America’s F1 team, Haas hopes to continue rebound from worst in helping U.S. growth

F1 Grand Prix of Miami - Opening Party
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Most Americans know Haas F1 as the worst team in Formula One, its drop to the back of the grid playing out over four seasons that happened to be captured on Netflix programming.

But that was before the debut of this year’s new car, a makeover forced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a super fast engine from Ferrari. Now Haas is turning heads and scoring points, and hopes to convince the audience at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix that it is America’s team.

“We absolutely are America’s team. We’ve got the American license, there is not many companies more American than Haas Automation and Gene Haas,” said Guenther Steiner, the team principal of Haas F1 and resident of Mooresville, North Carolina – the heart of NASCAR country.

Steiner found himself amidst the stock cars and oval tracks when Haas, the California businessman and founder of a machine-building company, decided he wanted to take Haas Automation global. He’d already reached the top of NASCAR when he brought in Tony Stewart as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and won a Cup Series title, and Haas figured placing the Haas Automation logos on F1 cars as they raced all across the globe would broaden the brand.

The business strategy has been a winner for Haas’ machine company. The racing, however, has been daunting since he purchased the assets of the collapsed Marussia F1 team.

Haas’ debut was delayed a year from 2015 to 2016, and what started as a midpack organization gradually faded out of contention. When the pandemic hit ahead of the 2020 season opener, Steiner and Haas made a decision among the uncertainty to pause spending.

Their plan was to wait out the 2022 regulations and development of a new car. Then Haas dumped veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen and replaced them with a pair of rookies who didn’t stand a chance last season in a car not capable of competing.

Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin didn’t score a single point combined, the rookies didn’t get along, and Mazepin was widely criticized for even being in the seat; his father’s Russian fertilizer company, Uralkali, was Haas’ primary sponsor.

“It was very difficult and Gene told me after a few races, four or five, he said, `Guenther, you told me we’d be bad, but actually it’s really bad,’ ” Steiner recalled. “And I said, `I knew this was coming and we’re only a quarter of the way through the season and there’s a lot more disappointments to come.’

“But it’s very tough, tough for everybody. The least affected was probably the drivers because they were rookies, and for them, being in Formula One was already a plus. But for the rest of the team? Being last is a lot more work than being first. It’s unbelievable.”

The belief was always that the 2022 regulations would help Haas improve. But Haas is also a Ferrari customer, and Ferrari was on target to be a much better team – Charles LeClerc is the current championship leader – and its engines would give Haas a dramatic boost.

The plan seemed to have worked when the cars hit the track for preseason testing. Haas was fast.

And then everything unraveled when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Gene Haas could not keep Uralkali on his cars – Dimitri Mazepin is an associate of President Vladimir Putin – and the logos were stripped off. After a week of uncertainty, Haas cut ties with both Mazepin and his father’s company.

It should have been a disaster. It instead has been the surprise of the season.

Steiner called Magnussen, who had vowed to never return to F1 as he raced in the United States last year, and offered him his job back.

Magnussen was on vacation in Miami when he took the call, which lasted only a couple minutes. Now he’s out of sports cars – he drove for Chip Ganassi in IMSA last season – and back where he wanted to be. The Danish driver was fast in preseason testing and a jaw-dropping fifth in the season opener and has scored 15 points so far this season. Schumacher, the son of F1 great Michael Schumacher, has yet to score points but has a veteran alongside him to help.

Schumacher said it wasn’t difficult knowing he’d likely be last every race last season and it helped him grow.

“I was still excited racing, my first year, and it’s a matter of thinking long-term,” Schumacher said. “The tough days are the ones where your character gets shaped and as a driver you can really try and make a difference.”

Three months after Steiner interrupted his vacation, Magnussen has settled back into F1. He wants to help Haas show that it can be America’s team, and they race Sunday for the team owner, who said Wednesday his mother, Margaret, had died.

“She loved NASCAR and, especially, Stewart-Haas Racing, and since Haas F1’s team’s debut, she became a Formula One fan, too,” Haas said in a statement. “We compete in her honor and are forever guided by her principle and spirit.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”