As if launching an F1 team wasn’t tough enough, Gene Haas’s new squad will be part-based in the USA
Why are you setting up an F1 team for 2016?
In the United States I have combined my primary business – machine tools – with race cars, and I’ve used NASCAR to promote my machine tools. A lot of teams use machine tools to produce their car parts, so I see synergy between the two. I’m extending that to F1 in the same way Red Bull promotes energy drinks through their sponsorship.
Is it a good or a bad time for a new team to enter F1, given what’s happened with Caterham and Marussia?
It makes me nervous, but if you go back 20 or 30 years there were always issues like rules, cars, horsepower, aerodynamics. It’s a fast-evolving sport, but it’s been like this for 30 years, so we are just seeing another variation on that. As much as people say that those teams were weak, they did survive for four years. There have been worse scenarios in the past and F1 has survived and done well.
How will your relationship with Ferrari evolve?
It’s a dynamic relationship. When we rst started out, Ferrari were mainly just engine and transmission suppliers. But then the FIA came out with the rules package and we found out there were more things we could purchase from them. We’re going to take as much as we can because we feel that learning from someone like Ferrari isn’t something we could get anywhere else. You can’t build in a year what someone has spent 20 years developing.
How much of the car will you be making yourselves?
Initially we will be responsible for CFD and design work, but we’ll use sub-contractors to build the rst chassis. We’ve got facilities at the factory in Kannapolis, North Carolina, to manufacture parts, but, at the moment, we will just make scale model parts for the windtunnel. Once we know what we’re doing, we’ll start doing more of the engineering in Kannapolis.
What are your aims?
First year, just no DNFs – or a minimal number of DNFs. Showing up at the race track prepared, going to the rst test session prepared. Having the car before we go to the test sessions, so we can understand how the parts t together, and so when we go to the rst test we roll off the transporter ready to go. The rst year, basically, is going to be learning the logistics, going to the races, getting people to the races, making sure the people are properly trained, that parts don’t fall off and that we can nish.
Is it correct that you’ll also have a European operations base for the season?
We’ll have a small operation in the UK for logistics, with transporters, cars and personnel there, but the main intellectual part of it will be in Kannapolis.
Would you like to have an American drive in your team?
Having an American driver would be great for F1. It would raise awareness of the sport here in the States. If that were possible, that’s what we would do. We want to have some current drivers that are familiar with the turbocharged ERS package because there is a learning curve there. That is probably our primary focus, to get experienced drivers to sit in the car and help us sort it out. Later it might be possible to bring up an American development driver.
The Circuit of The Americas has been a big hit. Do you think F1 finally has a launch pad in the States?
Absolutely. I’m convinced F1 could be a real big hit with American fans. Americans like racing cars and car culture, we’ve got millions of cars. Basically in the States, racing has come down to two main menus: NASCAR and IndyCar and then a lot of regional things like drag racing, but I think Americans would like to have more racing. F1 is interesting because it’s a different avour, it’s more international, the cars are not stock cars but exotic, magical aeroplane cars that stick to the road. Americans are fascinated by this kind of technology, it just needs to be presented in a format they’ll watch.
Has running a successful NASCAR team (Stewart-Haas Racing, which won the 2014 Sprint Cup title with Kevin Harvick), helped you step up into F1?
Yes – racing is racing, and you have to understand how that whole sport works. Sometimes business people will try to start an F1 team. They don’t understand the intricacies, they get lost and listen to other people and end up spending a fortune and it accomplishes nothing.
You’re about a year away from being ready to go. Is this an exciting time?
I think it’s going to be the best year ever, because we’re going to learn how to build a car and that’s going to be the fun part, really starting to understand aero. Aero in Sprint Cup cars is very important, but aero in F1 is the lifeblood. These cars are so fascinating: you take the covers off and look inside and they’re not like anything I’ve ever seen before. Seeing how the parts are tted, how they work together, and how they keep track of stuff – it’s all new to me and I nd that fascinating.