MARGOLIS: Haas F1 a story worth watching
I have to admit that I was skeptical when NASCAR team owner Gene Haas announced that he was to build a new, American-based Formula One team literally from the ground up.
It was going to cost him a lot of money, millions of dollars in fact, for an undertaking that was little more than a marketing campaign for Haas’ engineering companies. What better way to become an even larger player in the international machine tooling industry than to place your name in bright lights on the world’s biggest sports stage – Formula One racing.
Mr. Haas has already shown that not only is he a smart and successful businessman, but that his real talents may lie in his being a savvy marketer. He took his failing NASCAR team and brought in one of the sport’s most successful and respected drivers as his partner and turned it into one of the top teams in the sport. He subsequently, without the knowledge of this new partner, signed down and out Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch to a contract. At the time a questionable decision that has shown to be a brilliant move that resuscitated Busch’s career and image and turned him into a championship contender once again.
I question some of the Haas Formula One team’s key personnel decisions. It starts at the top with the choice of Guenther Steiner to run the organization. Steiner is a likable man who brings a soft racing resume that includes a stint at the helm of the failed Red Bull NASCAR effort. The selection of Romain Grosjean as driver may have been financially motivated, but the Frenchman’s aggressive (read: reckless) driving style is well documented and this choice could backfire. The team’s alliance with Ferrari for power and technical expertise was indeed a wise one, albeit the only choice Haas could make if he wanted to be at all competitive anytime within the first five years of the team’s existence.
Despite these minor flaws in the game plan, newcomer to Formula One appears to be following the right pathway to success.
Never mind that this week, Haas, while talking to journalists at preseason testing in Barcelona admitted that he may have underestimated the complexity of the sport and jumped in “without fully understanding the sport.” It came on the heels of a handful of technical issues that hampered the team’s first official outing.
He also told one writer that “This isn’t North Carolina, I’ve come to realize that.”
It was his Dorothy/Toto moment.
But least he had the moxie to admit it.
No, Mr. Haas you are no dummy. And apparently you walked into this international circus that is Formula One racing with both eyes open as wide as your wallet.
So, whether you are already a Formula One fan or maybe you’re a NASCAR fan whose interest in the open-wheel series has been piqued by Haas’ entry into it, this new team’s trials and tribulations in the vicious jungle that is the world’s most exclusive motorsports series is certainly worth watching. I’m not saying there’s a podium finish waiting in the wings of its freshman season, but I believe this squad will surprise many in the sport, given Haas’ passion for racing and his urgent need for success. He cannot afford to be seen as a failure in this venture.
It is shaping up as a classic David versus Goliath tale. Although I expect this story is likely to have a slightly different ending.
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