Haas F1 excises the ghosts of USF1 for NASCAR veteran

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CHARLOTTE — With a first-hand perspective on why the last effort at a U.S.-based team in Formula One failed, Dr. Eric Warren believes Haas F1 Team is primed to succeed.

“I’m excited about seeing how it works out,” said Richard Childress Racing’s director of competition, who spent a few months as the lead aerodynamicist at the failed USF1 project before returning to NASCAR.

“I tried with USF1 and the timing wasn’t right. The money wasn’t quite right. The rules weren’t quite right as far as just starting to get the budgets under control. So it didn’t work out, and I learned a lot that year.

“I think the direction (Haas F1) has gone with Ferrari and Dallara working with the chassis, they’re going to be successful.”

With drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Roman Grosjean in place, a European base of operations and a date for a preseason test in Jerez, Spain, Haas F1 is far ahead of where USF1 was shortly before its scheduled debut. It also has the benefit of having waited to race nearly two years since its formation, affording the opportunity to build a strong partnership with Ferrari.

USF1, which was based in the original home of Joe Gibbs Racing in north Charlotte (about 20 minutes from Haas F1’s Kannapolis headquarters), attempted to reach the starting grid barely a year after its February 2009 unveiling and without any alliances with existing F1 infrastructure. It imploded in March 2010 without having built a car.

Warren, who earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering at North Carolina State, said the same fate could have awaited Haas F1 by rushing into competition last season, as team owner Gene Haas initially had considered.

“I thought when it first got announced, if they tried to race that year, it would have been a mistake,” Warren said. “I think certainly they made a lot of intelligent decisions. (Team principal) Guenther (Steiner) has experience there. Gene certainly with the relationship with Hendrick (as a NASCAR team owner) learned, ‘I’ve got to have a partner to rely on.’

“I think some of the mistakes made in the USF1 days was they were going to do it on their own and we don’t need anybody. You can’t do that. You just can’t do that.

“I think that part, there have been good decisions (by Haas F1). A lot of it is just hitting milestones and pulling it together.”

Warren is keeping tabs through his many connections in F1 (including former Sprint Cup crew chief Matt Borland, who is in Haas F1 management). He also has many contacts at RCR, hiring several F1 veterans to work in an engineering department that he jokingly calls “the United Nations of NASCAR.”

RCR technical director Mike Coughlan worked as a chief engineer at Williams and was a chief designer at McLaren. Xavier Marcos, RCR’s chief race engineer, was the race engineer for Felipe Massa at Williams. RCR aerodynamicist Lawrence Hodge came from Ferrari.

“I love F1,” said Warren, who worked with F1 teams while heading up engineering at Evernham Motorsports a decade ago. “I’m excited to see how this turns out.”