Haas has the green light, but there’s a long road ahead

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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.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”