Did Haas/Ferrari tie-up create unfair advantage?
The impressive new US team have put rivals’ noses out of joint, and the loophole that's helped them do so well has been closed
The new US-based Haas team have impressed mightily at the start of their debut season, which has led to claims that they could have changed the model for new teams in the sport. But the advantages they had in preparing for their entry into Formula 1 will never be repeated, as a result of a rule change.
Haas have a close technical partnership with Ferrari, buying every single part they are permitted to buy from the Scuderia. This means that everything bar the monocoque and the car’s aerodynamic surfaces is Ferrari’s.
This is a considerable step beyond the technical partnerships that many smaller teams have with bigger ones – such as Manor buying their rear end from Williams, and Sauber and Force India buying engines and gearboxes from Ferrari and Mercedes. Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley was critical of the Haas/ Ferrari situation, and said: “The principles of how they got here and what it did for Ferrari as well, obviously they are questionable.” Team owner Gene Haas responded by saying F1 was full of “whiners”, adding that any other team could follow the same approach and that everything was above board.
Fernley’s remarks can be taken as a reference to a widespread concern that existed among all teams last year that both Ferrari and Haas were both gaining an unfair advantage from their arrangement. Under last year’s rules, any team preparing to enter Formula 1 were not bound by the usual restrictions on research and development – such as windtunnel hours and computer design data – as the teams who were already competing.
This led to a two-fold complaint: that Haas had an unfair advantage in the design of their car; and that since Haas were using the Ferrari windtunnel, the approach was open to abuse. There were also claims that Ferrari used Haas windtunnel time to design their own car. And many continue to question the degree of help Haas have had from Ferrari with the design.
Haas and Ferrari were cleared of any wrongdoing late last year – but the loophole in the rules that had given them free use of resources has been closed. From now on, any team due to enter in a subsequent year will be governed by the same design restrictions as the current competitors.
Haas’s approach has meant they have been able to enter F1 with very low staff levels compared with rivals. They started this year with about 125 staff, which is less than a quarter of the numbers employed by Williams. Force India employs around 380.
Fernley, who describes this year’s Haas as “a turn-key car”, says that the measure of the team is not their current performance but how they move forward in development this year, and with their new car in 2017 now that they have to go it alone.
Haas, who are still using the Ferrari windtunnel, are undertaking a recruitment drive to be in a better position for 2017, but team boss Guenther Steiner says that while staff numbers will go up, it will be “not by a lot”.