The Stewart-Haas NASCAR team has announced plans to switch to Ford power. They will part ways with Chevrolet and “campaign Ford Fusions beginning in 2017.”
Social media immediately woke up in utter shock following the announcement. Telling a “Chevy guy” that his team is switching to Ford could be a risky situation. What possible reason could Gene Haas have for wanting Ford power? And if he’s switching engine suppliers, why not Toyota? Why did it have to be Ford?
The move to Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing is more about strategic alliances than race day performance. Gene Haas is passionate about his Haas Automation business and everything else is an extension of it, including both of his high profile race teams. This is often a bitter pill for fans to swallow at times, but you need a healthy goose to lay those golden eggs necessary to race cars. From a strategic perspective within the Haas organization, the switch does make sense … is Ford returning to Formula 1?
Gene Haas is piloting his empire from the top of a large corporate heap. Apparently he has a problem with his NASCAR outfit, a conflict with the engine supplier. No specific reason was given for the change, but a conflict or potential conflict does exist with Chevrolet. Co-owner Tony Stewart is quoted in the official press release saying “This new partnership with Ford allows us to strengthen our position in the sport and ensure the long-term stability and success for everyone who is part of Stewart-Haas Racing”. I believe that the “everyone” Tony refers to is the Haas F1 Team. The clincher for me is the quote from Gene Haas himself, “but this opportunity with Ford allows us to evolve while continuing to compete at the highest levels of the sport”. My interpretation: the NASCAR re-alignment with Ford implies a pluralistic impact. So Mr. Haas is looking at something else from his leadership perch, and he refers to “racing levels”. NASCAR is already the highest level of stock car racing. There is no higher level of racing than Formula 1, and that is where his focus is now.
To outsiders the Haas F1 team seemed a bit disjointed from the rest of the Haas entities. Early Haas critics seemed to pick up on this. Headlines in the Fall of 2015 said that Haas was in for a “rude awakening” on several points related to being an F1 team owner. One of those points specifically was geography, and the problem of logistics to this green horn team owner. But the reality is. the Haas organization is globalizing their C-N-C automation business, and Formula 1 is just part of that strategy. His geography concerns include more than his Formula 1 interests. Gene Haas is already solving much bigger geography problems than his critics take into account. Haas Automation is driving his strategic priorities not the interests of the the NASCAR or Formula 1 teams.
The move to Ford for the NASCAR outfit does not fix the engine manufacturer mis-match between their NASCAR and F1 cars. From an F1 journalistic point of view, the two are seemingly unrelated. But from a global marketing stance of CNC machines, it breaks brand continuity. A relationship with Ford for both NASCAR and F1 would further their marketing range. Stewart-Haas team president Brett Frood is quoted in the press release to say “This future partnership enables us to continue delivering across these silos (an environment of competitiveness, performance, teamwork and family) and exceed our commitments to our fans, partners and employees”. The teams could be cross marketed as a Ford showcase. It makes good business sense, and a win for Ford.
There is yet another other part of this alliance which also fits, and perhaps more loosely related to a Ford Formula 1 program, and that is Roush. Roush-Yates will be supplying the engines for the Haas NASCAR program. The Roush enjoys a very mature and integrated relationship with Ford, not just in the manufacturer and marketing of Mustang after market components, but R&D. And Ford has been expanding their racing program. They recently made a huge splash with the introduction of the Ford GT. Though their performance at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was met with teething problems, their intent and enthusiasm for the GT program is undeniable. And I believe this seeming isolated announcement today is just one piece of larger plans coming from Ford and Haas. A senior level contact within the Roush organization confirmed to me that it is reasonable to suspect Ford’s interested in F1 at this time and Roush could realistically be involved in the development of a Ford F1 power unit. The contact did not confirm the existence of a Ford F1 program.
The Stewart-Haas press release has shocked many people. How does this make any sense? Fans are un-following Stewart-Haas on twitter over this. But when you put a big Blue Ford Oval around the entire Haas Empire, and a Ford Eco-Boost power unit in a Haas F1 car, it starts to make a lot of sense. This is speculation, and would never happen with this generation of F1 car and engine. But announcements like this is what long range strategic planning looks like, the end game is not always apparent. And a decision with large reaching impact like this rarely happens in isolation. The Haas story is only getting better!