Gene Haas speaks out on American drivers in F1 and saving cash for 2022 car revamping

Gene Haas F1 American
Peter Fox/Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas — As home races go, Sunday was just like the rest of the season for Gene Haas and his F1 team, the only in the series owned by an American.

A clunker.

Haas F1 finished last again with its two cars, driven by rookies Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. They were so far off the pace that they were two laps down when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton raced past them to the finish.

Yet team owner Gene Haas seemed anything but disappointed in Sunday’s results at the Circuit of the Americas, or the 2021 season as a whole.

Haas said in an interview with The Associated Press that he has saved money by not dumping cash into his cars ahead of sweeping changes in car regulations next year. Haas Automation, the personal business of the team owner, has been booming – which was the whole reason he expanded into the international series.

His CNC machine manufacturing company, headquartered in Oxnard, California, was considered one of the largest in North America when Haas was only the co-owner of the Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR team. Now that Haas is in F1, Haas Automation has established a global footprint.

So Haas isn’t bothered that F1’s surging popularity in America hasn’t boosted his fledgling team. And don’t bother suggesting he should hire an American driver just because the team owner is from California and owns a race shop in North Carolina.

“That’s probably a very sensitive and frustrating point for me,” Haas told AP during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend. “Everybody says, `Well, you should have an American driver.’ But the thing I don’t understand is why there isn’t more big-time sponsorship for an American driver?

“It takes millions and millions of dollars. They need a benefactor to help an American driver race in Formula One. For all the talk about it, there’s no one that’s ever stepped up to do that.”

Haas hasn’t shown much interest in developing an American driver and this season has turned his cars over to a German and a Russian.

Schumacher comes from racing royalty and is the son of German seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher. Mazepin comes from Russian money; his billionaire father, Dimitri, is a major shareholder in Uralkali, the Russia-based fertilizer company that is Haas F1’s major sponsor.

The Haas cars are indeed red, white and blue – but the scheme of red, blue and white mirrors the Russian flag.

The team was mid-pack when Haas acquired the assets of the failed Marussia team and put a pair of cars on the grid in 2016. But the team has collapsed the last two years and Haas is the only team that hasn’t scored a point in 2021.

Gene Haas said he was surprised F1 raced the abbreviated 2020 season in the pandemic, and that coming car changes made it prudent to save money instead of tweaking old engines for a little bit of speed.

“You could spend $10 million to $20 million and maybe move up one position,” Haas said. “It wasn’t worth the money. We just decided we’d put all our money in the ’22 car.”

The car development for 2022 has been encouraging, he said.

“The good thing is that because it’s a whole brand new format, nobody really can copy anybody else,” he said. “All 10 teams are going to have 10 unique cars. We’ll see who lucks out.”

The current lack of speed has been matched by lack of experience behind the wheel. Mazepin – derisively referred to as “Mazespin” by fans because of his numerous on-track gaffes – and Schumacher have spent the season bumping around the back of the grid, getting in the way of the leaders and bickering amongst themselves.

Their boss doesn’t view it as a wasted season.

“Hopefully they’re taking advantage of (the season) rather than lamenting the fact that they are slow,” Haas said. “They’re getting good experience in racing Formula One, because there’s a lot to be said by just racing with these guys.”

Formula One’s return to Texas last week came as the American appetite for F1 has exploded. The race weekend drew more than 350,00 fans over three days, with 140,000 in attendance for Sunday’s race (outdrawing the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway).

Yet the Haas team trailer was mostly quiet at the far end of the paddock, well away from the bustle surrounding Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari. Even Williams and Alfa Romeo, its neighbors in the paddock and near the bottom of the standings, had more action.

There’s money to be made with success on the track. Fan interest in the U.S. seems to be on the rise and the Liberty Media-owned series will add a second American race next season in Miami. There are hopes of someday adding a third.

Zak Brown, the American head of McLaren, predicted last week that F1 teams could soon be worth billions, on par with NFL, NBA or Premier League Soccer clubs.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said the team has been late to capitalize on F1’s surging popularity in its home country and that it’s time to “get more involved with people from America.”

“I think we neglected that a little bit, in the beginning when we came in, because Formula One grew very quickly in the last two years,” Steiner said. “In the beginning, when we started it was a lot smaller and now it seems . why we didn’t see that coming?”

Haas, however, resists classifying Haas F1 as Formula One’s “American” team because that ignores his European staff and business efforts. And being an American team makes no difference to Haas Automation, which ultimately pays Gene Haas’ bills.

“Most of my team comes from England, Italy … Europe,” Haas said. “We’re just basically trying to run a team in the most efficient and best way we can. We’re not really worrying too much about whether it’s popular with the American public or not. That’s kind of how I look at the business side of it. It’s a great way to help us a lot with brand recognition in Europe.”

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship

Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”