How Gene Haas' New Formula 1 Team Can Hit the Ground Running
Formula One has a new kid on the block.
A team led by successful businessman and NASCAR team owner Gene Haas has been awarded a licence to compete in the world's premiere racing series.
Getting the team to the top won't be easy. Recent history tells us that new teams struggle to make any sort of impact within their first few seasons.
Attracting drivers will be tough, as will securing the services of quality staff. Basing the team in the United States presents another challenge, as the team will be a long way away from the sport's traditional English heartland and its plethora of experienced potential employees.
On Saturday, my colleague Matthew Walthert examined whether the team would have what it takes to do well in F1, and he concluded that success will be very hard to come by.
It may never arrive at all.
But here's what Haas can do to ensure the best chance of doing a passable job straight out of the box.
Get the Staff in Early
Haas needs to get his senior leadership structure in place immediately.
Firstly, he has to decide on his own place within the new team. Is he going to be an owner-principal in the style of Frank Williams and Peter Sauber, or take a more distant role like Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz?
The latter might work better at first.
Once his own position is decided, it's essential the team has someone with a lot of F1 experience in a very senior position, answering only to Haas himself.
Ross Brawn would be the dream choice but that's not happening, so maybe Martin Whitmarsh would do the trick.
Then he'll need to look at recruiting as strong a technical team as he can and securing experienced mechanics, logistics staff and race engineers.
All this needs to be done as soon as possible.
Buddy Up to the Right People
What started out as a friendly, open sport has been transformed into a political minefield.
Going it alone isn't really an option. All teams invariably end up members of one power bloc or another, usually based on who supplies their engine. Professionally, the team's hands will be tied.
But there's no reason Gene Haas cannot forge personal relationships with the right people.
Bernie Ecclestone continues to have a finger in every pie and a good relationship with him would prove highly useful when discussions over financial issues arise.
Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda at Mercedes are influential, as is Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo.
And FIA President Jean Todt has a lot of power, too. It's a long list.
But it's a list worth working through. If such people consider you in a positive light, it tends to be a little easier to get your voice heard.
Secure an Experienced Driver to Lead the Team Forward
You have to be a little bit mad to even consider entering F1. But starting out with two inexperienced pay drivers would be lunacy.
So Haas should aim to secure the services of at least one experienced driver with some degree of proven ability.
Someone like Paul di Resta perhaps, or Heikki Kovalainen. Kamui Kobayashi might be out of the Caterham door at the end of the year, so he's another to consider.
It may cost the team a few million in lost sponsor-bunny revenues (unless he can get a decent driver with cash like Adrian Sutil), but the contributions in both technical and organisational feedback would more than make up for that.
Tap the Local Sponsors
For the first time since the 1980s, the world's largest economy will have its own F1 team. Or maybe it's the first time since the 1970s—that was the last time a team had its base in the States.
Every country has companies which only really back locals, and the US is certainly no exception.
This presents Haas with a huge opportunity to attract some large, big-spending sponsors.
And it's an opportunity he's capable of taking. Haas is a successful businessman and part of the reason he has entered F1 is to promote his own company, Haas Automation. He knows how to sell an investment and should possess a substantial contacts list from his many years in NASCAR.
If he can secure a couple of major sponsors on long-term deals, the team's balance sheet will have a much rosier tint.
Get Familiar with the F1 Landscape
Haas, or someone who will be high up in his organisation, should be at every race from now until the end of the season.
Being a part of domestic racing series in the US is one thing, but F1 is an entirely different kettle of fish. It's a closed, secretive world, so far removed from normalcy that the only way to truly understand it is from the inside.
There's no doubt Haas could now have total access to the paddock at any race if he asked for it, so that's what he should do.
Turning up at the start of 2015 with little idea of how things work isn't really an option.