Newcomer Gene Haas has modest ambitions for F1 season ahead

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 10:32 p.m. ET

PARIS (AP) Formula One newcomer Gene Haas has modest expectations for his fledgling team this season: he wants drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez to stay on the track and take it from there.

Haas is chairman of the first American-led Formula One team since Carl Haas (no relation) and Teddy Mayer fielded cars in the series in 1986.

He has a solid-looking, if somewhat limited driver lineup with the experienced Frenchman Grosjean - 10 career podiums -as his No. 1 alongside the 24-year-old Mexican Gutierrez, who has a best finish of seventh place.

''If we got it in the top 10 once or twice that would be a realistic expectation,'' Haas told The Associated Press in a recent interview held in the team's motorhome during preseason testing near Barcelona. ''Most of the time we're going to be in that 10th or 15th position.''

He also urges American motor racing fans to not to expect too much, too soon.

''There's going to be that curiosity factor. The same reason people go to races is ... people will tell you they go there because they like the racing, but for the most part they want to see who crashes,'' Haas told AP. ''A lot of the fans, at least from the American side, are going to say `Well let's just see if these guys can compete (and) not crash out.'''

Haas got a taste of how frustrating F1 can be in the second part of preseason testing, when Gutierrez spent an entire day stuck in the team garage due to a turbocharger problem. It cost Gutierrez - far less experienced than Grosjean with 38 GPs compared to 83 - valuable time behind the wheel.


The 63-year-old Haas got his first taste of F1 in his early 20s.

''It was back in 1976. I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix, the inaugural one,'' Haas said. ''I didn't go to the actual race, but I went to the practice.''

Haas remembers ''the cars were really exotic'' and makes a gesture with his hand, sweeping it quickly across the table, to describe them.

''It sounded like they were going 50,000 rpm and they were like little wasps .... Zing, zing. Totally different,'' Haas says, smiling as he recollects which racers caught his eye. ''Brian Redman, David Hogan, and Mario Andretti. Some of these Formula One guys that were doing Formula One and came over to run in the (Indy) 5000 series. Wrangler Racing, I was one of the mechanics for those guys.''

One thing that also stood out back then was the deafening noise - a factor missing from F1 since rule changes led to quieter engines.

''When you're talking about back in 1976, they must have been running V12s running,'' Haas said. ''That noise was something you'd never forget.''

Haas, the founder of the tool-building giant Haas Automation, bases his F1 team on the same North Carolina campus as his championship-winning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

Starting out in F1 seems harder than when he began in NASCAR, back in 2002.

''We had no knowledge about racing: `How do you get to the races, what equipment do you buy?''' We were on our own, we struggled,'' he said. ''We were just another team at the back that no one had any interest in, so we could make all kinds of noise and all kinds of mistakes and nobody would notice. Here you make any mistake and everybody wants to know about it.''

The added pressure F1 brings is what drew him, though.

''The stakes are definitely bigger. The money's bigger. Formula One is a worldwide sport,'' Haas said. ''The view has changed as far as people looking at us. That was one of our goals: to get more international attention for our business model.''

Haas wants ''to become a staple entity in Formula One'' within the next three years. But his vision does not involve having two U.S. drivers competing against each other, nor does he plan to build a U.S.-made car.

''We're running a Ferrari-equipped car in a foreign land,'' he said. ''Some people said we had to have an American car to compete with the foreign cars to really make it a contest. To us we're just here to race.''