Unless you’re Alpine, it was hard not to be impressed by Haas at last month’s United States Grand Prix.
From a cool photoshoot in a saloon bar to Stars and Stripes on the livery, Haas was embracing America. But then, that was perhaps a little easier to do as it announced its major new title sponsor – Dallas-based MoneyGram – ahead of the race weekend.
For all the broader reasons that Formula 1 is attractive to sponsors right now, Haas can definitely lean on ‘the Guenther Steiner effect.’ The team principal doesn’t particularly like the limelight, but he’s also willing to embrace it, to such an extent that t-shirts featuring his face and iconic expletive-ridden quotes were handed out at a team BBQ the same day the new title deal was made public.
It’s a deal Haas had been working on for some time, but it’s not quite the sign of the American boom you might think it is. In fact, according to Steiner himself, it might just be the precursor.
“I wouldn’t say (there was a lot of interest from America), because I think MoneyGram is a little bit ahead of the wave,” Steiner tells RACER. “I think there is more to come from the U.S., and hopefully MoneyGram opened the door to other people.
“Interest has risen in F1 – you get all the fans, but the corporates, they don’t react instantly. It’s like ‘OK, it’s interesting, but let’s see if it sticks, let’s see where it goes, and let’s see who else does it first’ so they have somebody to compare with.
“I know Oracle is on the Red Bull car, but that’s a different dimension of things. Oracle is an American company, but they are really big. I think MoneyGram is the company, an American company that thought F1 could help us grow our global business to do more. F1 is growing so they looked into it and they were like ‘Wow, this is actually a big sport’ and then they got interested and in the end they joined us as a partner, which is great.”
Before I go any further, I know what you’re thinking. Rich Energy, Uralkali – Haas hasn’t exactly had a great track record when it comes to its title partnerships. It does feel like MoneyGram is a different agreement though, and one that Steiner feels is a reflection of the team’s commercial growth.
“I don’t even think about [past sponsors],” he says. “We have done our due diligence, I have got a much stronger team around me now to work with these people and get to these deals.
“The deal was done with very tough negotiations and that shows that it will work. They know what they are doing, they know what they want to get out of it, and that makes me confident that they want to do this. They have got a clear target what they want to achieve out of this program, they are not doing it because they woke up one morning and would like to do it – it’s a publicly-traded company and they need to deliver.
“They will make it work for them and we need to work with them to achieve their goal. I’m not worried about whether it will work or not. If it doesn’t work or not, we’ll cross that bridge should we get to it, but at the moment I’m not intimidated that we should get into a problem with this.”
That commercial growth has prompted Haas to bring in a new marketing director, and in many ways take advantage of the split with Uralkali earlier this year. That was a deal of convenience to keep the team running after the COVID-19 pandemic, but now it’s riding the wave of interest in F1 in a budget cap era.
“It’s all work, but that is part of my job, of the team’s job now, to do it,” he says. “We’ve made a big step over the last two years – when we were where we were, we got a lot better in certain things. We got better at finding sponsors. You see now the sponsors on the car… I think we did a big step.
“(The Uralkali split) gave us a break. We just realized we need to do something and we started with a new marketing director in January and he is doing a good job, but we didn’t start to recruit him in January, we started last year.
“It’s the same for everybody; you work and you do things and all of a sudden they come together. And you say ‘how did you do it?’ ‘Oh we started over a year ago working on this and now it comes together’. It always shows that you need to keep on doing what you think is the right thing to do. Never say ‘Oh, this doesn’t work now’ – no, it works.”
While Haas’s focus over the last few years has been on survival, the team has always had Gene Haas to keep the wheels turning while the team worked to make commercial sense. That doesn’t mean the team owner told Steiner to find more sponsorship, either, but in a year when a number of multi-million dollar deals have been concluded, the team principal admits it puts him in a position to continue the team’s growth.
“We know where we need to get to,” Steiner says. “He gives us all the backing that we need but he tells you clearly ‘this is what we need to achieve as a company’ and how we achieve it he leaves… ‘that’s your problem, not my one’.
“This puts you in a situation where we say ‘we did what the investor is trying to achieve’. We need to have an F1 team which is commercially viable, that nobody has to subsidize it. Any company has to achieve that. That’s a very fair target, and if I don’t like it then I can choose to go as well. This is part of why I like it here – you’re given a target, nobody interferes with how you achieve it as long as you do it, and then he gives you all the backing you want.”
It couldn’t be a more dramatically different picture from two years ago, when Haas took on Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher and accepted it was set for a tough year as the rookies learned their craft. That was out of necessity due to commercial considerations, but now all decisions on the second driver for 2023 – as already evidenced by the re-signing of Kevin Magnussen – are taken without financial thoughts.
“It’s a fantastic place to be,” Steiner agrees. “It’s a good place to be – we just need to make the right (driver) decision, which is now the issue…”