Gene Haas has made the decision: Guenther Steiner is out of his Formula 1 team and must look for a new employer.
At least, that's the general assumption after Haas communicated Steiner's departure. Between the lines, one could read that they were not satisfied with the performance - but there are several factors at play.
The Italian had been the team's boss since its birth in 2014, but despite a hopeful start, success has been lacking in recent years. Haas entered the sport in 2016 after working behind the scenes for some time to build the team.
Steiner, the former technical director of Jaguar and Red Bull, began Haas' F1 adventure energetically as team boss.
Haas had its home base in North Carolina in the United States, but also bought a factory in England from the defunct Marussia team. Haas opted for a technical partnership with Ferrari, purchasing as many parts as allowed by the regulations, Dallara was brought in to help with the chassis and as little as possible was done in-house.
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Ups and downs
Romain Grosjean got off to a flying start in 2016, grabbing an immediate sixth in Haas' first race, followed by a fifth in Bahrain. After that, three more points were scored: good enough for eighth place in the Constructors' Championship.
Over the years, things got better and better, culminating in a fifth-place finish in 2018, although a lot of noise was made about that year's car as it was said to be very similar to the Ferrari challenger from one year prior.
Results soon slumped, with ninth-place finishes occurring in 2019 and 2020. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, 2021 was a survival year for Haas who didn't have a penny to spare and didn't upgrade its car during the season. Last place was therefore the maximum possible, as every expense was put into the new car for 2022.
Two years ago that era began. It was reminiscent of 2016, as Kevin Magnussen scored a fifth place in Bahrain. After that, however, developments were few as there was only money for one upgrade. A backer, MoneyGram, arrived in late 2022, which would provide a brighter outlook for the future of the Kannapolis team.
But the revival did not materialise. Despite a solid start to 2023, Steiner's team failed to develop the car further and a disappointing 10th place in the championship was the result. It even produced a substantial upgrade with a changed concept in the closing stages, to no avail.
As team boss, Steiner is of course the team's chief executive and owner Gene Haas has therefore decided to show the Italian the door. Poor performance will obviously have played a significant role in this.
Steiner could always hide behind the fact that Haas was a small team with a small wallet. Still Haas' facilities are less than those of many competitors, but there was no shortage of money last year.
Throughout the year, Steiner and his team seemed to be in the dark about the cause of the problems with the Haas VF-23, especially in terms of tyre wear, and a major update at the end of the season produced lacklustre results. It is clear from the press release that Steiner is the focus of the blame.
“We need to be efficient with the resources we have but improving our design and engineering capability is key to our success as a team,” said Gene Haas. “I’m looking forward to working with Ayao [Komatsu, Steiner's replacement] and fundamentally ensuring that we maximize our potential – this truly reflects my desire to compete properly in Formula 1.”
While at the beginning of the Haas adventure Steiner still managed to provide an upward trajectory, the team has not been pointing in the same direction of late.
There's been a period of stagnation in recent years, even after the financial injection of the new title sponsor. Gene Haas' choice is understandable in that regard.
Fighting behind the scenes?
Behind the scenes, things have also reportedly been rumbling within Haas F1 for some time. Owner Gene Haas and Steiner are said to be having discussions about the team. The F1 business magazine BusinessF1 - that magazine that also wrote the story about the alleged dissatisfaction with Toto and Susie Wolff - wrote in August about an internal feud.
Steiner allegedly believes he has a claim to 50 per cent of the Haas team, having been involved from day one and eventually finding Gene Haas as a backer. The two would have met on such an agreement many years back.
Due to the value of the F1 team having increased dramatically in recent years, the deal would now be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. According to reports, Steiner is said to have considered taking legal action.
Although going to court after Steiner's dismissal is not yet off the table, of course, it may also have played into the decision to be rid of Steiner. It should be noted that there are no official reports about the alleged feud, and the Italian former team boss has always said he had a healthy relationship with Gene Haas.
The fact that there was no room in the Haas press release for quotes from Steiner also seems to say enough. Steiner likely did not leave voluntarily.
Cult hero Steiner
In recent years, Steiner has become a cult hero off the track. Where normally the drivers are the big heroes, at Haas it is safe to say that Steiner was the big crowd-pleaser. For example, he was a prominent and quotable figure in the Netflix series Drive to Survive.
It didn't hurt his own personal reach as he decided to write his own book, Surviving to Drive, which no doubt earned him a nice penny.
Of course, contractually it will all have been permissible, but if you use that star status for your own gain, tangible competitive results must be achieved.
It's certainly easy to imagine that Gene Haas, himself a man who rarely appears on the F1 stage and operates mostly in the shadows, was not happy about all the attention Steiner demanded for himself, without any good results in return.
All in all, it seems inevitable that Steiner would be seen as primarily responsible for the F1 team's poor results.
The lack of progression during last season can be pinned on him, especially now that there is money to spend again. Haas F1 seems adrift and the current generation of F1 cars still holds too many secrets for the team after two seasons.
In the meantime, things reportedly no longer quite clicked between him and the big boss, the man who gave the team its raison d'être.
Thus, after 10 years full of ups and downs, Steiner's period at Haas came to an end. Fans will likely miss Guenther, but mostly for his statements, not necessarily for what he did for the team.
At the same time, Gene Haas will have to take a hard look at itself. Is the concept behind Haas buying as much as possible from third-party suppliers and building his own car around it still viable today?
If not, perhaps he should make a call to the Andretti family. They probably have some interest in forming an F1 squad.