Steiner addresses Haas exit, the moment that ‘stung’ and his future F1 plans
Guenther Steiner has spoken publicly for the first time since it was announced that he and the Haas F1 Team had parted ways with immediate effect, revealing more of the background to the news, sharing his message for the squad’s employees and pondering his own future plans.
Earlier this week, Haas confirmed that Steiner – who had led the operation since their F1 debut back in 2016 – was leaving his role on the brink of the 2024 season, with the team’s Director of Engineering, Ayao Komatsu, stepping up to replace him.
Steiner gives his side of the story
On Saturday, Steiner made an appearance at the Autosport International Show in Birmingham, UK and offered his initial thoughts on the reshuffle – the popular Italian and Drive To Survive star receiving a warm reception from the gathered crowd.
“Can I start with just something from my side?” Steiner began as he settled into a conversation with Sky Sports F1’s David Croft. “I didn’t have the chance to say thank you to a few people when I left Haas F1. I would just like to thank all the team members which I couldn’t give a proper goodbye [to] when I left.
“I want to say also thank you to all the fans who supported Haas while I was there – it’s fantastic. It’s one of those occasions, with so many people here. Thanks for coming as well, [for me] to say thank you to everybody for the support I got and I’m getting.
“It stung [not being able to say goodbye to the team], but they all know me and that I still appreciate what they did. It would be nice to say, ‘Hey guys, thanks for all that you did’, because the team started very small, running on adrenaline a lot of times, and they did a good job. Obviously it doesn’t make you happy not saying thank you, but I think I did it now.”
How and when Steiner was informed
Steiner then got down to the details of his departure and confirmed that team owner Gene Haas reached out between Christmas and New Year with the bombshell decision.
“It was a phone call,” Steiner stated. “Gene called me and said that he doesn’t want to extend the contract which was up at the end of the season, and that was it. I don’t know [if it was a surprise]. It’s always a little bit of a surprise, but then in the end, he owns the team, he can do what he wants and it’s his decision.
“I think [whether a change was needed] can be answered only in time. I cannot answer that one because otherwise I could say what is happening in the future. Gene thought that is the way he wants to take the team forward and, as I said, it’s his decision, not my one. He owns the place, so if you own something you’ve got the right to do what you want.”
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Formula1.com, Gene Haas made clear that the call to replace Steiner “came down to performance”, with the team slipping to the bottom of the constructors’ standings in 2023 – scoring just 12 points from 22 races – and not placing higher than eighth over the last five seasons.
Haas even used the word “embarrassed” given his outfit’s relationship with Ferrari, which has been in place since the very start of their F1 journey and sees them take a host of components – including power units – from the famous Italian manufacturer.
Steiner’s thoughts on Haas’s future
When asked about Haas’s model, and if it’s the best approach moving forward, Steiner took the opportunity to point out just how much F1 has changed in recent years, particularly with the introduction of a cost cap and how heavily some rival teams have been investing around that – whether that be new factories, wind tunnels or dedicated engine divisions.
“Since we had this model 10 years ago when we started, F1 has changed a lot,” he said. “You guys have seen how much F1 changed after the Covid period, how much it grew, how much bigger it got, how much different it got with the budget cap, how we used the budget cap to get ideas of how to do things...
“If you look at all the other teams... they are not gearing up now, they started to gear up [already], some two years ago, some three years ago, some last year, so everybody is getting stronger, investing a lot in the future. F1, I think, is on a very good path where it is going at the moment, and that’s what is needed to do to stay competitive.
“I don’t know Gene Haas’s plans for the future. He didn’t share them with me – and he doesn’t have to, by the way! I want to make that one clear as well; I’m actually not really interested in that anymore. The model we started in the beginning, I think it was a very good model, but maybe it’s not time relevant anymore. But who am I to say that?”
Steiner’s favourite moments at Haas
Putting recent challenges and this week’s news to one side, Steiner took a moment to look back on some of the highlights from his time as Haas’s team boss – initially picking out two memories from their debut season.
“When we went out testing in 2016 in Barcelona for the first time,” he recalled. “You say, ‘Wow, it really happened, we are now on the racetrack.’ Then obviously when we scored points at our first race in Australia. There were so many naysayers at the time, all these people [saying], ‘This can never work, how it’s done’, then you go out there and score points, so it’s pretty cool.
“But I think over the 10 years in the team there were a lot of good moments. Finishing fifth in the championship in 2018, in our third year, that was something I don’t think many people have done before, so we always remember those days.”
When Kevin Magnussen’s shock pole at Interlagos in 2022 was mentioned, he jumped back in: “I forgot that moment! You think you’re just dreaming, then it gets done and it’s fantastic. We didn’t have our best year there, then at the end of the season you do this pole and it was like, ‘Wow, we did this, we had a pole as a team.’”
What’s next for Steiner in F1?
Steiner then thanked Magnussen and his current team mate Nico Hulkenberg for their “very cool” social media messages, which paid tribute to his unique character and wished him all the best for the future – a future that has yet to be worked out.
Indeed, as the dust settles on the announcement and the 2024 season approaches – with car launches and testing just around the corner – what are Steiner’s plans for the upcoming year?
“If F1 wants me, I don’t know that,” he replied when asked if he wants to stay in the sport, prompting another huge cheer from the crowd. “I guess I have to find something to do. At the moment I’m very chilled out about the situation, I’m not in a hurry.
“People will see me around in F1; I know a lot of people, I’ve got a lot of friends, and for me just hanging around a year, doing the odd job, speaking with people, that does it for me. If something interesting comes along that challenges me, yes, but just staying in F1 just to do a job, maybe it’s not what I want to do.”
He continued: “I like to be with people but it needs to be something where I can see a future. I want to do [a job] where you can achieve something and if you try you get somewhere, then I’ll do it. But as I said, at the moment I just want to chill out a little bit. It was 10 tough years behind me. I’m still good, I’ve got plenty of stuff to do, plenty of stuff to clean up at home – just ask my wife!
“Also, it’s good to stay with the family. My daughter is 14 years old, she’s quite demanding, she’s got an opinion on everything. I try to manage now that one, which seems to be more difficult than running an F1 team at the moment! I’m doing this for a few months but I will be around at some races, and people may even see me on TV.”