Gunther Steiner and Haas F1 look to end encouraging debut season on a high in Abu Dhabi
“I wouldn’t say relief but I think we will feel pretty happy.”
Gunther Steiner, the team principal of the Haas Formula One team, took a long pause as he considered what his emotions will be on Sunday once the chequered flag has fallen to end the 2016 season at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
It will complete the team’s first season since arriving in F1, and Steiner, who has overseen the team’s performances over the past 20 races, is content with how they have fared with 29 points scored.
“I think it has gone pretty well,” the Italian said. “We are eighth in the championship at the moment.
“Would we like to be seventh? Yes, for sure. But I think we showed that we can do the job and we are now pretty well established in Formula One. We are almost at the end of our first season and we are working hard to get ready for next season.”
The team were the inspiration of Gene Haas, who has enjoyed considerable success in the United States as a team owner in the Nascar series, and was looking to enter the world of F1.
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Haas was given a licence by the FIA, motorsport’s ruling body, to enter a team in F1 in 2014, with the decision then taken to spend 2015 preparing to enter the series this year.
Steiner had previous experience in F1 as the technical director of Jaguar and then as the technical operations director of Red Bull Racing in 2005.
He then moved to the US to be involved in Nascar with the formation of a Red Bull team in the Sprint Cup series, but after forming his own race car development company, FibreWorks Composites, he was approached by Haas to handle the day-to-day operations of bringing the car to the grid as team principal.
As to what tempted him to the role, Steiner said: “The challenge. It is pretty easy. The challenge to do this.
“I have been in motorsport for 30 years. I think this is my biggest project, and you always try to do something bigger than the last one in my opinion, or I anyway do, and this is a challenge because a lot of people have failed in doing it and I was pretty sure that it can be done.
“When I got together with Gene he seemed the right guy to do this and we got it done.”
The team have a staff of around 200, and while they remain an American team, with their base at Kannapolis, North Carolina, where Haas’s Nascar team are also based, they also have a factory in Banbury, England, so they can operate more easily in and around the European races.
Haas formed a partnership with Ferrari for their arrival in the series, with the team receiving a power unit, suspension systems and other technical elements.
While Haas received some criticism from other teams for the arrangement, Steiner said it was a sensible approach for a team new to the series and starting from scratch with no previous data to work with.
“Crucial,” he said of Ferrari’s role. “Very crucial. These cars, technically are so sophisticated, so if you start from nothing and design everything on your own it would take years and billions of dollars. Without Ferrari and without the set up the way we are doing it wouldn’t have happened, it would have been almost mission impossible.”
The team got off to a great start when they made their race debut in Australia in March as Romain Grosjean, who joined Haas from Lotus, finished fifth.
It was the best F1 debut result for a new team since Sauber finished fifth in the 1993 South African Grand Prix.
Grosjean was sixth in the following race in Bahrain, too, but points have proven harder to come by since then, with only a further 11 scored as the team have struggled for reliability and consistency. Indeed, the team’s other driver, Esteban Gutierrez, is yet to score a point this year.
“We are a little disappointed that we couldn’t follow it up with more,” Steiner said. “We are always between 11th and 14th.
“I think we have finished five or six times in 11th this year which is disappointing, but on the other side you need to be realistic. Being 11th in F1, you’re not bad.
“But as you said, the first two races we were living the dream.”
As to the secret of running a successful F1 team, Steiner said it was simply about good recruitment and having a positive approach to the challenges facing them.
“For me it was mainly hiring the right people,” he said. “You need the mix of experience and ‘I want to do this’ attitude and you need somebody who supports all of this, Mr Haas, to give us the possibility to do this and he did, and the most important thing is everyone who joined us did what they said they were going to do and that made it possible.
“It is not easy as there are lots of things you need to look after and plus once you get going you are racing at least every two weeks so there is that pressure on as well. But it is very satisfying if you get it done right.”
Assessing the season, with Haas on track to finish ahead of Renault, Manor and Sauber in the constructors’ standings, Steiner said: “If we finish Abu Dhabi in eighth position we are pretty happy.
“We achieved a goal that we set ourself. But then at the same time the chequered flag drops and we are readying for 2017 as it is the end of November and it is not long until the next season.”
Steiner already has his sights on 2017 and the challenges of developing a new car to confirm with new aerodynamic-related technical regulations, as well as wider tyres from Pirelli.
“Next year, I wouldn’t say it will be a difficult year, but a very unknown year,” he said.
“We are going into very unknown territory with the regulations because we don’t know who will be good or who will be bad next year.
“I hope we will be good but it is a hope, we don’t know, but it could go the other way and we could be bad. February will be an eye-opener for all of us.”
But Steiner is confident that with 12 months of experience under their belt, he and his team will cope with whatever F1 will throw at them in the coming months as they continue to develop.
“We know our processes better, we know a lot of things better and you just learn as you go along,” he said.
“We have recruited a few people, we were weak in certain areas technically and we can be better prepared.”
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Updated: November 16, 2016 04:00 AM