Haas recently showed team boss Günther Steiner the door. The initial reaction to this news was mainly focused on the commercial interests of owner Liberty Media, who had a true star for Netflix’s Drive to Survive in Steiner. From a sporting point of view, the departure of the genuine Italian (born near the Austrian border in Tyrol) not only has serious implications for Haas, but also exposes a trend in the sport that can be called quite disturbing.
The news came as a surprise, both for Formula 1 fans and for Steiner himself. He indicated that he was not even able to say a proper goodbye to his team and during the holidays he received a phone call from owner Gene Haas, who said he no longer enjoyed the fact that his racing team always rode at the back. Apparently he had the idea that Steiner played a significant role in this, although that remains questionable.
Steiner is the man who single-handedly built the Haas team, entered into discussions with the FIA about an entry, roped in former Jaguar engineers to build the team and is essentially responsible for the existence of the entire organization. The difficulty that Andretti, for example, has in even joining the sport (these are of course different times) shows how clever that actually is.
Steiner has experience, technical knowledge and the political strength to hold his own in a sport in which all three of these factors are particularly important. That is why it is certainly surprising that Haas has chosen to continue with a different team boss and let go of Steiner. In my opinion, this is certainly not necessarily the right choice for the team. Yes, I also take into account that the team has not really kept up with the rest of the grid for years.
Haas’ constant disappointments
The explanation for this is fairly easy to find. Admittedly, I am not the man who invests more than a hundred million euros every season in the development of a car that is full seconds short of the top of the field. Nevertheless, Gene can’t complain. The Haas name has now become an indispensable part of the industry, and initially the American was of course concerned with gaining more brand awareness.
Why is Haas still not participating despite a budget ceiling? This is partly due to ineffective use of the budget, but also partly due to competition. While opponents structurally invest in infrastructure, the American team often remains dependent on Ferrari, from which it acquires many parts on an annual basis, and Dallara, which builds the team’s chassis. In other words: short-term thinking dominates.
Placing the knowledge and skills with partners, so that you do not have to make those investments yourself, is an easy strategy. If you want to get a starting team up to standard quickly, this idea is very understandable. However, if you want to grow into an independent player who can also score when Ferrari has a weak year, for example, then at some point you will have to take a step and renew the infrastructure of your racing team. It is difficult to blame Steiner for the fact that there has never been financial space for this.
The moral of the story for Haas itself is that they say goodbye to a strongman within the team, they actually have no replacement who can bring the same on paper and that they therefore seem to be taking a step backwards. The team absolutely cannot use that. By the way, you can easily follow Gene’s thought pattern: first it was the exorbitant spending pattern of the top teams, then it was two inexperienced drivers. So now it must be something different. In his eyes that is Steiner.
A grid full of new team bosses
The departure of an experienced team boss is not unique in the sport – certainly not in recent years. Christian Horner is the sport’s longest-serving team boss at 18 years, followed by Toto Wolff (10 years). In third place we find Aston Martin’s Mike Crack, a man who only joined the team in 2022. In other words: the other teams have a team boss who has been active in this role for one year or less. That is strange, to say the least. In a role as team boss you must be able to carry your team across the entire spectrum of the sport, and experience helps enormously in this.
Andrea Stella (McLaren), James Vowles (Williams), Frédéric Vasseur (Ferrari) and Alessandro Bravi (Alfa Romeo) have only been in place for a year. We do know names (Vowles, Vasseur) from previous roles within the sport, a mitigating factor. Bruno Famin (Alpine), Laurent Mekies (AlphaTauri) and Ayao Komatsu (the new Haas team boss) have less than a year of experience. It seems as if teams have less confidence in management since the rule change and the introduction of the budget ceiling, but why is that?
Why team bosses are looked at more than before
First of all, it will be because results in F1 disappoint quite quickly. On a grid with 20 drivers, half of them simply don’t score any points at the weekend. This means that there is a real chance that a racing team will not score any points during a weekend. This is seen as something negative, but with four teams (Red Bull Racing, Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari) that always occupy the first eight places, it becomes virtually impossible to score points if nothing crazy happens. The team bosses may be held accountable for this more than is deserved.
Let us add some nuance: Franz Tost’s departure can be explained. He was nearing retirement age and was happy to pass on the baton. Alfa Romeo lost its team boss to Ferrari, which in turn thanked team boss Mattia Binotto for his team boss services due to disappointing operational activities. It remains a mystery to me that men like Otmar Szafnauer, James Key (expelled from McLaren despite enormous technical ability) and Jost Capito have become redundant in the sport. All skilled gentlemen that any team on the current grid could use.
Since the introduction of the budget ceiling, money cannot be spent endlessly. Seconds could previously be explained by a difference in spending patterns. That is no longer possible. Owners and board members therefore look for other explanations and then arrive more quickly at the team, the team structure or the team management. But F1 is a sport in which facilities, organizational capacity and other variables such as a skilled designer still play a major role. The fact that Steiner has become the victim of an apparently archaic line of thought is a shame, especially for the man himself, but is also certainly partly due to a complex trend – a trend that will simply reverse some of the newcomers to the sport in the future. could cost.