Guenther Steiner‘s departure from Haas was a big surprise in the Formula 1 world, during a time when all seemed quiet. That’s not been the case for the team that finished last in the Constructors’ Championship in 2023.
For the second time in three years, Haas really struggled and even the experience of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen couldn’t propel the team forward.
Overlooked on the day of Steiner and Haas going their separate ways was technical director Simone Resta also leaving, so all is not well at the team despite what Gene Haas and new team boss Ayao Komatsu may say.
Fundamental issues at Haas
Since 2019, Haas have consistently struggled with race pace and tyre wear. Through three very different set of technical regulations, in 2019-2020, 2021 and 2022-2023, their drivers have often gone backwards in the race.
There is clearly an engineering issue here because to not get on top of this over five campaigns is concerning.
Komatsu has been at Haas since 2016 when he joined from Lotus along with Romain Grosjean. He was a chief race engineer and there’s no doubt that he’s taking a massive step up to the team principal role.
In simple terms, you look at it and think – one of the key personnel who’s responsible for the cars that have struggled is moving up the pecking order as team principal to oversee the on-track performance. Is that right? Komatsu will have to prove his doubters wrong.
“I’m looking forward to leading our program and the various competitive operations internally to ensure we can build a structure that produces improved on-track performances,” said Komatsu.
“We obviously haven’t been competitive enough recently, which has been a source of frustration for us all.”
More investment needed
A key reason for Steiner and Resta‘s departures is a lack of trust in Haas‘ future in F1. Neither were sacked and it’s always a concern when key members decide they have had enough or don’t agree with the vision of the team.
Development has always been an issue with Haas too. Even during their most successful years on debut in 2016 when they scored points in their first three races as an outfit, or 2018 when the team ended the year in fifth in the standings, there was a lack of upgrades.
Other midfield teams overhauled them and 2023 saw them only put on one major update – at the United States Grand Prix in Austin.
On that occasion, it went horribly wrong because the upgrade didn’t work. Even with the disqualifications of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc, both drivers finished outside of the points and AlphaTauri jumped ahead into ninth in the Constructors’ Championship, a position the Red Bull sister team would hold until the end of the season.
“I think the race was better because of the changes we made,” said Magnussen in Austin, where he started from the pit lane. “It still wasn’t enough though, we weren’t fast enough, and we finished in the position we started in from the pit lane.
“We need to find more, but we live to fight another day. It felt better after having done the changes, putting more downforce on and it was definitely a better set-up.”
Haas’ reliance on Ferrari no longer working
In 2018, Haas were labelled as a Ferrari b-team because their car was reminiscent of the Scuderia. Their drivers Grosjean and Magnussen were set to both finish in the top six until two nightmare pit stops meant neither of their tyres were fitted properly.
At the Austrian Grand Prix later that year, the pair finished in the top five which remains Haas‘ best ever race result in F1. Their car had serious pace in the first half of 2018.
Haas only design the chassis and aerodynamic parts of the car, everything else comes from Ferrari. The mini copycat car era before the ground effect regulations were introduced in 2022 was definitely a solution for the midfield teams, but perhaps not anymore.
Original solutions from the smartness and hard work of the engineers meant Red Bull had, statistically, the most dominant season in F1 ever with an incredible car. The opposite can be said for Haas as they lack the quality in team personnel on the technical side.
Steiner even said himself that if he was one person he could hire in F1, it would be Red Bull chief technical officer Adrian Newey.
“I’m sure he [Newey] can make a car which can win,” Steiner, who was pivotal for the launching of Haas in F1 when he helped lay the ground work from 2014, told The Athletic.
What to expect from Haas in 2024
It’s not a nice thing to say someone is favourite to be last in the pecking order but someone has to be, F1 is a sport after all. With all the changes at Haas, plus the lack of quality and resources, it’s hard to be positive going into pre-season testing in Bahrain on February 19-21.
Owner Gene Haas plans to be in F1 for at least the medium term, although Haas are the only team yet to confirm an engine partner for the new 2026 F1 regulations, but they cannot afford to be bringing up the rear of the field year after year.
It’s not like they have a massive gap to close, it’s more the direction of the team which could be problematic.
“Moving forward as an organisation it was clear we needed to improve our on-track performances,” explained Gene Haas. “In appointing Ayao Komatsu as team principal we fundamentally have engineering at the heart of our management.
“We have had successes but we need to be consistent in delivering results that help us reach our wider goals as an organisation.
“We need to be efficient with the resources we have but improving our design and engineering capability is key to our success as a team. I’m looking forward to working with Ayao and fundamentally ensuring that we maximise our potential – this truly reflects my desire to compete properly in Formula 1.”