In 2016, the first US team in more than 25 years will join the Formula 1 grid. Yes, there has already been a Haas team in this form of motorsports. But no, it had nothing to do with Gene Haas, founder and president of Haas F1 Team.
Feel for the trade
Since a young age, Ohio-born Gene Haas loved everything about cars and mechanics. Gene got his first job in a machine shop at the age of 14 and stuck to his passion throughout high school and college. Later, he graduated from California State University in Accounting & Finance. In 1978, he founded Proturn Engineering in Sun Valley and developed a fully programmable 5C collet indexer, the industry’s first device to automatically re-position parts accurately for machining by pressing a button, to boost productivity in his own shop. Gene expanded Proturn and turned it into Haas Automation expanding his product line gradually and quickly becoming the industry leader in 4th- and 5th-axis parts positioning.
Over the years, Haas Automation grew steadily and eventually moved to the 100,000 m2 Oxnard facility. Today Haas Automation is the largest machine tool manufacturer in the US and its products are sold worldwide in over 80 countries. Big players like Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, John Deere or Rockwell Automation are all Haas’ customers.
A proven expert
Not only is Haas an engineering expert, but has also lots of motor racing experience to his name. In 2002, Gene acquired a facility from renowned Hendrick Motorsports and formed his first NASCAR team, Haas CNC Racing. The following season, the team was running full-time. At the end of 2008, the team was still struggling and Haas convinced then two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart to join forces with his outfit. Stewart-Haas Racing started its operations in January 2009 with a two car team, and Stewart won at Pocono, Daytona, Watkins Glen, Kansas and the All-Star race to finish 6th on points, while team mate Ryan Newman came 9th. Two years later, Stewart managed to get into the chase in a Wild Card spot and went on to triumphing in the 2011 Sprint Cup, winning 5 of the 10 Chase races. The team currently runs cars in the Sprint Cup Series for Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch.
It’s an honour to have Ferrari help Haas F1 Team in this way and we take all the help they can give us because you can’t really get better than Ferrari.
Haas also fields a Camping World Truck Series team on a limited basis for Cole Custer. With Custer’s victory at New Hampshire in September 2014, Haas has joined Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Jack Roush in the select club of owners who have won in all three national touring series. Tony Stewart will retire from NASCAR as a driver following the 2016 season and will be replaced by Clint Bowyer. When asked what he learned from NASCAR for his Formula 1 endeavours, Haas responded: “It’s the people you partner with. If you have the right partners, you can win it all. The other thing is that you have to take your time for any project. I think the biggest problem for the new teams (HRT, Marussia, Caterham) was trying to get to the grid so fast. We want to make sure that before the cars come, we have the chassis completely assembled, have the right spares, the right pit equipment, the right logistics, and the right containers – all the right things that take us to get to the race. Let’s be realistic – the first five years are about surviving. If we can win a race in five years that would be a tremendous success”.
The 1980s outfit was run by Carl Haas, who is not in any way related to Gene, and former McLaren Managing Director Teddy Mayer, who had led Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt to their respective titles, competing in the World Championship from 1985 to 1986. The project was funded by Beatrice Foods and 1980 Formula 1 champion Alan Jones coaxed out of retirement to drive. In 1986, Beatrice decided to withdraw their funding from the Formula 1 project leading to the team’s exit from the sport. Different to the Formula 1 expansion of the Haas IndyCar team in the ‘80s, Gene Haas has planned his Formula 1 project meticulously. “When we started, we had a plan, and that was to hire the best people we could and do everything out of Kannapolis. But once we got more into it, it became apparent that without some kind of technological partner, we would really be struggling. So initially, we were fairly ignorant”, Haas explained.
It’s like being in your 20s again. You don’t have any idea how this all works. It’s all new and that’s the fun part of it.
Already at the end of 2013, Haas had formally submitted to the FIA his interest in entering a team by 2015 or 2016. Four months later, he was granted a license from the FIA and the team took up its current name of Haas F1 Team, scheduling its entry for the 2016 season. The team set up its headquarters in Kannapolis, North Carolina, just 50 kilometres outside Charlotte, the heart of American motor racing. As a next step, Haas acquired Marussia F1’s Banbury home as a second, European home for his new outfit: “I think the idea is to learn as much as we can from whoever we can. It’s an honour to have Ferrari help Haas F1 Team in this way and we take all the help they can give us because you can’t really get better than Ferrari. Dallara is also helping us in the design and building of the chassis”.
The US team boss got former Jaguar F1 and Red Bull Racing technical director Günther Steiner on board as his Team Principal and convinced Italian manufacturers Dallara to design and build the chassis. The power unit of the new Haas F1 car will be supplied by Ferrari. Thanks to the reasonable financial backing, Haas can afford to do without the obvious pay drivers. Instead, he has hired French ace Romain Grosjean to lead the team on the track and filled the second cockpit with Ferrari test driver Esteban Gutiérrez, whose wages are said to be at least partly covered by Maranello.
“I think drivers are very cognizant of the fact that if they choose the wrong venue, they can screw their careers up. Because when there are technological issues they haven’t overcome, they’re wasting a whole year. And they don’t like to do that”, Gene notes. Unrestricted by testing regulations until the season the Haas F1 Team enters the sport, the new car’s shakedown is planned in December 2015: “It’ll be awesome. It should be a numbing experience. The biggest thing is the newness of the experience. It’s like being in your 20s again. You don’t have any idea how this all works. It’s all new and that’s the fun part of it”.