Brought to you by TJ13 contributor, Tourdog
There’s an old F1 saying. The quickest way to become a millionaire in F1 – is to start as a billionaire, and Gene Haas is the latest of the F1 millionaire wannabe’s set to throw his hand into the ring and compete in Formula One. Haas believes his approach to building a Formula One team is new and unique, and will avoid the mistakes made by the likes of HRT and Caterham.
This series of articles will chart the Gene Haas journey from F1 hopeful to actual team on the grid for 2016. Clearly the journey Haas undertook has provided him with a swift education on all things F1, which has led to the odd change of plan along the way.
On December the 12th 2013, the FIA announced a “call for expressions of interest” from anyone wishing to join Formula One.
Just over four weeks later, Gene Haas declared his interest in a statement which read: “We have responded to the FIA’s call for expression of interest regarding a Formula 1 entry on behalf of Haas Racing Development. We respect the FIA’s evaluation process and will share more details in the coming weeks.”
By the 28th of February 2014, the FIA announced they were delaying decisions on future F1 entries. In that interim period, reports began to emerge that the FIA would be relaxing the rules on technology sharing in F1, which meant the NASCAR team owner would be able to acquire most of what was required to construct an F1 car construction from Maranello and Dallara.
Less than a week later, Gene Haas revealed on March 3rd, “They [the FIA] said they were going to have a decision by [last] Friday. They notified us on Friday that, no, they were just one part of that decision-making process, that the decision making process would come later.
“They didn’t give us an exact date, but hopefully it will be in another week or two, maybe even longer. From what I’ve learned talking to other people, this is fairly normal. There are lots of dates they have. They don’t really make a decision until they’re sure what they want the decision to be.
“They wanted to meet with us. It was about an hour and a half meeting where they asked us a lot of questions about how we intend to do this, how do we intend to pay for it, what are the logistics of how you’re going to do this.”
Haas comments are most revealing, particularly as to the nature of the due diligence the FIA actually performs on potential entrants to a multi billion dollar sport; a sport where the teams require at least $100m dollars to just build a car and go racing. A 90 minute interview is fairly standard for a corporate entities first interview for a middle management recruit.
There was little news about the Haas F1 project for some five weeks and then on April 11th 2014, the big announcement was made. The FIA released a statement which said, “In close consultation with the CRH [commercial rights holder], the FIA has accepted the candidature of Haas Formula LLC and are in the process of conducting further investigations for Forza Rossa.”
Gene Haas response was predictable: “Obviously, we’re extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA. It’s an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula One. Now, the really hard work begins. It’s a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid.”
As an aside, the FIA approval of Forza Rossa was for a Romanian financed F1 project to be led by Colin Kolles, who following Tony Fernandes abdication from Formula One, had been parachuted in to run the failing Caterham team.
Kolles quickly realised the Caterham F1 project was doomed due to lack of finance and debt and that insolvency proceedings were around the corner. So he told his father to resign as the newly nominated Caterham director and appointed the factory janitor to this statutory role. Constantin Cojocar became listed at companies house as the sole officer of the firm, which was clearly an arrangement to protect Kolles from liability claims.
Cojacar later stated in court in November 2014, “In June 2014, Forza Rossa received a letter of intent from the FIA, allowing it to enter Formula 1 in the next two years. Forza Rossa hopes to race in the 2015 season, but time to prepare is running short”.
The ex-Romanian professional footballer-come toilet cleaner in Leafield also revealed the Kolles plan was to rape and pillage Caterham’s intellectual property in his pursuit of getting Forza Rossa established: “I have been involved with a consortium of Romanian investors who saw an opportunity to purchase Caterham Sports, clear its debts and sell racing services to the Forza Rossa team…The intention was to sell or lease to 1MRT those assets 1MRT requires, and to sell or lease the remaining assets to Forza Rossa.”
Forza Rossa were in effect stealing Caterham’s Intellectual Property for their 2015 car design, and TJ13 was given specific first hand evidence of this, reported on this site. Disappointingly, this debacle showed up the FIA’s approval process for new teams to be woeful at best.
Next up in the story of Haas journey to F1 were rumours that the recently departed Ferrari team boss, Stefano Domenicali, would be heading to the Haas team. However, Domenicali surfaced at VW and was tasked with delivering a feasibility report to asses the opportunities F1 provided.
Then, on April 29th 2014, Haas confirmed that Dallara would be designing their chassis and bodywork and the newly appointed Haas Team Principal, Gunther Steiner, clarified the Haas F1 entry timescales: “We’ve got the option to start in ’16 if we think it is not doable in a good, professional way for ’15.”
At this time the Italian media reported that Haas officials were to travel to Maranello and meet with the new Scuderia Team Principal, Marco Mattiacci. The objective? To secure a power unit supply for the Haas F1 cars. Gene Haas then revealed that his team would be relying on Ferrari as a “technology partner” for much more than just a V6 Turbo Hybrid power unit.
Haas also claimed he would be outsourcing the “transmissions, KERS systems, suspensions, steering wheel. All of those things are going to come packaged to us.” This meant that Haas F1 would become an assembler of a Formula One car and Gene admitted, so our main thing is just focusing on the construction of the aero and chassis and getting to the races.”
Gene Haas strategy for his team’s F1 entry was now set. “We are trying to nail down a technology partner,” he told Autosport. “We’ve spent a lot of time with Ferrari, and talked a little bit with Mercedes. Engine supplier is only half the equation here, and we’re still working on that. If we were going to race in 2015 we would have had to have done that package[Dallara]. We have 50 per cent of what we need to start building our own cars, and the ultimate goal is to do that, and that’s the way we are going to go. But that list of parts we can buy, as it increases, we want to be the team that takes advantage of that rule and try to buy as much as we can. It just costs too much to make all these intricate little detailed parts.”
Haas F1 team principal, Gunther Steiner, provided more detail. “We will pick up from our technical partner the Team Psuspension and all those parts because appendix 6 [listed parts that teams must make themselves] is changing next year. We will take on making the remaining stuff ourselves, like the chassis. If it had been 2015 then we wouldn’t have had the time to do it, so now with a little more time we can do that ourselves without going to an outside supplier. With the list expanding, that is how we want to act, so therefore the negotiations are a little longer with technical partners because nobody has done that yet.”
At this point, Gene Haas still did not actually have a deal with Ferrari and when asked about the deadlines he responded: “I would hope we could do that in the next few weeks. Even though we are not racing until 2016, a year is going to go by pretty quick. So it’s important to have a relationship with somebody we can get started with.”
The route into partnership with Ferrari for Haas was clearly to provide Maranello with a quid pro quo supply of equipment and services type arrangement. This was demonstrated by a press release from Maranello on July 3rd stated: “It has been announced today that Haas Automation, the world’s largest producer of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines in the United States, is to sponsor Scuderia Ferrari until the end of the 2015 season. The agreement comes into force immediately and, as from tomorrow’s free practice for the British Grand Prix, the F14 Ts driven by Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen will carry the company’s logo on the side pods. The partnership marks Haas Automation’s entry to the world of Formula 1, prior to it becoming title sponsor of Gene Haas’ team when it enters the sport in 2016”.
Marco Mattiacci was also keen to welcome the latest addition to the Ferarri family. “We are pleased to welcome Haas Automation as our newest Official Supplier. This agreement strengthens our existing connections with the USA, an important market not only for our company, but also for Scuderia Ferrari, as it is one where the team already benefits from several important partnerships. Over the past few months, we have been exploring with Haas a number of potential areas of collaboration, and this agreement is an immediate opportunity that we are pursuing, which proves Haas’ interest in Formula One.
This collaboration will enable Haas Automation to reinforce its brand awareness and promote its products and services around the world, thanks to the appeal of Scuderia Ferrari and the global reach of Formula One. We are therefore delighted to make this announcement, which sees another premium brand join our portfolio of partners. In parallel, but as a separate project, Haas is committed to entering Formula One with its own team, a testimony to the growing appeal of our sport in the USA and on this front, technical discussions are ongoing between us.”
Whether Maranello now actually uses plant machinery supplied by Haas, is not known. Yet Gene has now positioned himself and his F1 team nicely to take advantage of whatever Ferrari has to offer.
(Next up, the shift in the relationship between Haas and Ferrari)