Haas bemoans Mercedes domination


As his team anticipates (another) tough season, Haas team owner, Gene Haas fears that Mercedes domination of the sport is damaging it.

It's fair to say that the only genuine interest in this Thursday's launch of the Haas contender will be in the drivers standing beside the car.

With the VF-20 little changed from its predecessor and with the team admitting that there will be no development of the car as it focusses on 2022, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin will be the stars of the show.

Of course, it was widely thought that Haas wouldn't remain in F1 beyond 2020, the American team, like Mercedes and Renault, known to be questioning its future.

Though the French and German teams are now committed to remaining, doubt over Haas continues.

There has been no word from the team as to whether Dmitri Mazepin is to follow the example of Lance Stroll and buy a team to further his son's career, though the Russian was certainly keen on purchasing Force India.

The dizzy high of 2018, when his team narrowly missed out on fourth in the standings, must seem a lifetime ago for Haas, whose team has finished ninth for the past two seasons and shows no signs of improvement any time soon.

Last year there was understandable talk of Haas being disillusioned not only with his team but with the sport, and while there had been potential buyers, none was willing to come up with the sort of money the American was looking for.

Having effectively thrown his lot in with Ferrari, Haas is only too aware of the issues that compromised his team's efforts last year, however the American feels that Mercedes total domination of the hybrid era has not only affected his team but is damaging the sport also.

"Up until 2019 we were really doing very well," he tells Racer, "we had plenty of horsepower and the cars were very competitive. But then we wound up doing fuel mileage races where we actually had to do a lot of lift and coasting, so that really hurt us.

"Then in 2019 we were down on horsepower," he continues, "considerably compared to the Ferrari cars, and that hurt. We did really well in qualifying, but when the race came, our horsepower was just off.

"Then in 2020 when Ferrari had a reduction in their horsepower, it was pretty obvious that all of the Ferrari engine cars had horsepower deficits compared to Mercedes, Honda and Renault.

"Our boat's tied to the Ferrari ship, so when they're going slow we're going even slower, I don't think there's much you can do about that. We have no control over the parts that we obtain from Ferrari.

"We have faith that Ferrari can fix the problem," he says, "and not only does Ferrari have this problem, but so does Honda and Renault... everyone's at a deficit to the Mercedes engine. They built an extremely high performance, high fuel efficiency, durable engine that no other team's been able to come close to.

"To me, it's really killed what Formula 1's all about," he insists. "More power to Mercedes for being able to dominate so much of the thing, but who wants to go to a race when you know who's going to win every friggin' race that's out there? That just gets boring."

A shrewd businessman - it was the publicity F1 could give his business that attracted him to F1 - last season, clearly aware that the team had peaked, Haas chose to reduce spending, which hardly helped.

"I've always talked to the drivers," he says, "and I think in 2018 and 2019 we were spending between $20 to 40 million a year for updates, and every time I talked to the drivers it was like ‘Well, that didn't do anything!'.

"So why are we spending all this money on updates?" he continues. "That is one of the things we eliminated pretty quickly, doing all these updates, because I was pretty convinced we weren't going to do any races. I thought at best we would do four or five races, so bringing all these updates for a very short season wouldn't work. But ultimately we got a lot of races in.

"We didn't really bring any updates per se," he adds, "and I'm not really sure who did bring a lot of updates, but from a practical standpoint, they didn't seem like they really improved the car much."

This year, of course, sees the introduction of the long-awaited budget cap, and while the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari will have to make serious cuts in order to meet the $145m cap, the likes of Haas won't reach anywhere near that figure in terms of spending.

Despite the ongoing rumours surrounding his team, Haas insists he has no intention of giving in anytime yet.

"I'm optimistic about the future," he insists. "I know that this year's going to be difficult because we basically have the same car as last year, and the power plant from Ferrari is going to be very similar to last year, so we know that's not going to give us any competitive advantage. So I think that we have the mind-set of realizing our position is always going to be probably three or four positions behind Ferrari.

"It kind of tells us where we're going to be racing," he adds. "And that's OK, this is Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor racing.

"We know we're not going to be beating any of the Mercedes teams, so we just have to take what we have and learn to make the best of what we've got, which isn't bad.

"This whole sport is a lot more than just the engineering challenges and the engine development and all that stuff," he continues, "it's also participating in races and drivers and the whole other aspect of the glory of Formula 1 racing. Which is fun!

"From a business standpoint, being in F1 has been extremely successful as far as promoting our brand name. It's a great sport to be in, because there's no other sport like Formula 1, and there's a lot of excitement.

"We've brought a lot of customers to races, and I hope that Formula 1 can continue to bring that kind of prestige and excitement to races, because let's face it, sports are a big part of a lot of people's lives.

"Auto racing has been around for, like, 120 years, so I think it's something that I would like to see continue, and certainly want to be part of it."

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Published: 28/02/2021
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