Will Haas’ Steiner F1 split pay off?

Will Haas’ Steiner F1 split pay off?

Haas opted to make arguably its biggest internal change since it joined the grid in 2016 ahead of the upcoming Formula 1 campaign.

Following a decade-long service at the helm of the team, Guenther Steiner departed the squad and was replaced by Ayao Komatsu, who previously worked as its Director of Engineering.

Haas had been struggling for performance for several seasons and ended last season at the bottom of the championship for the second time in three years.

Team owner Gene Haas felt something had to budge and opted to employ a new face to run the day-to-day operations of the squad.

Steiner has been integral to Haas’ journey so far having worked in tandem with Gene to bring the outfit to the grid for the 2016 campaign.

The Italian was the spokesperson for the squad with Gene Haas rarely visiting during a Grand Prix weekend and as is the case with all Team Principals, the responsibility fell on Steiner’s shoulders.

A burst into stardom for Steiner was an unplanned impact following his role in the popular Netflix Drive To Survive docu-series, which saw F1 accumulate a new generation of fans.

Steiner embraced his new popularity and even released his own book titled Surviving To Drive – all while Haas’ on-track performances failed to improve.

Haas criticism

Criticism has been sent Haas’ way in recent years for its lacklustre performances but with Steiner’s departure and Komatsu’s promotion, Gene Haas reasserted his commitment to F1.

Haas’ decision to promote from within signals that Gene has faith in his staff and acknowledges that Komatsu’s background is critical for Haas’ growth.

Although Steiner also comes from an engineering background, Komatsu was directly responsible for Haas’ engineering department in previous years while Steiner had a wider range of activities to manage.

Komatsu has made it clear to Haas that he is not a marketing or commercial expert – his focus is on engineering, and it’s exactly what the team needs right now.

Haas’ cycle in recent times seems to be launching a car with limited capabilities before binning the development to instead focus on next year’s challenger, only to find that it too is unable to challenge.

The VF-23 from last year’s grid showed promise with its one-lap pace but its inability to cope with the Pirelli tyres often saw it slip down the pecking order as a race wore on.

The long-awaited and sizeable upgrade that was fitted at the United States Grand Prix failed to bring it forward, with Nico Hulkenberg even reverting to the old-spec car.

Making the leadership change signals a reset for Haas and displays a change in mindset at the helm of the squad that is hoped will ripple down through the technical departments.

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Different persona

Haas is currently running arguably its strongest driver line-up yet in Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen – a pair of veterans tasked with assisting the engineers in developing the car.

Hulkenberg’s farewell message to Steiner was as brief as their time spent together, and in it he stated: “You’re definitely a character.”

Magnussen too thanked Steiner for an opportunity to go racing but also insisted that their partnership was “never boring”.

The messages played into the way that Steiner is perceived on a wider scale – known for his personality and quotable remarks rather than his impact on the Haas team.

Steiner was arguably the most marketable of all Team Principals but what good is that when the squad is uncompetitive?

Time ran out for Steiner to make such a change and perhaps Gene Haas felt that he was stealing too much of the limelight for the team.

With Komatsu now in place with an entirely differing persona, it will certainly be a quieter camp with new ideas implemented in a bid to make gains up the pecking order and rid itself of the creeping reputation that it is unable to compete.

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