Gordon Kirby

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This year marks the debut of Gene Haas’s Formula 1 team. Driven by Franco-Swiss Romain Grosjean and Mexican Esteban Gutiérrez, Haas’s Ferrari-powered chassis have run better than expected on occasion with Grosjean scoring points in several races.       

Haas is a very successful entrepreneur who owns Haas Automation, America’s largest CNC machine tool manufacturer. He also co-owns with Tony Stewart one of the top NASCAR teams, Stewart/Haas Racing. Haas started Haas Automation in 1983 to manufacture machine tools in Sun Valley, California. Five years later he introduced a new machine tool called the VF-1 and began to build a global business. He moved his operation to Oxnard, California in 1997 and opened a European manufacturing facility in Belgium in 2000. 

With his new F1 team as a marketing platform, Haas aims to build and expand Haas Automation’s global market. Team Haas has two European bases, one in the UK and the other in Italy, but its home base is in Kannapolis, North Carolina in the heart of NASCAR country. At this year’s Canadian GP
I discussed progress with team principal Günther Steiner. 

“I would say Gene’s strength is that if he doesn’t understand a business he won’t do it,” Steiner said. “He’s very clever in that sense. In the machine tool business he knows what the customer wants. He knows what he wants his people to make and he knows what will sell. He has a strong understanding of that industry and it’s the same in motor sport.

“Some people may not appreciate the work and success Gene has achieved in business because they don’t know about it. People in the machine tool business know how difficult it is to build equipment in the United States to compete against Asia and Germany. Gene has been able to establish a big market share and everyone knows what the Haas brand means.

“To make a viable machine tool business in America is not easy. Labour costs are high, so it says a lot about Gene’s business skills that he can manufacture his products here.”

Ferrari is among the firm’s many customers around the world. Haas and Steiner used that leverage with Ferrari to work out an agreement for Ferrari to supply Team Haas with engines and transmissions mated to Haas chassis built by Dallara. Haas also owns and operates the Windshear wind tunnel in North Carolina, which is a key component in the team’s development.

“The plan is always to go forward,” Steiner said. “We wanted to get here and stabilise the team. We are in the wind tunnel every second week and are now working hard on the 2017 car. The engine package is being developed by Ferrari. Development is relentless. Everybody in the team is doing their job and we’ve had a little bit of success, which has given everyone a good feeling. We will continue to develop the car and keep building on our team of people.”

Steiner says the team plans to continue to operate out of North Carolina. “We will stay in Kannapolis,” he said. “The United States is our headquarters. We have bases in the UK and in Italy, but our home, the team’s home, is in the United States. Maybe in the long term we will make some changes but for the mid-term we will stay in the United States.”

In closing, I asked Steiner what the biggest challenge is for him as Haas’s team principal. “It’s the complexity of everything, the politics, the technical side and the racing,” he said. “I am privileged to be allowed to do this.

“I enjoy it. It’s complicated and difficult, but it’s very motivating. It’s what gets you up every morning.”

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