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Haas reflects on a "successful entrance" to F1

NEWS STORY
11/02/2017

At a time of mixed emotions in the sport, the hyperbole surrounding what its new owners might do (or not) for the sport and the loss of a team, the threat hanging over Silverstone and fears the new rules might not have the desired impact, it's easy to forget one of the true 'good news' stories of recent years, Haas.

The team entered the sport last year, the first American team since 1986, and scored points not only on its debut but in three of the first four races. Admittedly, it was pretty much back to earth with a bang after that, but all in all the new kids on the block can be mighty proud of their achievement.

Team owner Gene Haas certainly is.

"I think it was a very successful entrance," he says. "We accomplished all of our major goals and, actually, surpassed what we expected at the beginning of the season."

The American has already enjoyed success in NASCAR, asked if there were lessons he'd learned from the American series that he was able to apply to F1, he admits: "Our first year in NASCAR was a really arduous task. We always ran at the back and we did it for like six years straight and we never had much luck. We started in NASCAR in 2002 and the competition for drivers and crew chiefs was intense and we just struggled.

"Everything we learned that we did wrong in NASCAR we avoided in Formula One," he continues, "and the most important thing was immediately seeing what works and what doesn't work. We learned that the hard way in NASCAR, so when we went to Formula One our focus was not so much on how we did things, but who we did things with.

"There was a huge amount of scepticism at first," he admits, "I think a lot of people certainly thought we'd run in the back the entire season. We did have a lot of support from NBC Sports and all the guys on the broadcast. I think by the end of the season we silenced the critics and, by now, most people see us as a serious competitor."

Asked if there was ever a moment when he asked himself, "what have I got myself into?", he replies: "There's no doubt about that because when we first started in Formula One, the whole idea was that we were going to make everything ourselves. We were going to be the traditional constructor where we were going to make our own chassis, suspension, components and aero. But it was a massive undertaking, so we reversed course a bit and said, 'Ok, who could we partner with?,' because this is such a monumental task there's no way that we can accomplish this in the eight or nine months we had to do it. So we had a complete change in strategy. That's when we ended up partnering with Ferrari."

His proudest moment in 2016?

"Melbourne," he replies, "because it was our inaugural race and actually scoring points was a record-breaking event. Melbourne certainly stands out above any other race during the whole season just because we scored points."

And looking ahead?

"If we can do a little bit better because our business model in Formula One allows us to operate more efficiently, we might be able to move up a position or two," he replies.

Despite the new regulations for 2017, Haas doesn't believe the new year will be as challenging as the team's debut season.

"I think it has pluses and minuses," he says. "On the plus side, we're not trying to put the whole pit crew together. We don't have to worry about getting trucks and other infrastructure. We have all that in place.

"The negative side is that there's less time to do all these things again and there are a lot of rule changes, so you have to be prepared. On the other hand, we have stronger relationships with a lot of our suppliers, so that should make it easier. It's kind of give and take. It'll be just as challenging as it was last year, but I think with the knowledge we have, we should actually perform a little bit better this year."

And a new partner for Romain Grosjean.

"Magnussen was actually one of our original candidates," he admits. "We talked to Magnussen and thoroughly went through his racing resume and we were very impressed. Near the end of the season, we asked Kevin if he might be available and he said he was. On the second to last race weekend of the season, we made our decision and brought him to Haas."

Asked if his plans to grow his business Haas Automation globally by means of F1 are working out, he says: "Being a Formula One participant brings a level of credibility that you just won't get through traditional advertising. People are kind of 'show me' people, like show me what you can do and then I'll believe in you. It translates well into building machine tools where if we can race cars, we can build machine tools.

"That was the initial concept – to convince people of our ability to do things that others can't, and I think that translates into being a machine tool builder. People see what we can do in Formula One, and people believe Haas Automation can build world-class machine tools.

"I was in high school when I went to work for LeGrand race cars," he recalls. "One of my starting jobs there was machining magnesium wheel for race cars. I was 16 years old when Red LeGrand said, 'Here's this lathe over here. I'll show you how to make some wheels.' So he showed me and gave me a couple of tips and I'd say a month later I was sitting there machining wheels out of magnesium by myself. I could set the machines up and run the machines, so I was the magnesium machine guy there and that's what I did.

"It doesn't take long until you get involved with the racers there. The highest form of racing at that time was Formula 5000. I actually went to the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1975 followed by the Formula One Grand Prix in 1976, which went on for almost 10 years. I saw some of that high-profile racing right after college."

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1. Posted by F One, 12/02/2017 13:12

"Properly impressed by Haas. I hope they continue to do well."

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