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Guenther Steiner

Steiner exclusive: Life after the Haas 'hamster wheel'

In an exclusive interview, RacingNews365 lead editor Ian Parkes sat down with former Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner to discuss his time with the team, and life away from it.

Steiner
Interview
To news overview © XPBimages

"It's a big weight off my shoulders" were Guenther Steiner's opening words when asked whether he was enjoying life away from Haas and Formula 1.

On January 10, a bombshell was dropped when it was announced that after 10 years as Team Principal, Steiner would be leaving the organisation he effectively helped found alongside owner Gene Haas.

It was Steiner who convinced Haas of the idea of setting up a Formula 1 team, and with the blessing and backing of the American machine tool company mogul, the VF-16s driven by Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez duly rolled out of the pit garages at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya for the first day of pre-season testing on February 22, 2016.

For Steiner, after two years of building up the team from scratch, he now professes that was his "best memory", not that it was all downhill afterward as he insists there were many other highs, as well as the numerous lows along the way.

After eight years chipping away at F1's coalface, and often banging his head against it too, Steiner was told to leave by Haas, who felt a change of direction was required, appointing Ayao Komatsu as successor in an attempt to make his team more engineering focused.

Haas' decision was conveyed via a phone call between Christmas and New Year, one that Steiner concedes he still cannot fathom two months on.

"No, I don't understand it, but he [Haas] can do what he wants," said Steiner. "I understand that. I respect that. I would never do that, and that was my opinion, because for me, it's a way to nowhere.

"But in the end, I need to respect that he owns the team, not me, so who am I to tell him what to do? He can do what he wants, and I'll do what I want. As simple as this. Life is like this, and I can live with my choices."

'I found the money to keep the team going'

Over eight seasons, and on a tight budget imposed by Haas, Steiner guided the team towards respectability on occasion, such as its fifth place finish in the Constructors' Championship in 2018, as well as through the nadir of its point-less campaign in 2021.

That was at a point when F1, and all involved, were emerging from the other side of Covid, and for Haas, in particular, the other side of almost going out of business.

"I'm pretty stubborn, and I would say the stubbornness kept the team around," assessed Steiner. "In 2020, when the pandemic came about, Gene obviously wanted to pull the plug, saying he was done with it.

"I said 'If I find the money to keep on going, will you keep going'. He said yes, so I found the money and kept the team going.

"That was the ultimate low because we were in a make-or-break position. There was nothing in between, you couldn't just get by. We needed to do something, and it worked out.

"Obviously, with that decision, a few hard years followed, and the team had a massive setback, we had to let so many people go in that year at a time when we were on a good uphill trajectory.

"In '18 we finished fifth, then '19, we struggled a little, but there was another reason why, and you guys [the media] know why that was, with the engine.

"Then you get the plug pulled in 2020, and all of a sudden you're back to square one, or worse off than before. I think that was the hardest moment for the team."

Either side there was the joy of its first double-points finish in the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix, claiming a team-high best of fourth and fifth a year later in Austria, and Kevin Magnussen's pole position in the 2022 São Paulo GP.

All too often, though, Haas ploughed a furrow as a team languishing at the rear of the midfield, or towards the back of the grid.

"Always constrained," claimed Steiner who, on reflection, feels he achieved all he could under the circumstances he was faced with at any given time.

"Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and I respect hindsight," he added. "With hindsight, obviously I could have done things differently and better.

"There is not one thing I would say was completely wrong. There were a lot of little things, knowing now how they worked out, and obviously, l would do them differently now because then I would have the outcome I really wanted.

"In general, I don't think there was any big mistake. You always can do things better, and I'm always honest. I know I could have done things better. I didn't do a fantastic job.

"But I did the right thing at the time which were possible to do because there were a lot of constraints with what we were doing."

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Steiner given due respect

Steiner can at least take solace from the fact he departed the team with the due respect he deserved from his peers in the F1 paddock.

"Quite a few texted me, called me, told me 'Hey Guenther, you did a good job', which is nice to hear from people I respect, and they respect me," he said. "It's pretty cool."

It allowed Steiner to walk away from Haas with his head held high, and for the most part, with hindsight, he had "a fantastic time".

"I went out with a dream to establish a new Formula 1 team," said Steiner. "I went around with a business plan, I found Gene - he didn't take me along, I took him along - so it was an exciting time.

"There were so many people back then, so many naysayers, saying we weren't going to happen because there were so many other teams which had failed, but the team is still around.

"I had other ideas for the team than Gene, but that's fine. He owns the team, not me. He can do what he wants with it.

"Looking back, I still haven't realised what was actually done there in the 10 years, but it was not only about me. There were a lot of people who worked there and did a fantastic job - some of them are still there, which is also a great achievement, people staying more than 10 years with one company."

Looking forward, Steiner is enjoying the good life away from F1, and with no regrets.

"What happened is done," he said. "People now think that it must be nice doing nothing - I wish I was doing nothing, but I've plenty of stuff to do, which is keeping me busy.

"I'm just very chilled out, just looking at the future in a different way than I did when I was in the hamster wheel.

"And it's a nice thing to wake up in your bed consistently, not just being home for two days and then I have to go again.

"It's nice being around the family. When you're on the run, as I call it, you don't realise how much they actually miss you until you're around."

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

F1 return itch not being scratched yet

He has received offers to return to F1, but "nothing concrete", and whilst he continues to run his manufacturing company, Fibreworks Composites, out of the United States, he is mulling over numerous invites, including media-related work. He is due to feature for an Australian television station in its coverage of next month's grand prix at Melbourne's Albert Park.

After his performances on the Netflix: Drive to Survive series over the last few years, he became one of its biggest stars. To this day, he has yet to watch an episode, nor will he of the upcoming sixth season.

Despite that, he revealed: "There are requests for appearances, television, but I need to understand all this business, and I'm open for anything. Anything can happen in the future.

"There are a lot of people asking if I'm available to do things for them, which is actually pretty good. You actually see there is a world in F1, outside of the team world, the big world.

"For me, when I was in a team, you don't realise how much is going on, except the team, so I'm learning about that business at the moment because I'm completely ignorant about it, to be honest. I'm just seeing what is out there and then I'm going to decide on what to do next."

As for ever being a team principal again? "I still need to find out what I want to do when I'm a grown up," he joked, before adding: "But I'm not in a hurry to go back into the same position as I was before. I want to see what else is around."

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