I listened with something between awe, astonishment and resignation to US billionaire Gene Haas as he gave details about his plans to enter Formula 1 with a new team in either 2015 or 2016.
Given that the existing F1 teams are already working on their 2015 cars and Haas does not even have a factory, let alone staff with any serious F1 experience, the whole thing sounded, quite frankly, ludicrous.
It might have made sense if Haas had decided to buy a team such as Marussia, which would give him a decent starting point, but the machine tool magnate made it quite clear that he is not going to go down that path…
“We’re not going to be a European‑led team,” he said. “We're going to be an American‑led team and we'll do it the way we think is the most efficient. We're going to spend our money wisely. We're going to do it with an American flair for design and efficiencies, and that's how we're going to control our costs."
Haas admitted that it would be impossible to build a chassis themselves. “It would be insurmountable to say that we're going to build a chassis by ourselves and engineer it, figure out how to do it and hire all the people in nine months,” he said. “We’re going to have to compromise on what we do as far as the construction of the car, and we're going to have to try to acquire whatever we can.”
Haas said that the team would be based in Kannapolis, a small town famous for NASCAR, in North Carolina and would involve unnamed “partners” who would supply much of the technology. A new building is going up now, but it will not be finished for a few months yet. He owns a wind tunnel of his own – although this will need to be downsized because of the F1 rules.
While F1 teams can buy some of the technology required, they still need to manufacture their own chassis, or find someone to do it for them. Haas talked of doing a deal with Dallara in Italy, although that company’s recent record in Formula 1 has hardly been glowing.
The last foray was with the now-defunct Hispania Racing Team in 2010 and the relationship broke down after only a few months with the team’s engineers complaining about the quality of the car and the way it had been built. The team had its 2011 cars built in Germany.
Haas is right about the drivetrains in F1. Force India, for example, uses the entire engine and transmission built by Mercedes; Sauber and Marussia have similar deals with Ferrari, while Scuderia Toro Rosso and Caterham have contracts with Red Bull for their transmission systems, mated to Renault engines.
“It's going to take us a while to learn,” Haas said. “We'll lean heavily on a technical partner to help us. The main office will be here in Kannapolis, and maybe a smaller office somewhere in either Germany or Italy for assembly and disassembly of cars.
“It also would depend upon who our technology partner ultimately is. We're going to have our own way of doing things. Too many teams I think just go out there and throw money at it where we won't be doing that. We're not going to be throwing money at it.”
If it is that easy, I thought, why on earth have all these F1 teams been making such a pig’s ear of it?