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Gene Haas Q&A: We're no Ferrari junior team

06 Nov 2015

Another piece of the Haas jigsaw fell into place over the Mexico weekend as Ferrari tester Esteban Gutierrez was confirmed as Romain Grosjean's team mate for the all-new American squad's 2016 debut. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, owner Gene Haas discusses his team's driver line-up, its relationship with Ferrari, and why he believes they are ahead of schedule and looking good for their maiden season next year...

Q: Gene, this time last year this time you spoke about the beauty of a Formula One entry based on good business deals. Twelve months on, do you still stand by this statement?

Gene Haas: Entering Formula One is a business decision - and actually I am more convinced of that than I was one year ago. The reception from my customers is just overwhelming. And if they like it, it is good for my business! (laughs) 

Q: You have also said that you plan to make a profit with your team. Can you tell us the secret? Some other teams might like to know it!

GH: There is no secret. Yes, most teams don't make any money - and in the end in NASCAR we were breaking even after three years and last year made a little money. So it is basically about not losing dramatically and on the other hand maximising your revenue sources - and that goes for sponsors and prize money. And I think, from my perspective, this is easier to achieve in F1 than in NASCAR.

Q: You really believe that?

GH: Yes, I do believe that. In NASCAR to get any money you have to win. In F1 if you finish tenth or better you get a percentage, so if you finish among the top ten you at least get guaranteed some money. NASCAR doesn't do that.

Q: Finishing tenth out of the 11 teams is still a challenge - or have you found a shortcut to F1 success? Will being a semi-customer team do the trick?

GH: I don't think so. I've been following the sport now for many years and I remember back in 2008 everybody was talking about customer cars: a person would buy a complete car from a race team and go racing. That idea has been in Formula One for quite some time, but ultimately the customer car concept was not approved. That actually was our original plan - but it was not approved.

Now here we are in 2015 and Bernie (Ecclestone) has proposed customer cars once again, but right now we are something of an 'in between' thing. Basically we try to purchase as much as we can - not just from Ferrari, but also from other manufacturers. Most of the teams build everything by themselves, but we are trying to find people who are supplying us with all that. We try to minimise what we have to manufacture. That is what we did in NASCAR. That is the whole idea. So the idea of what we are doing is not new - we are just the first who have taken it this far.

Q: Is the beauty of it that you are in a position to pick from the best that is available?

GH: It is always very important to pick the right business partners - and we are very fortunate that Ferrari chose to assist us. The far bigger question is why is Ferrari helping us? (laughs) 

Q: Your lead driver will be Romain Grosjean, who is still waiting to show his true F1 potential, and your second we now know is Esteban Gutierrez, who has not been racing for a season. What do you expect from both - and what do they expect from you?

GH: Well, all you said is true, but as a start-up team you don't expect to sign up any current champions. But we also weren't looking for that. We were looking for people who are on the same page as us. And both Romain and Esteban fit our particular profile. I am sure that they are both very hungry and don't have that 'super ego' like these super champions - and they are still young enough to learn. Well, I hope they learn from each other! 

Q: Romain said that he met with you in Monza and that it was a hand-shake deal...

GH: Yes, it was in Monza. Before that we had talked to another driver - I don't want to mention his name - who in the end, after talking to each other for a month, decided to stay where he was. That was acceptable. I didn't have a problem with that because every start-up team is high risk. Romain saw what we are doing, and obviously Lotus was having its little issues so he decided, 'I might as well do this!'  

Q: Romain said that he thinks it's a big chance for both sides...

GH: Wow, I am glad that he's got faith in us because so far we haven't produced anything.    

Q: Do you regret entering now and not in 2017, with all the changes that will be in place then?

GH: No, not really. In this sport there are windows that open and close. I think that in the end it was a benefit that in 2014 we got the licence late in May, so when the question came up to go racing in 2015 or 2016, I think we made the right decision. 2016 worked very well with the Ferrari technical department and we had the chance to do a lot of aero on our car. So I think we will hit the track in 2016 much better prepared than if we had come in in 2015. And if we had waited another year these doors would probably have closed. So as the cars will change almost completely for 2017 I think everybody will be in the same position.

Q: What kind of Ferrari engine will you run in 2016? Will you be the lucky ones with the same spec as Ferrari?

GH: Ha, that's top secret. No, it will be the current spec engine. But it is not only the engine: they are supplying the transmission, the suspension, the shock absorbers... that's a lot of parts. So they needed time themselves to ramp up production. To build an engine it probably takes three months to produce the parts, so it probably takes six months to produce the engine. That's quite some time. 

Q: Including Haas, Ferrari will be supplying three teams - should Toro Rosso be added that would make four. Is that a bit crowded? 

GH: I think with the time that Ferrari has we are quite well [placed] in their queue. And if I get the rumour right, Toro Rosso might get the 2015 engine. 

Q: Is that based on the first come first served principle?

GH: No, we have contracts in place. It took three months to write a simple contract and to get it signed by a zillion people. I think Ferrari and Haas have a very solid relationship. 

Q: How much of a junior team will Haas be to Ferrari? We see Red Bull and Toro Rosso; we hear talk of Force India linking up with Aston Martin, in whom Mercedes has a stake. And Haas and Ferrari?

GH: I don't see us in the 'junior team' team position. If we are out there we want to beat them.  We would not back down. But, of course, I would not mind finishing behind the Ferrari at every race! (laughs) That wouldn't be bad. In this sport technical partnership is one thing and racing another. I don't feel like a junior team and we don't want to be a junior team. A good part of the car is our design, so there is enough to say that we are an independent team.

Q: Winter testing will now start slightly earlier than initially expected. Will that hurt your plans?

GH: I think they announced it early enough that we were able to react. But yes, it did hurt a little bit. But in the end it is just a little bit more pressure on the supplier side - like the chassis builder.

Q: It is built by Dallara...

GH: ... well we design it and they build it - and even they are subcontracting. From what they have told me it almost takes two months to lay out a chassis. Amazing!

Q: A bit different to NASCAR...

GH: Absolutely. We don't necessarily have carbon fibre chassis, but we get build the whole car in about 60 hours if we have the parts in the pipeline. If they do come in it takes 60 hours. We are very efficient in what we do. 

Q: So how is progress with the F1 team? 

GH: From what I see in our different facilities we are in pretty good shape. I am a man who always wants to be ahead of the game and not behind, and my impression is that we are ahead. 

Q: Your main company is called Haas Automation. Are you bringing automation into Formula One racing? There is still the impression that F1 teams are boutique operations, despite the larger ones employing 800-plus people...

GH: Probably that is right. We have to get more automated. You need systems in place get more efficient. That is the time we are in, and F1 has to adjust to that. 

Q: The big dream of all the teams in the paddock is scoring points. How big are you dreaming?

GH: If we score one point I would be happy. Romain has been scoring points in so many races that he knows how to do it. He said to me, 'If we go out and test the car in February in Barcelona I can tell you after two laps if it is good or not.' And if it is a good car we will score points.

Q: And if he gives it a thumbs-down?

GH: Then we will scratch our heads a little bit and figure it out - but I am very confident that his thumb will be up!