Gene Haas has conceded that he is feeling nervous ahead of his team’s Formula 1 debut in Australia, but is relishing the challenge of fighting with some of the biggest racing teams in the world.
NASCAR team co-owner Haas will see a long-term dream be realized on Sunday when drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez line up on the grid for the first time.
Haas has traveled to Australia for his team’s debut, and made his first appearance in the FIA team personnel press conference on Friday.
The American admitted that he was feeling nervous ahead of his team’s debut, but spoke warmly of the challenge ahead and the existing structure of the sport.
“Well, I’m nervous. I think there are a lot of things going on here that I’m new to and the team is new too,” Haas said.
“So, putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together along with all the personnel and having it all come together for the first time has been a learning experience. That’s really what we’re here for is to learn how
“Formula 1 really operates from the ground floor. Your can watch this racing your whole life but there’s nothing like being a participant to really understand it and I have a lot of respect for the teams that are here and the level of technical competence you have to have to even start one of these races.
“I’m pretty much in awe. It’s a challenge and I hope it’s a lot of fun.”
Haas said that he was setting no firm short-term goals for the team, with the aim for the first season to be competitive from the outset and make no big errors.
“I think you have to look at it in terms of years. I have the feeling that if you over-anticipate what you can do in the sport, it will humble you very quickly,” Haas said.
“I think the first year or two just to be able to come to the races, be competitive, not make any major mistakes would be a tremendous achievement.
“I know a few of our drivers are hoping to score some points and that would certainly be an accomplishment.”
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”