MEDLAND: Behind Haas' decision to stay in F1

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MEDLAND: Behind Haas' decision to stay in F1

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MEDLAND: Behind Haas' decision to stay in F1

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On Wednesday morning, Formula 1 confirmed that all 10 teams currently on the grid have agreed to the new Concorde Agreement, committing to the sport until 2025.

Prior to that announcement, there had been no formal word from Haas stating its intention to remain in F1 beyond the end of this year, and many signs had actually pointed to the opposite. Romain Grosjean had already talked about “the elephant in the room” that was Haas’ future only last month in Hungary, and the team was not investing in car developments.

Running a team as cheaply as possible in modern-day F1 is understandable given the global pandemic, but the lack of development on the VF-20 has done nothing to dispel rumors that owner Gene Haas was unwilling to continue investing so much in the sport to promote his machine tooling business.

What changed? The business side did.

“It’s a proper commitment,” team principal Guenther Steiner told RACER, confirming Haas’ Concorde signature. “You cannot just keep on going, thinking, ‘Maybe, maybe not.’ It’s a proper commitment. OK, we are struggling at the moment, but we know why. We just need to build it (back) up. Next year might be difficult as well, but what FOM has done is very good: At least there is value in the team.

“The prize money is also more fairly distributed than before, so you have a chance – if you do a good job – to almost call it a business! The first thing in a business is you don’t lose money; then you make money. That’s how it should be for everybody. That’s what Gene sees, so I think this is a big step.

“Without all of these changes, I don’t think we would have been here for the future. It’s so difficult – the playing field was so different for the big teams compared to the small ones; but now with these new regulations, the budget cap, the redistribution of the prize money … if somebody wants to enter new (paying a) fee, then you get some value out of it.”

Haas remains the “new” team on the grid, and it’s easy to forget this is only its fifth season. The second-oldest team still on the grid today is Red Bull, that started out as Stewart Grand Prix back in 1997. It’s with a strong understanding of that history that Steiner says Haas views its position in the sport today.

“I respect what was done in the past, (and) what was done there was done over a long period of time. This separation between the big and small teams financially – that wasn’t done over two or three years; that was done over 20 years. Now to fix it in one go is not possible, but what we have fixed is pretty dramatic if you think about it.

“From the big teams coming down to these budgets is something quite amazing. Also the redistribution of the money – you cannot adjust that in one contract period to be equal for everybody, but everything was in the right direction.

Significant adjustments to the finances in Formula 1 has persuaded team owner Gene Haas (center) to renew his team’s commitment. Image by Dunbar/Motorsport Images

“Big and small (changes) are relative, but in my opinion it depends where you are. If you are in the bottom end of the classification, it’s not as big as if you’re fourth or fifth. The biggest change is when you get into those places – where we have been in 2018 – and then it’s a big difference. Percentage-wise, it’s a good change. It’s neither big, nor small, it’s just a good change in the right direction.

“What we came out with is a lot better for the sport going into the future.”

RACER understands that the historic and successful teams do still receive additional payments under the new Concorde Agreement terms, but those payments are reduced in comparison to what the rest of the grid can earn. And, with a budget cap of $145 million being implemented from next season onwards, the need to have such a big extra payment is reduced to a degree, especially as the small teams cannot instantly reach that ceiling either.

“Next year we will not be at the budget cap anyway,” Steiner says. “We will work towards it, but for the moment we will not be at the budget cap, so our structure will be the same. I think we are in a good position here for the future because we never were big; we don’t have to come down, we still have room to go up. That’s a good position to be in, in my opinion. So I don’t want to change anything in the structure.”

That lack of change extends to this season too, where Haas will run the same car throughout, without developments or upgrades, focusing on a future it has now committed to.

“No, the development plan will not change for this year. It’s too late anyway. If you went into the wind tunnel now and developed something, it (wouldn’t) be ready. Or maybe you can only get it ready for one or two races, but what are you trying to achieve then? You spend millions and millions – you’re better off investing in next year and 2022.

“The big change will be in 2022 with the new car. Next year, with the freezing of this year’s car, there will not be a lot of changes. We need to just keep our heads down and keep on working and focus on 2022 onwards with the new regulations. That will be the big step where we can level the playing field a little bit.

“It will never be equal, and why should it be? Whoever does the best job should be faster. But that’s the big change which is coming.”

It’s a change that motivates Steiner who says F1’s new Concorde Agreement puts in place a future that will allow teams more opportunity to showcase their abilities, rather than be overshadowed by financial clout.

“That is why I think Gene decided to stay in the sport, because he can see that,” he says. “He’s a smart guy; he can see that there is a future in front of us and we can manage. We’re not dependent on factors from outside which we cannot change; we can change factors now because we’re all very much the same.

“We need to be good now, and then we can show how good we are, whereas at the moment, if you haven’t got the financial means, you cannot show it because there’s such a difference between big and small.”

The impact of the new Concorde won’t be felt instantly, but it has ensured the Stars and Stripes will still adorn a Formula 1 car in the seasons to come.

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