are going to have the latest engine they’ve developed. They’ve shown me where they’re moving oil pans and cans and everything and they’re going “oh, we’re going to do this and put that over here”. I know they’ve put a lot of time in development. They build engines and dyno a lot of engines. They’re serious about winning. I think the parts that we get are going to be the best that Ferrari has.

Still, if it was that simple to buy the best parts and race a car and win, everybody would be doing it. Assuming you have the best car out there, you would still fail unless you thoroughly understand what goes into making that car run.

Read the rest of the interview with Gene in the next page




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