Günther Steiner has been in post as team principal of Haas F1 since the American outfit joined Formula 1, and he sat down with Paddock Magazine’s Dániel Horváth to discuss various topics regarding motorsports, business and management.
You started your career as a mechanic and you’re now the team principal of the MoneyGram Haas F1 Team. How did you manage to work your way up?
It’s a little bit of everything, really. You need to work hard and have dedication and passion for the sport. You need to be in the right place at the right time. It definitely helps if you have some luck, I can’t deny it. You can only make it if you get the chance at the right time. It’s mainly the passion for the sport. I’ve always liked racing cars and the world of racing; however, I’ve never dreamt of working in Formula 1. I just did what I enjoyed; when you enjoy what you’re doing, you can do a good job. I couldn’t do a job if I didn’t enjoy it.
When did you decide that you want to work in motorsports?
When I was about 20 years old. Actually, there was no motorsport where I come from, so I never thought I’d do something in this business. I moved from Northern Italy to Belgium to get my first job in motorsport. Times were different back in the ’80s, and when I moved away from home, I took a risk. I left my job, and I tried this one. Thank God it worked out. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
Is it true that you didn’t finish your engineering studies?
Yes, that’s correct. I didn’t finish it because I got an opportunity to work as a motorsport mechanic and decided to accept that job.
Is being a Formula 1 team principal your dream job?
It’s a strange thing because I’ve never had a dream job. I like my job and wouldn’t go for another one now. However, you never know what’s coming up. At the moment, I’m thrilled, but it doesn’t mean that if something comes up, what I like more, whatever it is… If I look back, everything happened very quickly in my career. I was not interested in getting into Formula 1, and I got in because I got a call. I was thrilled and didn’t look for a job when the Formula 1 opportunity came up. Maybe something comes up that interests me more in a year or two – I have no idea.
Which is the best memory you experienced as team principal of Haas?
I’d pick our debut in Australia in 2016. Many people were naysayers, claiming that it couldn’t be done, that you’d be just like all the other new teams. We were there on time, we were well organized and we scored points.
What’s your leadership style like?
I’m very direct, and I give people a lot of freedom. Freedom means for me accountability. If you want a job, you need to do well. Otherwise, it’s not there anymore. I don’t micromanage; I like being informed of what’s happening and being up-to-date. I don’t know all small things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t manage them. If someone does something wrong, I say, “Hey, I think you missed this one”. I always say that let your people work for you, don’t work for them. There is no point in paying people and I’m doing all the work.
What is a team meeting like with Günther Steiner?
I motivate people and tell them what’s going on. I’m not the guy who only tells you the good news. If there is bad news, I tell the bad ones as well. Giving bad news is also an opportunity to find solutions. I’m often like “this is what’s going to happen, and this is what we’re going to do, and I need your help”. If you do it this way, you’ll see who is helping and who is not.
Many people got to know you through the Netflix series. Is it the real Günther Steiner?
Yes, absolutely. I’m sure you know that I haven’t watched the Netflix series, and I’m not an actor. I’m not acting – I don’t need to do that. I don’t change my attitude and character. If you ask people that I worked together 20 or 25 years ago, they can confirm that I haven’t changed.
Maybe something comes up that interests me more in a year or two – I have no idea.
You told us last year that Haas is expected to reach F1’s cost cap in 2023. What’s the current status? Will you hit the $135 million cap?
If you buy stuff – like we do, the cost cap is lower. It’s a complex formula, and in the end, the result is a lower number than 135. I don’t think we’ll reach it entirely. When our budget was made, the inflation rate wasn’t defined, and then the cost cap was raised with the inflation rate by F1. Anyway, to answer you strictly, we’ll not wholly get there.
You’ve reached some bigger sponsorship deals recently, like Chipotle or MoneyGram. What makes the Haas F1 Team attractive for such partners?
The general thing is that Formula 1 has become more popular in the States, so Chipotle and MoneyGram are also interested in the sport. MoneyGram is a global company, and Chipotle is also on the way to becoming global, and it’s one of the best platforms for them. Some people like underdog teams such as Haas. There are ten teams in Formula 1; they all have a character, and some people like how we conduct business.
Otmar Szafnauer said that he didn’t receive direct reports from departments like finance or HR and criticized the structure of Alpine. What is it like at Haas? Do all these departments report to you?
We work together; at the end of the day, that’s all my responsibility, and I take responsibility for everything. As I said, I prefer to work together with people rather than get reports from people. If there are people who don’t report you directly, you still need to work together with them to ensure that you get the best possible job for the company. My approach is different, and I don’t really have an opinion on what Otmar said. It’s my opinion on how I conduct business.
What is it like working with Gene Haas?
Interesting. Gene is a very successful businessman with Haas Automation. Gene doesn’t micromanage, but he’s always there for me, so if I need to speak to someone before a big decision, he’s always willing to give advice. Of course, he wants me to decide because I need to be responsible, and I can’t go back saying that you decided that.
My approach different, and I don’t really have an opinion on what Otmar said.
Do you have specific goals regarding results for the next couple of years?
We’re working on bringing updates to the car this year. Obviously, we want to make the car go quicker. We also need to change the car concept, as we had the same idea for almost two years and we don’t make progress anymore. We need to try something different because there is no point in running against the wall, so we try to do something. Hopefully, we’ll get some good results.
In which area does the team need to improve the most?
Mainly aerodynamically. That’s not because of the facilities, they’re great, and we use the same wind tunnel as Ferrari, so I can’t complain. We need to open our eyes and work more efficiently in that area.
Do you think that Formula 1 has reached its peak?
I don’t think F1 is at its peak now; we need a moment of stabilization. Formula 1 is an excellent place to be at the moment. As you mentioned before, there are many young fans following the sport. Usually, they’re here to stay and watch it, but we need to ensure we attract the next young generation as well. This sport has gained the most percentage of the young generation watching us. We need a few more years to stabilize the business, which can still grow.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Basically, I like to stay with my family. I don’t have much free time, so I can’t do too much.
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