INTERVIEW: Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Haas F1?

INTERVIEW: Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Haas F1?

“Oh, it is tough. I mean, if you do this because you’re competing, weekends like the ones we’ve been having are tough, but it’s just part of it. You need to think about the bigger picture, otherwise you cannot get motivated.”

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has seen some difficult times during his Formula 1 career, including in his current role. But the Haas F1 story has been one of ups and downs, and even the tough seasons have shown glimpses of occasional promise.

But the COVID-19 pandemic led to a complete reset. The team simply focused on surviving, doing the bare minimum to its car and signing rookies for 2021. The next stage was to let those rookies build experience while accepting that the team was going to be slowest this season, with all development resources focused on next year’s new regulations.

As Steiner reflects on how the season has gone so far, he admits that he’s willing 2022 to get closer because each race weekend is tough for those in the team to go through.

“I’m sure we will be in a better place next year, and they probably have to go through this this year to be in a better place,” Steiner tells RACER. “Nothing is for free, and you have to fight for every little bit. And it wasn’t unexpected, but when you hit it, it’s still hard.

“When reality hits, it’s still hard to live with it. But you always have to give your best, because all of the guys are giving their best. They are working hard, and you need to try to get whatever is there out of it, and whatever is there, you need to learn from it.”

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Steiner takes the tough love approach at Haas. Rather than sugarcoating the situation the team is in, he has been brutally honest, and continues that behind the scenes when taking on his biggest task of trying to keep morale high when there are so few opportunities for point-scoring weekends.

“I’m not the guy that goes down and makes a toast and says things which are not true,” he says. “The team needs to believe in it and I think they do, otherwise, why would they do it? And sometimes you just try to keep the momentum going, and you hope that you’ve got a good result in you – however little the good result is. A good result at the moment… getting into Q2 once was the highlight of the first half of the season. But that is why they do it.

“For example, when Mick (Schumacher) in Hungary had the accident in FP3, the guys were trying to get the car out. We are not giving up for qualifying; they’re not giving up and going ‘whatever’. No, let’s try to get out to get every last thing out of it. And that keeps the team motivated.

Haas came into 2021 expecting a rough ride, but Steiner admits that doesn’t make the reality of navigating a difficult season any easier. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images

“And I know it’s hard work, but to go out there and tell them a bull**** story… that doesn’t work. They know I’m not going to do that. So it’s just like, guys, we need to believe in ourselves. We can do this, we just need a better car. We know why we haven’t got a good car – it’s because we didn’t develop it last year. It’s no secret. So we need to keep our belief.”

Repairing a damaged car has been an occurrence that Steiner admits has been a little too frequent for his liking this year despite giving both Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin some leeway in terms of making mistakes. And those comments come about because the crashes have a direct impact on how much money Haas has to spend on its 2022 project: the funds to replace parts come from the budget for next season.

“Absolutely (it hits next year’s budget),” Steiner says. “The thing is, we’re not at the budget cap so we’re not feeling it there, we are feeling it in the budget, in the cash basically.

“It’s like everything else. If you buy a new car, you cannot go to the best restaurants every weekend. You need to make up your mind where you spend your money. At the moment we need to keep on going racing, so we just need to readjust everything a little bit and move forward, just manage it.”

Nevertheless, Steiner is comfortable with the team’s budget for 2022 thanks to Russian investment and additional partners joining earlier this year, but he says it is still a little painful to have to spend some of it on repairs instead of year’s car.

“I’m very happy, but building up a nice budget doesn’t mean that you want to spend it on stuff which doesn’t make things any better,” he says. “I always see spending budget as investing it – doing something with it that in future would make you better.”

Part of that investment has brought a strengthening of the Ferrari partnership with a bespoke facility built at Maranello that will only be used by personnel seconded to Haas. Headed up by Simone Resta, Steiner says the new base is 90% complete and functioning well, with work progressing on the new car.

When the Haas team principal looks for light at the end of the tunnel, he reflects on how the team prepared for its debut back in 2016 and is able to use that to gauge progress now.

“We’re seeing the benefit of being able to fully focus on the new regulations, absolutely,” he says. “We did this before, so I’ve got something to compare with. We did it in ’14 and ’15 when we didn’t have a car. So I see good signs, and Simone is doing a good job bringing a team together again in Italy.

“So I’m cautiously optimistic about next year that we will be back. We won’t be back like we were in ‘18 maybe – I don’t know, I hope we will – but even if you’re not there, at least if you can fight for points like we did every year other than this one, that would be a success in my opinion.”

There’s a lot of racing still ahead in 2021, but only four months until Haas can put the past two seasons behind it and direct all of its motivation into what it hopes will be a brighter future.