Made it: Haas F1 at ‘home’ at US Grand Prix

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Gene Haas heard the snickers, shook off the doubters and ignored the suggestion that he didn’t know what he was doing.

Looking up at his name in bold letters above the Haas F1 team tent in the paddock this week at the U.S. Grand Prix, it’s easy to allow him a few moments of self-congratulation heading into his team’s “home” race this weekend.

“Everybody made it sound like we were clueless getting into Formula One, that we’d be bumbling idiots. The Europeans were going to teach us a lesson,” Haas said. “I think when we showed up and were prepared with a competitive car that scored points, it set a very high bar … People didn’t think we could do it.”

The Formula One season has been dominated by Mercedes and the duel between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. But the American rookie outfit has been one of the surprise stories from the rest of the grid.

An industrialist with roots in NASCAR and North Carolina, Haas jumped into Formula One with a flourish. His team has 28 points in its maiden season, all of them scored by veteran French driver Romain Grosjean. While far from the top, it’s also well above the bottom with a chance to climb over the final four races of the season.

Sunday’s race will be a chance for Haas F1 to wave the flag in front of American fans, too, during F1’s only U.S. stop.

“There is some pride for having and American flag on this car,” Grosjean said.

Haas F1 is the first American-led team on the grid in 30 years and the road getting here wasn’t easy. It actually crosses two continents, as the team is split between a design base in North Carolina and racing operations in England.

Haas was first granted his F1 team license in April 2014. The initial goal was to be racing in 2015. That proved to be too ambitious, so Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner took aim at 2016. Powered by a Ferrari engine, Haas debuted with an impressive first testing session, then took a step back with engine problems that kept them off the track.

“A lot of people lost sleep over that. That was not easy having to sit off the track and watching the other teams go round and round,” said Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez.

“We broke a lot of stuff,” Haas said.

The problems were fixed by the first race when Grosjean finished sixth in Australia and took two more top-10 finishes over the next three races. The success proved hard to maintain and Haas has only one other top 10 finish all season, none since the British Grand Prix in July.

Haas F1 got a boost two weeks ago when both cars qualified in the top 10 for the first time in Japan. But that came with a rookie mistake: teams that make stage three of qualifying have to start the race on their qualifying tires, forcing a change in pit strategy from one stop to two, and they finished out of the points.

Still, the qualifying performance raised hopes for more points over the final four races.

“We finished seven times in 11th,” Steiner said. “It’s about time we finish four times 10th.”

Grosjean left the former Lotus team to join the Americans, and Haas credits him with being a steady hand in the car all season.

“He didn’t know what we had and we could have been a complete and utter disaster,” Haas said. “He took a big risk.”

Haas won’t commit to a driver lineup for 2017. Gutierrez was a test driver for Ferrari when he signed with Haas, but he hasn’t scored a point this season, finishing 11th five times. Haas understands American fans want an American driver but suggested that’s not an option anytime soon.

Some fans had hoped Haas would sign Alexander Rossi, who finished 2015 driving for Manor. Rossi instead landed in IndyCar and stunned nearly everyone by winning the Indianapolis 500 in May as a rookie. Haas does have an American development driver, 18-year-old Santino Ferrucci.

“That sounds like simple equation: American team, American driver, American race track. It’s all American. The reality is there’s not that many American (Formula One) drivers,” Haas said. “Not exactly a good idea at this time. We really wanted experienced drivers.

“We don’t need to have everything perfect this year or the year after,” Haas said. “American drivers or American sponsors, those events will happen. It will be up to us to put it together.”

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Ganassi announces multiyear sponsorship extension with American Legion for No. 10

Chip Ganassi American Legion
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Chip Ganassi Racing announced a new primary sponsorship deal with The American Legion this week, shoring up the funding on its No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Alex Palou.

The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion primarily had driven with NTT Data sponsorship the past two seasons. But NTT Data will move next season to McLaren Racing as a primary sponsor for Felix Rosenqvist in 10 races and on the Indy 500 car of Tony Kanaan (who drove an American Legion car for Ganassi at the Brickyard last year).

It was the latest twist in a McLaren-Ganassi saga that included a contract dispute for the services of Palou (who is expected to move to McLaren in 2024 after reaching an agreement to race with Ganassi next year).

Ganassi stayed within its own walls to help plug the sponsorship gap left by NTT Data, re-signing The American Legion to a multiyear extension. The Indianapolis-based non-profit organization, which has been sponsoring Ganassi cars for the past few seasons, also will be associated with other Ganassi drivers, including Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and development driver Kyffin Simpson in Indy NXT.

The Ganassi organization will continue promoting The American Legion’s “Be The One” campaign aimed at reducing veteran suicides. The team launched an online auction for the initiative this week.

“Supporting our nation’s veterans is of immense importance to our organization and we are humbled to continue supporting The American Legion’s mission in ending veteran suicide,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a release. “We will do absolutely everything we can to help veterans get the support they need while raising public awareness of the ‘Be The One’ platform.”

“We have received an overwhelming amount of support from fans, active-duty military members and veterans as a result of this partnership and we’re pleased to see it grow,” said Dean Kessel, chief marketing officer at The American Legion. “Thanks to the continuous collaboration with the team’s other partners, and the promotion of the ‘Be The One’ initiative, we are discovering more ways to engage with the military community than ever before. We want all veterans to know that it’s okay to ask for help.”