After months of rumors, paperwork and deliberations, it was formally confirmed yesterday by the FIA that Gene Haas’ proposed Formula 1 team had been given the green light, and as a result a berth on the grid for the 2015 season. Cue jubilation for American fans of the sport: a home team might be lining up at the Circuit of the Americas in fall 2015, and perhaps an American driver might be behind the wheel of one of its cars.
Undoubtedly, this news is fantastic for Formula 1 in the United States, but there is still a long road ahead of Haas and his team.
The initial plans are yet to be formally confirmed, but Haas is poised to set up a European base for his team that will work in tandem with operations in the United States. Of course, one of the big challenges for any team based in North America is the sheer distance of travelling for a largely European season. It is for this reason that most of the teams choose to set up shop in the UK.
Haas is thought to be considering a location in Italy for his team, as it is set to enjoy some ties with Ferrari. The Italian marque is poised to supply engines to the team, and it could be that this allows the team to put its junior drivers in a race seat at Haas. Raffaele Marciello is currently Ferrari’s leading light outside of F1, and might be their pick for a drive with the team. Another possible option could be James Calado, who has recently signed with Ferrari’s AF Corse GT team for the World Endurance Championship after finishing third in GP2 last year.
In terms of the management, former Red Bull team principal Gunther Steiner will work as the team principal with Haas taking up the role of chairman. The chassis is set to be designed by Dallara, who last worked with HRT F1 Team in Formula 1. The team’s lack of success with its chassis was because it could not pay Dallara for regular updates, so it is perhaps not the best example of the designer’s work.
Although distance isn’t such an issue, timing certainly is. The tender from the FIA does allow the team to line up in the grid in 2015, but the season is just 11 months away, with testing starting a month before that. It is a short amount of time and a big challenge for Haas and his team, but if the stars align and there is a big enough push, it is entirely possible. Should the team fall short, 2016 is still an option. Next year isn’t ‘all or nothing.’
Of course, the last time that an American team was poised to join the grid was USF1’s failed entry back in 2009 and 2010. As a result, the skeptics (of which there are many) have immediately pointed at this and said “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
The big difference here is that with Haas, a successful racing team and automotive company is in place; it already exists. It is not a privateer team as such (i.e. an entry requiring backing), but instead an outfit that has already met considerable success in NASCAR, with Haas being co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
If we forget the possible connection to Ferrari for a second, the drivers already in the race will be Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly. Both drivers are fantastic talents and the finest American drivers on the F1 ladder. However, the rumor mill will predictably throw drivers currently racing in IndyCar into the mix. As with any new team, it will relieve some of the pressure that has existed in the driver market – i.e. too many good drivers for too few seats – over the past few years.
And there is also the question about whether Haas will indeed be the 12th team on the grid. Caterham owner Tony Fernandes has suggested he could quit the sport if the team doesn’t start improving soon, and Marussia has also undergone a change in ownership of late. Lotus and Sauber also hit financial problems last year, and although the latter’s have now been resolved, the issues at Enstone are still very real.
Furthermore, a team called Forza Rossa is still being considered by the FIA for a berth on the grid, which is a Romanian Ferrari dealer that has links to former F1 team principal Colin Kolles.
The road ahead of Haas and co. is long, yet this is a different animal to USF1. Cautious optimism is what we should have when talking about an American Formula 1 team led by Gene Haas, but it would certainly be great to see his cars line up on the grid for the 2015 United States Grand Prix.