Haas F1 drops Steiner as team principal
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Guenther Steiner, the first employee hired by Haas F1 and one of the stars of the Netflix docuseries on Formula One, has not been retained as team principal after a decade with the series' only American team.
Gene Haas made the announcement Wednesday and said director of engineering Ayao Komatsu, who started with Haas as chief race engineer in its 2016 debut season, will now oversee the competition elements as team principal.
Haas said Komatsu will be responsible for overall strategy and on-track performance. Haas also plans to hire a European-based chief operating officer to manage non-competition matters from the team factory in Banbury, England.
Haas in a statement thanked Steiner “for all his hard work over the past decade” but was short of praise for the man who built the Haas F1 team.
“Moving forward as an organization it was clear we need to improve our on-track performances. In appointing Ayao Komatsu as team principal we fundamentally have engineering at the heart of our management," Haas said.
“We have had some successes, but we need to be consistent in delivering results that help us reach our wider goals as an organization. We need to be efficient with the resources we have but improving our design and engineering capability is key to our success as a team," he continued. "I’m looking forward to working with Ayao and fundamentally ensuring that we maximize our potential — this truly reflects my desire to compete properly in Formula 1.”
Haas has never won an F1 race or scored a podium finish.
Steiner, who has a nearly 40-year career in motorsports, had guided Haas F1 since the California businessman was granted the team in 2014. Steiner was hired to build the organization, which splits its operations in both Kannapolis alongside the Haas NASCAR operation and the factory in England.
Steiner has been based in North Carolina, where he moved in 2006 to build Red Bull's entry in NASCAR. Steiner left Red Bull in 2008 but remained in Mooresville and founded FibreWorks Composites, a carbon-composites design and manufacturing company that specializes in racecar development.
When Haas made its F1 debut in 2016, Steiner guided the two-car team to an eighth-place finish in the constructor standings with a total of 29 points — the most of any new team in this millennium. Haas upped its total points to 47 in 2017 and again finished eighth in the constructor standings.
Kevin Magnussen joined the team in 2018 alongside Romain Grosjean and Haas rocketed to fifth in the constructor standings, while Magnussen finished ninth in the driver standings.
That was the high point for Haas, which slipped to ninth in 2019 and 2020, was last in 2021, showed slight improvement in 2022 when it finished eighth, but again finished last on the 10-team grid this past season.
Magnussen thanked Steiner on social media for hiring him in 2017 and then bringing him back in 2022 after Magnussen had been fired by Haas and spent 2021 driving sports cars.
“Thanks for taking me on the journey in 2017 and thanks for bringing me on board again in 2022,” Magnussen wrote. “It has been both fun and tremendously challenging — but never boring. So long and all the best.”
At the same time Haas was struggling on track, Steiner was becoming an international celebrity via the Netflix behind-the-scenes docudrama on F1. The episodes that featured the Haas team and Steiner's brutally frank and expletive-laden rants made Steiner as famous as many of the drivers featured in the series.
Steiner's book released last year, “Surviving to Drive: An exhilarating account of a year inside Formula 1, from the breakout star of Netflix’s Drive to Survive," is a New York Times bestseller. Steiner and Haas communications did not reply to repeated messages from The Associated Press on Tuesday, when AP first learned of his pending ouster.
Haas, the only American-owned team in F1, will again field cars this season for Magnussen, who is Danish, and German driver Nico Hülkenberg.
Komatsu said he's “passionately invested” in Haas' success and is working on a restructuring that will improve on-track performance.
“We are a performance-based business,” Komatsu said. “We obviously haven’t been competitive enough recently which has been a source of frustration for us all. We have amazing support from Gene and our various partners, and we want to mirror their enthusiasm with an improved on-track product."
He worked with Grosjean at Renault before moving to Haas with Grosjean in 2016 as his engineer. Grosjean, who now races in IndyCar, worked under both Steiner and Komatsu at Haas.
“Very happy for Komatsu. First of all, he’s a very good friend of mine,” Grosjean said. “His kids are the same age as my kids, so we’ve been very good friends, and I’m excited for him. It’s a huge challenge in front of him. I wish Guenther all the best in his next chapter. He’s definitely a man that’s got a lot of ideas and things to do, but for me, the main thing is very happy for Ayao.”
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