Gene Haas is known as “a NASCAR team boss”, but that is only part of the story and one needs to look at his history to understand why he is now looking to running a team in Formula 1. The primary motivation is not necessarily sporting. Haas is not exactly struggling when it comes to money. The 61-year-old started a machine shop business in California in 1978 but soon realised that the equipment he was using was not very good and started designing his own CNC machines. Today that business turns over $1 billion a year and is expanding globally, particularly in Asia, where F1 is strong. Haas Automation has, therefore, a good business case for being involved in the sport. This is important in an age when F1 is wildly expensive. Being an F1 team is not enough.
When you look closely at the details of the plan that we have now, you might conclude that this has been Haas’s ambition for a while. He was lurking in the background when the stillborn USF1 team was on the cards. He supplied the team with equipment and knew team boss Ken Anderson well. If you dig around a bit, you discover that the Haas Racing Developments company was not established last week, but rather back in March 2010, just as USF1 was falling to pieces. The conclusion is that Haas was probably considering jumping in and taking over the USF1 operation before it became clear that there was nothing to take over.
The company has been dormant these last years, while Haas has enjoyed sporting success in NASCAR, in league with Tony Stewart. They won the Sprint Cup title in 2011 and today run one of the strongest teams in the sport with the 2014 line-up featuring Stewart (back from a broken leg in 2013 and hopefully still competitive), Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. Some don’t think Danica has what it takes, but the other three certainly do and Danica is a money-making machine. People do not criticise Rick Hendrick was keeping Dale Earnhardt Jr because he is popular, why then do they attack Stewart Haas Racing for having Danica onboard?
A little digging around also reveals that there is a lot of digging going on at the team’s workshops in Concord, North Carolina, a major construction project that will double the size of the factory to 24,000 sq m. If the team is running just four cars in the Sprint Cup then that is one and a half acres of workshop space per car… Room for expansion. Haas is also the owner of an F1-scale wind tunnel just around the corner from the workshops (Yes, really!). The Windshear facility opened in 2008 and is a 180-mph 100 perecnt rolling-road wind tunnel, the first of its kind in North America, and only the third rolling road wind tunnel of its scale in existence. Several F1 teams have been over to try it before the cost limitations began. It is a world-class facility.
People may ask why someone with all of this would do a deal to have Dallara build him a chassis. The answer is probably very simple. Speed is essential in order to get hold of one of the precious F1 entries and after that has been achieved the team can be rolled out over a period of time, allowing an organisation to come together in a more sensible fashion. It is a lot cheaper than buying an existing franchise that is worth having.
The team would obviously still need a European base of some kind, as eight of the 19 races can still be done with transporters, rather than using air freight. Using Gunther Steiner is not a bad idea as he knows not only the composite markets of Charlotte but also has a grasp of what F1 is all about and why it is different to other racing championships. That is important because too many new team owners fail because they do not listen to people who know what they are talking about, or listen to the wrong people.
It would be great to see a proper American F1 team in operation and if anyone can do it, it is Haas.