F1'24: Gunther Steinermath

Farewell, Gunther Steiner

The big news in Formula 1 was finding out that Gunther Steiner is no longer with Haas as team principal. Yes, that screaming sound vaguely in the background is from the makers of Drive to Survive.

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Steiner’s contract was not renewed by the F1 team, who finished last out of the 10 teams on the grid. On the one hand, you have a charismatic team leader who became a TV star through Netflix, wrote a book and even was/is going to be the subject of a sitcom on CBS. On the other, you have an F1 car with two aging drivers, no official young driver program, a car that qualifies well but then shreds its tyres quicker than others and that last-placed finish I mentioned earlier.

This blog is no professional obituary for Steiner. There’s no doubt that Steiner will find a job in the paddock if he wants it. Every F1 team would want his intelligence and experience, while the media will want his insight and personality.

His leaving Haas is a demonstration of the balance F1 teams face between personality and results.

So what happens next for Haas? A business model that some people call innovative and others find infuriating, in that they buy literally as much as they can from Ferrari and make very little themselves, saving money. Steiner brought in a smaller pitwall, which became a fun meme, but also saved the team around a quarter of a million dollars, it’s clear Haas were trying to think differently.  

But they’re going to need something different in the cockpit from 2025. In something of a holding year, both Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg are probably in their final year on the grid, with just 12 points between them in 2023. Worryingly, only one of those points came in the second half of the season, with Magnussen being the beneficiary of George Russell trying to send it and touching the barrier late in the Singapore heat. 

It means that they lost out badly in 2023’s development race, being unable to compete with the innovations across the rest of the grid. Take that 10th place out from Singapore and Haas and that second half is a disaster. The highest finish was 11th at COTA, benefitting again from events elsewhere, two disqualifications further up the grid. 

A strategy of finishing and hoping others don’t isn’t going to be sustainable, and 2023 showed that Haas had regressed, and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Their second last-place finish in three years, this wasn’t the tanking year where they scored 0, but it wasn’t far off. In 2022 the same driver pairing scored 37 points. Replicating that would have put them 7th in 2023, above Williams. 

And replacing Steiner is an in-house choice. Ayao Komatsu steps up, a move that Haas says puts engineering at the heart of their approach to 2024. And that’s understandable. However, if you want to make this dramatic change, is doing it now the best option? And is it drastic enough?

Promoting someone in-house and not going for a splashy external signing, keeping the same drivers who were ineffective last season, doing this a few weeks before the car is meant to launch. It feels like there isn’t much of a long-term plan, and this will be a big test for the team with the 2026 rule changes looming. Perhaps 2025 will be a year where as well as importing machinery from Ferrari, they also bring in a young driver from the illustrious driver academy. The obvious candidate is Ollie Bearman, a name mentioned here before, and will be in his second year in Formula 2 with Prema.

Bearman finished sixth in the series in 2023, but took home four wins, including the double in Baku, taking the chequered flag first in the sprint and feature races.

So if he takes one seat, that leaves the possibility for a holdover or a pay driver to provide some finance to the team before they make a proper go of it from 2026 and the new regulations. 

But all of that seems a long way away. The team has potentially shot itself in the foot - not necessarily because of the decision to change team principals, but because of its timing and whether it’s a drastic enough move. Immediately the spotlight burns more intensely on Haas, and the 2024 season hasn’t even started yet.

It remains to be seen whether Haas - to quote their now departed team principal - will end up looking like a bunch of rockstars, or… well…

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