Last-placed Haas makes major changes for F1's 2024 season and beyond


The name above the door of the Haas Formula 1 team remains unchanged. But, heading into the 2024 Formula 1 season, there has been a major leadership change.

Team principal Guenther Steiner, the founder of the only American Formula 1 team, has departed. In his place, Haas has promoted Ayao Komatsu, who was the team's engineering director. Like Steiner, Komatsu had worked with Haas since entering Formula 1 in 2016. But his boss had a higher profile among Formula 1 fans due to Steiner's popularity in the Netflix series “Drive to Survive.”

Steiner's contract was due to expire at the end of the year, but his position did not appear to be externally threatened.

Then team owner Gene Haas informed Steiner after Christmas that he would not be offered a new contract, after which Haas transferred the top job to Komatsu.

Haas said in an interview published in January on the Formula 1 website that his decision “came down to performance” after the team finished last in the Constructors' Championship and eighth last year. In its eight seasons in Formula 1, the team has never won a race, and its best race result was a fourth-place finish in Austria in 2018.

But Steiner and Haas also disagreed on what investments were needed to improve results.

Haas said he “can't understand how we can (last) with all the equipment and people we have.” However, Steiner wanted Haas to invest more money in upgrading the team's production facilities.

This is something that many Formula 1 teams have been doing since the sport introduced its new financial rules in 2021, which restrict how much teams can spend. It will increase to $135 million in 2024.

Other teams may find savings in improving their production equipment and processes. But the Haas team's model of purchasing as many car parts as possible from its supplier, Ferrari, meant that its expenses were largely locked in.

“You're on the outside, you look in and say, 'Wow, I tried for a long time, seeing where other people were going,'” Steiner said of the team in an interview in Birmingham, England, in mid-January. Told about changing the model. ,

“Now you need to be very skilled. You have to invest money, organize everything so that you get a very lean machine. Our model is probably not the most efficient anymore. Well, not our model, their model, because I'm not there anymore.

Gene Haas said he chose Komatsu to replace Steiner because Komatsu “has been with the team since day one, he knows it inside and out.”

Haas did not want an outsider to spend time learning the ways of the team. The team is also in the process of hiring a Chief Operating Officer to assist its new team principal.

Komatsu also provides important skills to the Haas team. Komatsu's recent position means the team now has an engineer as team boss. This follows the trend of other Formula 1 teams, including McLaren and Aston Martin, which have been performing well.

The rationale behind this is to have leaders who, because of their engineering experience, understand what resources are needed to make cars faster.

Komatsu also shares Gene Haas' belief that the team can succeed with the facilities and investment already in place.

“I'm confident that with what we've got, we can definitely do a better job,” Komatsu told reporters at the Haas factory in Banbury, England, in late January. However, he also said that he expects the team to continue to struggle this year. , “And if we put it together, I'm sure we can do much better. Then, once we get to the level where we are getting the most (race results) out of what we've got, we are a dominant racing team.

One of the team's drivers, Kevin Magnussen, has worked with Komatsu for six seasons. Magnussen said replacing Steiner was a “big change”.

“It's going to change dynamics and communication throughout the organization,” Magnussen said in an interview published Feb. 20 on the Haas team website.

This will be obvious even to those watching Haas from the outside. Komatsu has vowed not to seek a similar profile to his former boss, who had many admirers because of his outspoken style.

“I'm not trying to be Guenther Steiner,” Komatsu said. “He is a very different person. His strengths and weaknesses are completely different from mine. Gene knows this, and if Gene had wanted Steiner's replacement that way, he would have hired someone else.

“I would rather try to be the best version of myself than try to be like someone else.”

Gene Haas's explanation for the leadership change at his Formula 1 team has increased the pressure. The 71-year-old is committed to his team's “survival for the next 10 years”. He said he has no interest in selling, as he almost did before new financial rule changes in 2020 led to a change of heart.

But the team faces a big challenge in the 2024 Formula 1 season. Its new car is not expected to be much better than its predecessor.

That racecar had problems with its aerodynamic design and its tires were damaged during the race. Magnussen and his teammate Nico Hulkenberg often fell back from their starting positions. Haas began the process of fixing this problem with a major redesign of its car in late 2023.

Komatsu is Expectations for the new season have been reduced given how long it can take to solve problems with larger cars combined with the long production times required to manufacture new Formula 1 parts. He does not expect much improvement till 2024.

“Out of the gate,” he said, “I still think we're going to be towards the back of the grid, if not last.”


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