Haas F1 Team not looking at American drivers for 2016

© Getty Images

Haas F1 Team is not considering racing with an American driver for its debut Formula 1 season according to team principal Günther Steiner.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas won the FIA’s tender for a new F1 team back in 2014, and will join the grid at the start of the 2016 season next April.

Haas will become the first American team to race in F1 since the unrelated Haas Lola team back in 1986, and will work out of bases in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and Banbury in England, with the latter being Marussia F1 Team’s former home.

Much has been made of the possible driver line-up at Haas for 2016. At least one of the seats is set to be filled by a Ferrari reserve driver, thought to be Mexico’s Esteban Gutierrez.

A number of American drivers had been linked with a role at Haas at a time when F1 is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the United States.

However, in an interview with the official F1 website, Steiner revealed that the second seat will not be taken by an American.

“There is nobody out there at the moment,” Steiner said.

“Yes, there are drivers in GP2 and Formula Three, but having a rookie in a new team – that is difficult for both sides. The potential of such a partnership failing is pretty high.

“So at the moment we’d rather not be looking at that avenue, because you are also not helping an inexperienced driver – he could be burned in one season.

“We are new, so we need a known quantity in the team.”

The leading American candidate for a seat at Haas had been GP2 racer Alexander Rossi, who currently sits second in the championship standings.

Rossi has previously worked in a reserve role with both Caterham and Marussia, but is yet to make his full F1 debut, and therefore lacks the experience that Haas desires.

The team had targeted Nico Hulkenberg for its first season in the sport, only for the German driver to sign a two-year contract extension with Force India, taking him to the end of 2017.

With Gutierrez poised to take one of the seats, Haas’ shortlist for the remaining role includes Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and Ferrari development driver Jean-Eric Vergne, who both have at least three full years of F1 experience.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”