Guenther Steiner has had the toughest job of any Formula 1 team principal this year. His Haas squad has the slowest car and at the time of writing is rooted to the bottom of the constructors’ championship with zero points, which in most seasons would represent unmitigated disaster. But this is no ordinary campaign for Haas, which effectively gave up on 2021 to focus on next year’s dramatically overhauled technical regulations.
“Transitional,” interjects Steiner in his distinctive Tyrolean accent, which has been made famous by his cult role in Netflix’s documentary series Drive to Survive. It adds up to the same thing and, counterintuitively for such a competitive sport, is absolutely the right move. The eruption of the pandemic early last year created a unique set of conditions that Haas reacted to pragmatically, initially suspending development of its 2020 car amid uncertainty about what income could be expected that year with the F1 season indefinitely suspended. The team then committed to making the bare minimum of changes to that machine to meet the lightly modified regulations for 2021.
“It’s the only decision that made sense, because if we had started to spend money on this car, we would have made little progress and compromised the future,” says Steiner. “The car was pretty bad in 2019, and in 2020 we didn’t develop because the coronavirus came, the regulations changed a little bit and we weren’t fully staffed any more, so the wind-tunnel work was non-existent.
“So not only would we have made little progress with this year’s car, but also we would have compromised the future. And the future isn’t one year: it’s five years at least with the new regulations. So this was the only way that made sense. Obviously, if we had billions to spend, it would be a different story – but we couldn’t spend it anyway, because of the budget cap. So I stand behind the decision.”