Guenther Steiner’s appearances in the Formula 1 Netflix documentary and colorful language have made him something of a cult figure in the paddock. There’s now a spoof Twitter account that even the Haas team principal himself admits is funny (although it nearly landed him in hot water in Baku when an FIA official believed it to be a verified personal account).
But there will have been some choice words flying from his mouth following the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, when Haas failed to fully capitalize on an opportunity for a decent points haul.
Let’s start with the good. Haas was extremely competitive throughout the weekend in Barcelona, locking out the fourth row in qualifying and scoring points with both cars as after major upgrade – featuring a new front wing, floor, bargeboards and even mirrors – helped keep the tires in the working range.
But the tinge of regret came from Romain Grosjean’s late slip down to 10th place, which came after the Frenchman having been running in seventh until a Safety Car period allowed Kevin Magnussen to attack.
Magnussen is known for being aggressive, but he hadn’t been in Grosjean’s updated mirrors for much of the race. After the Safety Car his assertiveness paid off, when the Dane was able to get heat into his tires more quickly and force his way past.
Steiner let the drivers fight, twice, but after Grosjean had to go off track at Turn 1 on consecutive laps in response to Magnussen’s robust defense, he took to team radio to tell the drivers to stop.
Magnussen held seventh, Grosjean’s tires took a while to come back to him, and the Frenchman slipped behind the slower Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat but just held on for the final point. And then Steiner got to work.
“Kevin, the first one to come and see me, please,” Steiner said on the radio during the lap after the checkered flag.
“Sure, no problem,” Magnussen replied.
“Romain, this is Guenther. I will sort this out. Stay calm, come back easy, we speak afterwards. Please just stay calm. Thank you.”
The initial impression was that Steiner’s greater anger was directed at Magnussen, but after holding what he described as “clear the air” talks with both drivers, the Haas team principal was keen not to point the finger of blame at either.
“It is neither here nor there, and I told them ‘I’m not sitting here until midnight looking at videos to see whose fault it is’,” Steiner said on Sunday night. “We need to learn from this and move forward. We got away quite lucky, even if we lost some points – in the end we still had two cars in the points, which is always good.
“They have a good relationship between the two of them, they had that before and I wanted to make sure there is nothing said from one which upsets the other one, so I got them both straight after the race, we talked it through maybe for 15 minutes and we said ‘We move on from this and don’t do it again’. Can I promise that they won’t do it again? No.”
Even if race performances have been a source of frustration for Haas so far this season, the driver problems are a good one for Steiner to be having. One year ago, Grosjean was spinning wildly at Turn 3 and causing a major crash on the opening lap, frustrating his team boss even further.
Twelve months later, both Haas drivers are scrapping over the same piece of tarmac late in the race. It’s how it should be.
“There are no problems at all,” Magnussen says. “We got seven points on Sunday and that’s the most we have had since Australia, so it was a good day all round.
“You know, Guenther always sounds angry. It’s normal. No matter what he says, even if he is wishing you happy birthday! There are no problems; it’s all fine. I’m sure there were some heated radio messages in the race, but we are fighting hard for position and there was a bit of contact, but it is what it is.”
But Steiner must be aware that Magnussen’s attitude – which is exactly the one he wants to see – will continue to provide him with the right type of headache if Grosjean maintains his current form too. The Dane races hard, even against his team-mate.
“At the end of the day, nothing happened between us,” he says. “I got P7 and scored six points, he scored one point but could have scored more, he had the pace, but didn’t for different reasons. It wasn’t what happened between me and him that meant we didn’t score more points.
“He went off and came back on track behind me, and then lost positions to other people, so it’s not that I pushed him off the track and then he lost a lot of positions – that didn’t happen. We were fighting hard, but it looked harder than it was because we had contact on that Safety Car restart, which I don’t see what I could have done different and I don’t think he intended to… I think it was a bit of misjudgment, and there were a lot of cars around, and these things can happen on a Safety Car restart or on lap one.
“After that, there was no contact. It looked worse because he went off the track and around the bollard and all that, but at the end of the day, he came back right behind me and then in the laps after he lost positions.”
Magnussen’s no-nonsense approach is one of the reasons Haas signed him in the first place. In Spain, Grosjean was quicker for the majority of the weekend, but Magnussen is not of the mindset to file in behind his team-mate in the closing stages and try to protect seventh and eighth for the team when seventh can be claimed for himself.
After two rounds of Magnussen v Grosjean in Spain, Steiner told the pair to calm down – “But we know what he means!” Magnussen admits – and the use of team orders in future isn’t off the table, given the struggles Haas has faced at times this year.
Too often, points went astray last season due to team errors, or individual driver ones. This season, tire issues have meant a clearly quick car is often uncompetitive. In order to start clawing back some of those lost points, Steiner may have to make the uncomfortable call to stop his drivers racing in order to maximize the team’s return.
“That’s not going to be my decision,” Magnussen says.” Sometimes you may be in a position when you don’t want your drivers to race, and sometimes you can leave us to race, but it’s Guenther and Gene’s decision. So whatever they tell us, we will stick to that. But there are no team orders and no-one told us not to race each other. We are racing drivers, so what else are we paid to do?”
If he does have to make that call, Steiner will make it clearly and firmly, because he’ll have two drivers more than ready to go toe-to-toe with each other. But it’s a decision he’ll want to have, because it shows both are pushing the car to its potential.