Can the New Gene Haas Racing Team Succeed in Formula 1?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2014

Gene Haas
Gene HaasRusty Jarrett/Getty Images

After months of speculation, the FIA announced on Friday that it had accepted the bid of NASCAR team owner Gene Haas to form a new Formula One team.

Now that the new American entry is confirmed, the next questions that must be asked are: Can the team succeed in F1 and how quickly?

In 2010, three new teams were added to the F1 grid: HRT, Lotus (now Caterham) and Virgin (now Marussia). HRT was out of business after three seasons, while the other teams have struggled to make up the gap to the more established outfits.

Now in their fifth seasons, none of the new teams have ever scored a point.

Similar performances are unlikely to satisfy Haas, whose NASCAR team won the 2011 championship with co-owner Tony Stewart at the wheel.

However, the new team, provisionally named Haas Racing Developments, according to Autosport, does have some advantages that the new entries from 2010 have not enjoyed.

Branson (left) and Fernandes.
Branson (left) and Fernandes.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

First, Haas already has a proven racing pedigree. Yes, it is in NASCAR—not exactly comparable to F1—but that is still more than businessmen Richard Branson (Virgin) and Tony Fernandes (Lotus) could offer.

Virgin entered the sport bragging about having the smallest budget in F1 and the team's first two cars were designed using only computational fluid dynamics, rather than more expensive wind tunnel testing. This approach was abandoned after two seasons, but the team's budget remains small. 

The Haas team, in contrast, will have access to Windshear, a state-of-the-art wind tunnel owned by Haas. Located in North Carolina, it has been used by other F1 teams in the past.

On the financial front, as the only American team in the sport, Haas should have a foot in the door with potential U.S.-based investors. He is also looking to use the team as a global billboard for his already-successful machine tool-building company, Haas Automation.

He told The Associated Press that "We're just trying to bring our awareness up and Formula One is even more important because half our sales are outside the country." 

Eddie Jordan's team is one of the few start-ups to win a race in the last 25 years.
Eddie Jordan's team is one of the few start-ups to win a race in the last 25 years.Michael Cooper/Getty Images

Still, building an F1 team from the ground up is no easy task. In fact, only three teams since the 1990s have started from scratch and even won a race.

Red Bull—which began as Stewart Grand Prix in 1997—has won the last four world championships.

The team that is now Force India started as Jordan in 1991 and won four races before falling on hard times and going through several different owners. 

Sauber, which first raced in 1993, won one race and finished second in the Constructors' Championship under BMW ownership in the late 2000s. For most of the team's existence, though, it has been stuck firmly in the mid-field.

Even automotive heavyweight Mercedes did not win a race until its third season after purchasing the 2009 world champion Brawn GP team.

One of the reasons it is so difficult for new F1 teams to establish themselves is that the structure of the sport ensures the established, successful teams receive the most financial support, and they can therefore remain on top.

Another potential issue for Haas is his intention to partner with Dallara to build the team's chassis, according to Sporting News.

Dallara designed the Hispania F110.
Dallara designed the Hispania F110.Clive Mason/Getty Images

The Italian company is the constructor of the IndyCar chassis and has some experience in F1. Most recently, Dallara designed HRT's car for its first F1 season. At the time, the team's technical consultant, Geoff Willis, told Autosport that:

Fundamentally I'm disappointed at the level of engineering in the car and I don't think it reflects current F1 practise by quite some margin. ... And I'm thinking just of the built quality, the design quality, the refinement of the design. I think it's missing a lot of tricks that would be taken for granted by anybody in the pitlane now.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, although the Haas team will no doubt be better-funded than HRT, along with its access to the aforementioned wind tunnel.

At this point, it is too early to say for sure whether Haas will be successful or not. We do not even know whether the team will begin racing next season or in 2016.

What is certain is that finding success in F1 will not be easy. It will take a lot of hard work in a long struggle against the odds to achieve prosperity.

In other words, Haas will be trying to achieve the American Dream.


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