Haas Formula Slowly Taking Shape

Gene Haas (right) and Guenther Steiner answer questions from the media during a press conference for Haas's new Formula One operation in 2014. (Adam Fenwick Photo)
Gene Haas (right) and Guenther Steiner answer questions from the media during a press conference for Haas's new Formula One operation Monday in Concord, N.C. (Adam Fenwick Photo)
Gene Haas (right) and Guenther Steiner answer questions from the media during a press conference for Haas’s new Formula One operation Monday in Concord, N.C. (Adam Fenwick Photo)

CONCORD, N.C. — Gene Haas revealed a number of details about his new Formula One operation — dubbed Haas Formula — during a press event Monday at the Embassy Suites here.

Haas, joined by Haas Formula Team Principal Guenther Steiner, revealed Haas has been pursuing a place on the Formula One World Championship grid for several years. Steiner is a veteran of the F-1 paddock and has worked as technical director for Red Bull and Jaguar.

“This project is actually something we’ve been working on for a number of years,” Haas said. “Guenther has actually been in the background for a while. He has had various proposals starting back three years ago or so.”

The organization will be located on the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus as the Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR team, which Haas co-owns with three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. Construction is underway on what will become the Haas Formula shop on the Stewart-Haas campus.

Haas said the team will have a base somewhere in Europe — perhaps Germany or Italy — for the purposes of assembly and disassembly of cars and other minor work during the season.

“That would be the logistics that we would use,” Haas said. “Nothing is cast in stone yet.”

Haas said that the goal of the program is to bring worldwide recognition his CNC machine company Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the Western world. He said both Formula One entries, at least to start, will be sponsored by Haas Automation.

“My basic goal is to change Haas Automation from just a machine tool builder into a premium brand,” Haas said. “I think Formula One can provide that, especially in the overseas markets. There are a lot of fans from China to South America to Europe to Eastern Europe to Japan to Malaysia that we really want to become a household name in.

“That really is the ultimate goal, to take the image of Haas Automation and turn it into a brand that is desired and known throughout the world,” Haas said. “The ultimate goal would be to double our sales for Haas Automation.”

Haas admitted that a lot of details — from finding a technical partner to securing an engine supplier to hiring drivers — are far from complete. In fact, Haas isn’t even sure if the team will be ready for 2015. He said that the team will need to notify the FIA — the sanctioning body for Formula One — by June if the team plans to enter the series in 2015 or wait until 2016.

“I would like to do 2015 simply because I think the first year is going to be a difficult year no matter what happens,” Haas said. “It is a very big challenge. Part of that learning curve is just simply getting to the track and sorting out the logistics of going from race to race. The sooner we learn that the sooner we can be done with that.

“We would like 2015, but depending upon who we select as our partner I don’t know if they can provide all the infrastructure and technology that we would need (that fast). I think it is one of those things that we’re going to have to find out in the next few weeks.”

As far as technical partners are concerned, Haas said there have been preliminary discussions with Indy car chassis builder Dallara about a partnership that would allow them to get a head start on building their cars. No agreement has been made on that front, but the team hopes to make an official announcement about a technical partner within four to six weeks.

Haas also said the team will sit down soon to discuss which engine supplier will work best for Haas Formula. Right now there are only three engine suppliers — Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes — that are active in Formula One.

“I think that everybody knows that there are currently three engine suppliers for Formula One — Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari,” Haas said. “We have to narrow down the partner that we are going to work with. That is a very important part of it, figuring out who can provide us with the technical expertise that we are going to need.”

Haas hopes to do something similar to what Stewart-Haas Racing did in NASCAR, which is partner with a larger and more established operation in order to get off the ground faster. SHR is currently partnered with Hendrick Motorsports, which provides the team with engines and technical support.

“We’re going to do something similar to what we did in NASCAR, which is to try and partner with like a Hendrick Motorsports, so we can rely on them for a lot of the technical expertise,” Haas said. “Let’s face it, we’re new at this. There is going to have a long learning curve and to sit there and say we can understand what’s going on with these cars in a year or two is not reasonable.”

As far as drivers are concerned, Haas said he would prefer to team a young American driver with a veteran Formula One competitor. Haas dismissed the idea of moving one of his NASCAR drivers to the Formula One program.

“Ideally, I think what we would like is to have an experienced Formula One driver, probably someone who is familiar with the current engine package rules,” Haas said. “Then going forward we’d certainly like to have a young American driver. That would be the ideal situation. At the moment we haven’t really narrowed it down.”