Haas is at the centre of a growing debate about the nature of alliances between Formula 1 teams, with several rival team bosses arguing the regulations need to be changed to eliminate the risk of such collaborations being too close.
Haas has had a technical partnership with Ferrari since it joined the F1 grid in 2016. This means it not only receives a supply of Ferrari engines and gearboxes but also of what are called “transferrable parts.” This includes suspension pieces and many of the mechanical bits required for an F1 car – but excludes aerodynamic surfaces, the monocoque and other key components.
It also shares Ferrari’s windtunnel, with a Haas design hub set up at Maranello that is largely staffed by personnel that have moved across from the Italian team.
This is perfectly legal as both teams have stressed it is entirely independent of Ferrari despite being in the same location. Haas team principal Guenther Steiner recently said that, “We have got the FIA at our place more often than you think. They are there to check it out and they want that,” of the monitoring of its operations.
Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer has expressed surprise about the leap forward Haas has made this year. In 2021, Haas was last in the constructors’ championship and failed to score a point, but Kevin Magnussen finished fifth in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix then ninth in Saudi Arabia in a strong start to the season.
“It’s a small team that’s done well over the winter from last to sometimes third fastest team,” said Szafnauer
“I thought that the pecking order would stay almost the same because, over the years that I’ve been in Formula 1, the bigger the regulation change, the more it favors those with know-how and the infrastructure and the tools to exploit the new rules.
“So it’s a bit surprising that Haas are where they are for a small team. But I trust the FIA will investigate and come to the right conclusion between how similar the two cars are.”
Alpine, along with Alfa Romeo, has so far been Haas’ closest rival in the battle at the front of F1’s midfield.
Szafanuer argued that, given the difficulty of policing the regulations preventing the sharing of car-design information, there’s an argument for making changes to make this more straightforward.
“In an ideal world, the rules are pretty clear and the difficulty is policing,” said Szafnauer. “So if the policing of the rules is impossible, then we should change the rules so that they are able to be policed such that the playing field is even. There’s more discussion to be had with the FIA and perhaps a bit of reform on the rules such that they can be policed.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff also argues for reform of the regulations to prevent such controversies.
He pointed to the transfer of personnel; something that has been created by the need for the big teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – to adapt to the cost cap. This was introduced last year and dropped to a new baseline level of $140million per season in 2022, necessitating the reallocation of employees.
In the case of Red Bull, team principal Christian Horner has said this impacted “close to 100” employees, some of which were moved across to sister team AlphaTauri.
Wolff hinted at concerns about the sharing of information, which is difficult to police. Although it’s more straightforward to check for the sharing of actual design data, knowledge that can be transferred through conversations and other informal means is much more difficult to monitor.
“I think it needs to reform because we want to avoid the kind of discussions that we have had from the last few weeks,” said Wolff. “Everybody deserves to perform well and people should get credit when they have done a good job.
“But some of the job-hopping, or entity-hopping, on the same premises is just creating arguments that are not necessary for the sport.
“We have Aston Martin in the windtunnel that, two years ago, we had quite a storm about. We have been handling that with the utmost diligence. But going forward, if we were to need to compromise our income ability, we need to do this because none of the teams should be able to cooperate in a way that we’re seeing with some.”
While Mercedes has outpaced Haas so far this season, it isn’t far ahead of the American team.
Wolff expressed surprise at Mercedes, which has won 15 out of the last 16 drivers’ and constructors’ championship, having to compete with a much smaller team.
“Haas has made a huge jump from being last into being solidly into Q3 in Bahrain,” said Wolff. ”So that’s an interesting step.
“For us, it’s a learning exercise because an organisation we have 1000 people and we’ve been successful in the past. Suddenly, you’re fighting a team that’s much smaller in size, so they must have done a super job.”
McLaren has been critical of such arrangements for some time. It’s a fully-independent team that does not have a technical partnership with any other teams beyond its Mercedes power supply.
Team principal Andreas Seidl said that its concerns were about the whole F1 landscape, not specifically focused on Haas. But he argues that the rules should be changed to prevent such expansive technical partnerships.
“In Formula 1, the maximum that you should be allowed to share is the power unit and the gearbox internals,” said Seidl. “There should be no sharing of any infrastructure and so on, because as soon as you allow that, IP transfer is happening on the car side.
“We know from the FIA that it’s difficult to police, and if something is not possible to police then you need to ban it. It makes B-teams overly competitive compared to teams like us and at the same time the A-teams are also benefitting, which is even more worrying for us.
“We just hope with all the dialogue that is happening with F1 and several teams that we finally see some action in the next years in order to correct this situation.”
AlphaTauri shares the Red Bull windtunnel and team principal Franz Tost argues it would waste money not to allow this.
He says that AlphaTauri and Red Bull are entirely compliant with the regulations and that there is no exchange of technical information.
“It’s a good way to work together with another team,” said Tost. “In the past, for example, we designed our gearbox, we had our own windtunnel and this is a waste of money.
“To go in the direction that every team now has to have its own windtunnel — It’s an absolute waste of money and also not balanced with sustainability.
“We 100% respect the rules. We share a windtunnel with Red Bull Technology, but there is absolutely no exchange of technical information. Nothing.”
The debate about team partnerships has raged in F1 for years, with Haas’ arrival in 2016 one of the factors that led to this flaring up. As Steiner has said many times in the past, the criticism of Haas tends to ebb and flow depending on how competitive it is.
There’s no indication that the FIA plans to modify the regulations but there is sustained pressure from certain teams for such changes.
While the FIA is happy Haas is operating within the regulations, any changes for future seasons that result from such pressure could mean the team has to make changes.