Gene Haas has spoken to the media for the first time since team principal Guenther Steiner's exit from the Haas Formula 1 team was announced on Wednesday.
News of the charismatic team boss's departure was an early F1 2024 bombshell, though one that did not come completely out of the blue given disagreements between Haas and Steiner on the team's potential in its current form.
That's one of the elements addressed by team owner and CEO Haas in an interview conducted with Formula1.com. Here are our main takeaways from that:
Haas sees this as a performance matter...
As indicated in the team's press release announcing its change of team principal, with Ayao Komatsu taking over from Steiner, Gene Haas underlined his feeling that results have not been up to standard.
Haas has a best finish of fifth in the F1 constructors' championship from 2018, when it had the fourth-fastest car on average, but has been ninth or 10th in four of the five seasons since. It sank to the bottom of the standings again last year, having been eighth in 2022.
“It came down to performance,” Haas told Formula 1.com, when asked why the team had parted ways with Steiner. “Here we are in our eighth year, over 160 races - we have never had a podium. The last couple of years, we’ve been 10th or ninth.
“I’m not sitting here saying it’s Guenther’s fault, or anything like that, but it just seems like this was an appropriate time to make a change and try a different direction, because it doesn’t seem like continuing with what we had is really going to work.”
Haas said Steiner was "a really nice person, a really good personality" but went on to say he did not understand why the team had such a tough end to 2023 in particular - it scored just one point at the final 13 grands prix of the season.
"I don’t understand that, I really don’t," said Haas. "Those are good questions to ask Guenther, what went wrong? At the end of the day, it’s about performance. I have no interest in being 10th anymore."
...but there's a lot of emphasis on survival
Considering how much talk there is about performance being an issue, Haas was also keen to stress that much of the team's existence has been about surviving.
He mentions it seven times in the interview and herein lies part of that disagreement between Steiner and Haas about expectations in the team's current state: Steiner felt more investment was needed to hit those improved performance targets, Haas is of the opinion that the team was underachieving with what it already had.
He cited the examples of the teams that joined the grid before Haas all falling by the wayside (in the decade before Haas joined the Super Aguri, HRT, and Caterham teams all folded, the US F1 project never got off the ground, and Manor disappeared after Haas's first season) as justification for this spending approach.
Though it's worth noting none of the '2010' teams had anything like the relationship Haas has with Ferrari nor the same kind of finances available.
"That’s one of the reasons we have survived - because we are so conscious of how we spend money," said Haas. "Being efficient at what we do is going to make sure we survive in this series. We’re one of the longest-surviving [new] teams, everyone else have had the tendency to spend all their money in the first few years and then they go out of business.
"We survived for eight years, and we’re not in a situation where we are going to go out of business. But I certainly want to be able to survive for the next 10 years."
How far Haas is off the cost cap limit
Linked to that talk of investment, Haas's claim is that his team is within $10million of the F1 cost cap, a limit it said it expected to hit upon signing its title sponsorship deal with Moneygram ahead of the 2023 season. For Haas, because it takes parts from other teams (Ferrari) and the way system that works, its cost cap is lower than the $135m limit.
But Haas will be around $20m worse off for 2024 on account of having dropped from eighth to 10th in the constructors' championship, while Gene Haas did not address the capital expenditure (CapEx) increase of $20m made available to his team, Williams, the rebranded Sauber-run Stake F1 team and AlphaTauri. This is the provision that can be spent on teams' facilities.
"There is a perception we spend a lot less money; we’re usually within $10m of the budget limit," said Haas. "I just think we don’t do a very good job of spending that money.
"A lot of teams have had previous investments in their infrastructure, buildings, equipment and personnel. Our model was to outsource a lot of that. We spend a lot of money. We haven’t exceeded the cap but we’re pretty darn close to it. I just don’t think we’re doing a very good job of spending it in the most effective way."
Cashing out isn't in the team's plans
Steiner's exit from a team that was, to a degree, his in all but name has raised questions about Haas's future and whether a sale might be coming sooner rather than later.
But Haas was adamant he's going nowhere.
"I didn’t get into F1 to sell [the team]," said Haas.
"I did it because I wanted to race. Guenther had the same perspective. We’re not here to cash out, we want to race and be competitive. If you look at any team, historically, they have had a lot of good years and a lot of bad years.
"Surviving is one of the characteristics of getting better. As long as you can survive, you always have another year to prove your worthiness. This is a big change.
"Losing Guenther is going to cause the team to have to focus on other aspects. We will hopefully come out better for it."
He always intended to promote from within
In succeeding Steiner, Komatsu will be running an F1 team for the first time. Like his predecessor, he is also an example of an engineer moving up the career ladder into a senior management role.
Haas said the plan was always to look inside Haas's talent pool for a new team principal as the team would need to hit the ground running in pre-season testing and at the start of the campaign.
"Bringing people in from the outside, it takes them time to learn, six months to a year, and a lot of time you don’t even like them," he said. "It’s better to take people you know, and even if they are not the perfect fit, at least you know what you’re going to get.
"I really like to have people that I know, who understand the day-to-day operations, understand the people, [rather] than bringing in a stranger who is going to stir everything up and create a mess."
Having previously worked for BAR, Renault and the Lotus team it morphed into, Komatsu then joined Haas for the start of its F1 journey and Haas said this knowledge was part of the reason why he was chosen as Steiner's successor.
He added that because the aforementioned "different direction" was needed, Komatsu's technical focus was a clear separation from Steiner's approach.
"Ayao has been with the team since day one, he knows the ins and outs of it," said Haas. "My biggest concern is when we go to Bahrain [for testing and the opening race of 2024], we need to show up with a car that is ready to go. Maybe having more of a managerial-type and engineering approach, we’ll see if that has benefits.
"I think Guenther had more of a human-type approach to everything with people and the way he interacted with people, he was very good at that. Ayao is very technical, he looks at things based on statistics - this is what we’re doing bad, where can we do better.
"We really do need something different because we weren’t really doing that well."
Haas's plan to be more involved
Steiner had largely been left free to run the race team each weekend even when Haas attended grands prix.
But he indicated that, without offering specifics of what his interaction would amount to, that he intended to be "a lot more involved" with the team.
Haas also intends to recruit a European-based chief operating officer to its management structure.
The team has turned down outside investment
Allowing outside entities to buy in has been a strategy for F1 teams during this current boom period, with works outfit Alpine the highest-profile example of this in 2023. An investment group including actors Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney and Michael B Jordan took up a 24% stake in the team worth around $200m.
Aston Martin has also recently made a part-sale of unspecified value to Arctos Partners.
Haas said his team, which last year was valued by Forbes at $780m, had attracted prospective investors as well but their expectations for their return on investment did not make it an attractive enough proposition.
"We have had outside investors come in, and they want to talk to us," he said. "They expect a 15% rate of return every year. 'Give me a 15% rate of return and I have a couple of hundred million dollars I’ll give you!' They have high expectations, they have all kinds of rules.
“What their job is, they want to buy into you, and five years later they want to make a $100m profit. Quite frankly, I don’t need that kind of oversight, from people who come in with $200m - it’s not enough to entice me to do that.”
Firm hint of Haas's 2026 engine plan
Williams's announcement on Monday that it would continue with Mercedes power into the new F1 rules era that begins in 2026 means Haas is the only team yet to formally announce a supply deal for the next cycle.
But Haas has enjoyed a close technical alliance with Ferrari since it joined F1 in 2016 - its arrangement is unique; no team takes more parts from another than Haas does from Ferrari - and has not been powered by another supplier. It seems unlikely therefore that it will partner with anyone else come 2026.
Indeed, Gene Haas indicated the team expects to remain part of the Ferrari set-up - he said having such a partner will be "very important" as relationships such as Red Bull's with its yet-to-be-renamed second team "evolve" - particularly as the Stake F1 team that also uses Ferrari engines at present will become the works Audi squad with its own in-house power unit from 2026.
"Ferrari has been very good to us," he said. "They have been with us since day one, they build incredible engines. Their suspension is extremely good. We have been using a lot of their hardware. It works really well.
"They really do help us. I’m embarrassed that we haven’t been able to do better with it but going forward, I want to take advantage of good equipment that a lot of other teams don’t have.
"We’re very happy to stay with Ferrari. I hope we can help them in terms of reliability. Going forward, when Sauber drops Ferrari power, we would be Ferrari’s only user. They might want to pick up a customer or two. Maybe they’ll be happy with us. But we have got to do better. We can’t be running so far behind Ferrari. We need to be closer to them."