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The traveling show of the Haas stable

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«I had lost motivation to always run in the rear. Those two years were tough. So I went away, I participated in other races, I returned to the podium, in pole position and to victory. It was all a lot of fun. I was really enjoying it, but then Günther called me and ruined everything. ‘ Kevin Magnussen returned to racing in Formula 1 a few hours after the start of the tests in Bahrain to replace the Russian Nikita Mazepin, second driver of the Haas team who was ousted from the championship due to the effects of the invasion in Ukraine. The way Magnussen spoke his return says a lot about what Haas is: a team that entered Formula 1 in a way that is not at all conventional, and that has gone through more difficult times than anything else. Despite this, she still remains hooked to that world, driven by certain perspectives and by the sometimes comic and sometimes tragic role she had in recent years, well personified by its team principal, the South Tyrolean Italian Günther Steiner.

The season that begins shortly – that of the new technical regulations – should represent the relaunch of Haas after difficult years. Yet, when everything was proceeding more or less according to plan, things suddenly got complicated a few days after the first race, due to external causes. But even from these difficulties, Haas seems to be managing to somehow get a positive boost.

Nikita Mazepin had not been hired only for his merits as a pilot – not irresistible, to be generous – but mainly as the son of Dmitry Mazepin, the Russian millionaire at the head of the Uralkali fertilizer company, the sponsor who with his funding had allowed the team to take part in the last World Cup, saving it from a disastrous economic situation.

Nikita Mazepin’s Haas after an accident at the Bahrain Grand Prix (Bryn Lennon / Getty Images)

Mazepin son did very badly, especially in the first part of the season, when he hit a series of off-track that embarrassed him, the team and that complicated the relationship with the intrusive and authoritarian father-financier. He and his teammate, Mick Schumacher, Michael’s second son, were both rookie drivers and were the only two to finish the championship without a single point (because they never made it to the top ten).

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Haas chose to distance himself from the influence and funding of the Mazepins, who seem willing to ask for large compensation for the ouster. However, the team had to run for cover: to replace Mazepin, Steiner recalled Magnussen, who had already been at Haas from 2017 to 2020. The other “hole” that has yet to be filled concerns funding, given that a team like the Haas survives solely on sponsors. But even in this respect, the environment remains rather optimistic.

Steiner recently talked about it, a manager with a great spirit and notable self-irony, who became unexpectedly popular thanks to the ample space that all the misfortunes of Haas have found in the series Drive to Survive (whose latest season is available now on Netflix): «I think Mick is happy to have a point of reference in the team. Kevin is an experienced rider and he will score points ».

Haas debuted in Formula 1 in 2016 as an appendix in the most famous automobile championship of Haas Automation, an American manufacturer of precision machines already present in the racing world with one of the most competitive teams in the Nascar championship. It was created and managed with third-party funds by the personal initiative of Steiner, son of butchers from Merano, who entered the racing world as a rally mechanic and brought to Formula 1 in 2001 by Niki Lauda, ​​then Jaguar team principal.

Steiner convinced some American investors of the project, to whom he suggested to rely on the cars produced by the Italian company Dallara to try to enter Formula 1 at a time when some important car companies had left it. As entrusted with the project, Steiner made contact with Stefano Domenicali, the current head of Formula 1 and at the time Ferrari team principal, who offered technical support for entry into the championship.

Günther Steiner with Mattia Binotto at Monza in 2019 (Charles Coates / Getty Images)

Since then, Haas has been a close collaborator of Ferrari, of which it uses not only the engines, but also many other components, and a customer of Dallara, which still builds the cars. The team is therefore American-owned, has its registered office in the United Kingdom, is managed by a South Tyrolean and uses the collaboration of two large Italian companies. At the beginning this set-up caused a lot of discussion, especially when the performances were so good that it gave rise to complaints about the fact that the team was a sort of detachment from Ferrari. In fact, in Formula 1 there are still many who believe that the teams must design and produce, if not completely, at least a substantial part of their cars independently.

However, Steiner has always been quite convinced of the strategy that brought Haas to Formula 1 in a way that had never been seen before. On the one hand, in fact, it guaranteed good results in a short time with one of the lowest budgets in the championship and a company structure not even comparable to that of the other teams: in 2018, for example, it had just over two hundred employees, against over a thousand employed by Ferrari and Mercedes.

However, the reduced bone structure also had several contraindications. After the first fair seasons – which ended in eighth and fifth place among the constructors – in the last three years the team has plummeted to the bottom of the rankings, up to the last place last season.

Inexperience and scarce resources have increasingly influenced its performance. At the first Grand Prix of 2018, for example, the Haas started from fifth and sixth position. Halfway through the race they were close to obtaining the best positions in the history of the team, but both had to retire because in the stops the mechanics did not fix the wheels they had just changed. In the same season the two drivers, Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, ended up colliding with each other several times, penalizing the team and putting their stay in the championship at risk.

The following year – disputed with cars built on the Ferrari of the previous season – a new sponsor came to help: an American energy drink company, Rich Energy, which, however, broke the contract after the disappointing results of the first races. At the last Grand Prix of that World Championship, Grosjean was also involved in a serious accident from which he came out relatively unharmed – he burned both hands – and after which he left Formula 1.

Romain Grosjean and Günther Steiner in Bahrain after the accident (Peter Fox / Getty Images)

In 2020, left without sponsors and damaged by the pandemic, Haas was in serious danger of closing. It was saved only by the arrival of the Uralkali, which guaranteed its survival, however, imposing the inexperienced Mazepin as the second driver. His engagement was “tolerated” because Haas had decided to sacrifice the season – disputed with the 2019 cars – to concentrate almost exclusively on the next one, in view of the entry into force of the new technical regulation also designed to level relations between the teams.

For this reason, just a few days before the start of the new World Championship and after having given a good impression in the tests – despite the problems there were also there – Haas presents itself with new ambitions and more enthusiasm. The owner, Gene Haas, has increased the funds allocated to the team, in part to cover the absence of Uralkali, in part to support its relaunch, with which it aims to attract new investments especially in America, a market in which Formula 1 is growing a lot: it is no coincidence that this year there will be a second race in the United States, in Miami.

Furthermore, the collaboration with Ferrari has become even closer and has occupied the space once covered by Dallara, which in addition to building the cars also provided engineers. Due to the new budget restrictions imposed by Formula 1, Ferrari took advantage of the presence of Haas to divert part of its surplus resources. From this year on, the technical department of the American team is therefore based in the factory in Maranello, and no longer in Parma, at the Dallara headquarters. The department is also coordinated by the Italian designer Simone Resta, who still heads to Ferrari, as well as Mick Schumacher, a driver who grew up in the Maranello academy who this season will continue to gain experience to try to get closer to the place that was once of his father Michael.