Ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix, ESPN and other media outlets sat down with Haas F1 owner Gene Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner at the team's NASCAR base in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Among the topics of discussion were the team's debut season in 2016, whether a full-scaleF1 operation in America is feasible in future seasons and whether Haas has had "buyer's remorse" at any stage this year having entered F1 on the eve of the biggest regulation change in recent times.
Gene, you were in Austin last year for the grand prix -- this year you are actually in it as a competitor! What are the excitement levels like?
Haas: "It [feels like] another race that we have to go to and do. I'm not sure what to expect actually."
Steiner: "It's the same from my side. We don't know what to expect from, if they will come and cheer us on or not, we don't know. We hope so. It's the first time in 30 years an American team in America, a Formula One team. Let's see how that goes down with the fans. Hopefully good."
Haas: "We've had a lot of support. All the races I go to, there's a few Americans, Canadians or English that say, 'Good for you.' But just a few. Not too many!"
This race isn't like Ferrari going to Monza as Haas is still trying to get established on the grid, but still an American team racing in America. How much of a home race feel is this weekend going to have?
Haas: "It all comes down to how well we do. The worst thing would be to embarrass ourselves as an American team..."
Steiner: "...In America!"
Haas: "Maybe we will pull off an Australia where we actually finish top 10, that would be great. I'm trying not to have expectations one way or another. You get beat down pretty quick in this business. So if things don't go right, then it was just another race. But if we do phenomenal, we're a great team.
Steiner: It's difficult to gauge expectations. It's 30 years, a long time. I think we just have to wait to see what the weekend brings. Because if you have expectations that you have hundreds of thousands of fans cheering you on, I think that's unrealistic but then I think we always have expectations. We don't really know.
Haas: [to Steiner] Do you think our competitors will give us some slack?
Steiner: "No... They'll do the opposite!"
Haas: "I'm sure the American contingency will welcome us whole-heartedly and we just hope we can do a respectable job."
There are sweeping regulation changes on the horizon next year, how big a challenge has it been balancing being competitive this year and being ready for 2017?
Haas: "The biggest challenge was just putting the whole team together. Even though we had more time than anybody thought possible, just the whole process of starting with the license and the time required to do that and then you wind up having to order equipment and lead times on those and then trying to figure out where your first race is going to be.
"We originally decided to do everything out of here. That didn't really work out too well so we ended up getting a facility in Banbury. So you're putting all these pieces together and you have this final date that you're constantly building to but everything is changing and I give Guenther a lot of credit for being able to put all those pieces together.
"One of the things he was able to do was obviously develop a contract with [chassis supplier] Dallara and Ferrari, a substantial amount of the pieces came from them, which was really a great thing because I don't think we would have made it without that help. And also finding the personnel to come work for us. It's a real challenge to find people that want to work for a team that doesn't exist."
Given the current state of regulations, was this the best time to enter F1? As opposed to the start of 2017?
Haas: "I think the way everything worked out probably was the best for us because there's certain windows that open up and close up real quick. You can look at other teams and see they've taken different approaches. Manor has taken a different approach that was saved by a blink of a signature and they didn't have the time to do everything like we did. So there's penalties for that. The timing of it all, it was all real critical of how it all flowed together and got to where we were."
Steiner: "I would say it's never the right to do anything because then you don't do anything! If you say, 'Next year, the regulation change ...' We don't know, maybe, next year we've got this new car and if there are some problems with it and if you change direction again, then would it be not better to wait another year?' And you wait and wait.
"Sometimes you have to say, 'Gene wanted to do this. Can we do it? Yes." Is it the ideal time? We don't know because we cannot look into the future. But Gene committed to it and said, 'Let's do it.'' And then you just try to do your best this year and next year. If you say, 'Yeah, but if we wait another, then maybe it's better."='But it's 'maybe' - we don't know.
"At some stage, if you want to do something, you need to get it done. Is it the best time? I don't know. I think it was OK because it ended up being OK and now we need to do a good job for next year and we're working hard on it. I think we will be OK."
When did you begin allocating your resources toward next year?
Steiner: "This year is difficult to define. I would say we started in February to move to '17 and from the end of May, June, we stopped completely on the '16 development, everything was on '17 except if you've got problems with the car. Then you have to fix it for this year. But nothing to put on to go fast or anything."
You've had some issues this year with [brake suppliers] Brembo and [chassis manufacturer] Dallara. Will there be any changes in your relationship with either of those or your Ferrari technical partnership next year or are you committed to those manufacturers?
Haas: "We're always in negotiation. We're always trying to get more. There's constantly contacts going back and forth for every little detail and I think Ferrari is kind of learning a little bit, too, about exactly what do we offer Ferrari. So there's this going back and forth. Everything is always in Flux."
"They're changing the rules all the time, they're changing this, we've got to do that and here's our new rules for next year. They didn't really decide on the '17 car until a few months ago.
"Everything is always changing. If anything, we can say we have a very good relationship with all of our suppliers because we pay our bills. We understand Dallara better, we understand Ferrari better and hopefully they like working with us. So from just a personnel point of view, it all looks positive."
The original plan was to do all this from a U.S. base. You've split resources between here and the UK in your first year, is the eventual plan still to do it all in America?
Haas: "I think we will do more as we take on more CFD. But the cars are so technologically advanced that to develop a gear box would take you 10 years. I don't see how else you would do that. You just can't design one of these things and make it work. It's very, very complex, lots of track time involved, experience involved. How do you get that? You just can't get that by doing it yourself unless you've got 10 years to do it.
"So we're learning. Who knows? Maybe 10 years from now, maybe we will start to build our own gearboxes. Our relationship in NASCAR was very similar. We started off with Hendrick engines and chassis and now we're moving on to a Ford relationship. So as time goes on, things do evolve. But I can tell you right now, we would have stumbled very badly without Ferrari and Dallara's help."
Do you think it's feasible, Guenther, in the long run?
Steiner: "It's just a question of time. Anything is feasible. But, again, it's also a business decision, which is more down to Gene to decide. ... It would not make sense. You would spend double the amount of money. We would have to decide because we would need to learn, we need to employ people, we would have to get people here at a high premium because they would need to relocate.
"Instead of having a shop of maybe 180-190 people working on the project, all of a sudden we would have -- the smallest F1 team is over 300. And they are doing it in a few years. We would end up with 400 people, 500 people and would we have a lot better result? I wouldn't go forward and say, 'Yes, Gene, let's do this because we can finish first.' No. I think we would go backwards in the beginning. So let's get a little bit more experience. We haven't finished our first season. Then see in a few years where it takes us."
Haas: "The good news is we are going to have a second season!"
Has this been a successful debut year, in your eyes?
Haas: "It's been super successful. We've said this a number of times, If we said [at the start] we would have 28 points by midyear, we all would have taken that one. Midyear has been a little tough on us because we haven't really scored any more points. But I think we did better than expected at the beginning, we were less than happy with what happened in the midseason but we have four more races. We have the latest aero package. So we're optimistic."
Liberty Media have taken control of Formula One, an American-based group. They've said they will keep F1 based in Europe but do you think they can leverage the sport better in America?
Haas: "I would think that every team owner would be very optimistic that they're going to bring us more money for less work. But I doubt it! The honeymoon is on and we'll see how it all works out.
"I'm sure the previous Formula One owners are hoping that the new guys will bring in lots of new revenue ideas and the new owners are saying, 'We're going to make a lot of money out of this deal.' You have different opposing views. Everyone wants more money, let's face it. The teams want more money but I'm sure that the new owners are going to be thinking about, 'How can we pay the team owners less money' [laughs]
But is there a fanbase here that hasn't been reached, that could be?
Haas: "Oh, there's a huge number of fans in the United States that don't know about Formula One. How you reach them, I don't know. I don't really know how you do that. I think all the racing venues are struggling with that one. They're looking for their new fan base. They know that this is ultimately an entertainment show and they have to have a good product.
"I've been in Formula One only for only a few years now. It's pretty exciting even though it reminds me a little bit, I'm not a big baseball fan, but there's a lot of intricacies that are going on in Formula One that are completely different than NASCAR in terms of when the race starts and the excitement level in Formula One is pretty intense all the way from qualifying to race day. Where in NASCAR, that intensity really only happens in the last 25 laps."
Speaking of money and negotiations, you've previously said there's no deal with Bernie Ecclestone in terms of prize money for next year. Has that changed at all?
Haas: "Bernie doesn't negotiate! There is the Concorde Agreement which we race under and that's all spelled out in that agreement about how teams are paid. Any monies that we do get would come directly from that agreement."
So nothing has really changed?
Haas: "No. We haven't got anything, not any reimbursement from Formula One. But I think Bernie once said, 'We didn't ask these guys to show up and if they want to race here, that's their problem.'
When you started this, you talked about potential new business for Haas Automation. Have you had much?
Haas: "The market we're in is difficult. The amount of recognition that we get is pretty phenomenal. From people who know who we are and what we do is probably double or triple. There was one show in Paris or somewhere like that and usually you get 1,000 or 2,000 leads. It went to 10,000 leads. From a standpoint of recognition, it's been pretty phenomenal."
Your drivers for next year...
Haas: "We have two..."
Do you know who they are?
Haas: "Yes we do."
Romain and Esteban?
Haas: "I can't tell you that. At the moment, there's no big incentive to finalize that list. I think it's well-known that Grosjean has a contract for next year. Gutierrez, we're just in negotiations. Gutierrez is a Ferrari reserve driver, so a lot of those negotiations go back and forth with Ferrari."
Have you had interest from other drivers given your performance?
Haas: "I think there's always some phone calls here and there but I think nothing was more than general interest."
Steiner: "This year it's pretty flat with Jenson [Button] leaving and [Felipe] Massa, two senior drivers. The market is not an easy market. But we're OK. We'll have two drivers. We'll be happy. We'll be fine."
How valuable has Grosjean been to develop the car?
Steiner: "I think what he gave us is the confidence of where the car is. As much as he sometimes complains about the car, he knows what the car needs to do. He doesn't tell you to make you happy. He tells you with his experience, the car is doing this, that or the other. Or it isn't right or it's right. So we're confident. He's one of the crucial elements of our success here this year."
Have you felt any more pressure or less pressure to have an American driver?
Haas: "We get a lot of people that would like to see us to, say, become the American team. We'd like to have people throw money at us, too [laughs]."
Steiner: "We'd all like a lot of things. Somebody has to pay for it."
Haas: "If we had to do everything American, we wouldn't have enough money or enough time for anything. We're here really to build a race team. If an American driver came along to have the pedigree to do this, yeah, we would seriously consider that. But at the moment, there aren't any F1 drivers. You're always looking for experience.
"It's a driver's market right now because we've lost two very experienced drivers and the newcomers really don't have much experiences. There's lots of drivers out there but you take that chance of the unknown. There's a lot of people that can compete well in GP3 and GP2. They qualify well but racing in Formula One is a whole different sport."
Have you thought about fielding a team in GP2 or GP3?
Haas: "If they start throwing money at us! I can't find those money throwers. As wonderful as Americans are, they are pretty tight, too..."
Gene, 17 races in, are you glad you did this? A lot of people doubted you would never show up, said you were throwing your money away... Has it been what you thought it would be?
Haas: "Yeah. It brings a lot of intense focus on racing and I've always said that the racing and my business kind of going hand-in-hand in the sense it kind of inspires you to want to perform better, not only in the racing part but the business part of it. It was the right thing to do.
"The timing seemed perfect. I have a lot of experienced people... I have Guenther who, as you know, is a little bit crazy in the sense he wants to go do this [laughs]. Time-wise, I can't spend that much time... I think I've actually made it to over half the races. That is a huge amount of time to get to these races. It's just a phenomenal burden to do Formula One with all that flying and jet lag.
"Actually, I'm kind of surprised another American didn't do it. I kind of scratch my head, there's so many Americans that profess to love racing. I'm kind of surprised another American didn't jump into this arena and say, 'I can do that.'"
Has there been a moment this year you've had buyer's remorse?
Haas: "There's some things we could have done better, but those were unknown. Actually, I never had any regrets. This seems like the perfect thing to do. I've done NASCAR for 15, 16 years now and this just seems like a natural progression of moving up the chain to get to the highest level.
"NASCAR is a high level, don't get me wrong. But I'm not sure where you go after Formula One. The only other thing left would be the Indy 500 or Le Mans or something like that. So there's always another goal. But you have to have goals or you just stop."