Advertisement

Haas part company with larger-than-life team principal Guenther Steiner

Haas part company with larger-than-life team principal Guenther Steiner
Guenther Steiner was a popular member of the F1 paddock - Getty Images /Jakub Porzycki

Guenther Steiner, the Haas F1 principal who achieved huge fame off the back of Netflix’s smash hit Formula One: Drive to Survive series, has left the American team with immediate effect following their 10th place finish in last year’s championship.

The Italian-American, known for his goatee beard and fondness for swearing, started the team himself in 2014 from the ashes of Banbury-based Marussia, before persuading machine tools manufacturing millionaire Gene Haas to fund it.

Steiner’s contract was up for renewal at the end of last year, and team owner Haas opted not to extend it after the team finished 10th and last. The two reportedly disagreed over the way forward, with Steiner asking for more investment to keep up with rivals.

Steiner’s idea for a team 10 years ago was to create one which did not require huge investment in infrastructure but rather worked on alliances with other teams and manufacturers and on making clever use of the rules at the time. Although Haas’ cars are now designed by their own staff, they are still manufactured by Dallara and they use Ferrari engines and gearboxes, plus certain permitted suspension parts.

But with rivals such as Williams and Sauber using their capex allowance to invest in new facilities, it is thought Steiner was petitioning for more investment.

Gene Haas apparently preferred to focus on making more efficient use of the resources the team already has at its disposal. Steiner will be replaced as team principal by erstwhile director of engineering Ayao Komatsu, whose brief, according to a team statement released on Wednesday, will be “to maximise the team’s potential through employee empowerment and structural process and efficiency”.

It remains to be seen how Steiner’s departure will be greeted by the team’s sponsors, with his profile as a team principal probably behind only Toto Wolff and Christian Horner.

Haas part company with larger-than-life team principal Guenther Steiner
Red Bull Racing's Christian Horner and Steiner (L) share a light moment during a press conference at the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix - Shutterstock/Christian Bruna

The 58-year-old became a cult figure thanks to Drive to Survive, with fans constantly chasing his autograph, many wearing ‘Top Gunth’ T-shirts bearing his face instead of Tom Cruise’s.

Alex Holmes, the chief executive of Haas’ title sponsor Moneygram, gave an interview last year in which he made it clear that Steiner was an important part of the team’s appeal.

“We had seen that effect of Gunther when we first met and we went out to dinner,” Holmes told Motorsport.com.

“People were coming up to the table in the middle of dinner and wanting a photo, and they were just giddy to see him. And he’s so funny, so genuine. He’s like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on!’.

“To see that star effect that he has, and how that comes across, that’s who he is. And I think that genuineness really shows through. And for us to also be able to attach our brand to his is very special.”

Steiner, who began his motorsport career in rallying before moving to F1, initially with Jaguar and Red Bull, has not yet commented on his departure.

In the statement from the team, owner Haas said: “I’d like to start by extending my thanks to Guenther Steiner for all his hard work over the past decade and I wish him well for the future. Moving forward as an organisation it was clear we need to improve our on-track performances. In appointing Ayao Komatsu as Team Principal we fundamentally have engineering at the heart of our management.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.