As Haas look set to become the first American team to participate in Formula 1 since Lola in the 1986 season, their partnership with Ferrari is well known news and has been for a little while now.
But what does this mean for the sport, Ferrari and Haas and how is the partnership working?
Haas were told that they must develop and build their own survival cell, monocoque, wings and other aerodynamic components (not that there’s any room for innovation nowadays), floor and diffuser. This leaves plenty of the car left, including that all important hybrid power unit and it can all be supplied by Ferrari.
What’s more is that the American team run by Gene Haas and Gunther Steiner can use the Maranello outfit’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel in preparation for when the green flag is shown for Friday Practice 1 in Australia next April. But, they have to prove to other teams that they aren’t going to run the same programme as Ferrari, as that would be unfair and would do nothing to help shake off the unwanted ‘Ferrari B-Team’ tag that they’ve now earned.
But the way that Haas have gone about their entry is very clever, something which Mercedes’ Team Principal, Toto Wolff testified to earlier this year. It may put a stop to the lack of longevity for a new team entering F1. Look at Super Aguri, gone in 2 years. Lotus or re-branded Caterham gone in 4. HRT gone in 2, even Virgin Racing has become Marussia…and then Manor. One thing is for certain, Haas isn’t short of money on the whole, with a fledgling NASCAR team as well. The new HQ in Banbury is clean, fresh, modern and well structured and organised, it looks like a base for a serious Formula One team and not a rented warehouse with just enough space to keep production going.
Also, they aren’t rushing to reach the deadline. The project is currently ”on schedule”, so it’s already more of a success than the now defunct USF1 team, who pulled out of the 2010 grid due to time pressures. This isn’t a Lola-esque project, as they were under pressure from title sponsors MasterCard to join in 1997, not 1998 as they wanted. And what happened then? The sub-par Ricardo Rosset and the unproven rookie Vincenzo Sospiri as drivers in a car with a garish livery and woefully underpowered V8 Ford engine that ended up 13 seconds off the pace, not even turning a wheel in a proper race.
But maybe worryingly for Formula One, this could signify the start of ‘customer cars’, a route which many people don’t want to go down, seen as the ‘end of F1 as we know it’. It also leaves them a little locked in terms of drivers. They have free choice of a second driver but one feels that Ferrari reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez will occupy one seat. That’s not all bad, a North American driver in an American team, driving at 3 North American Grand Prix’s and with the added bonus of two years Formula One experience. But is he the man to really help Haas in their first season? Ideally, they’d have someone who has been around the block longer, someone like a Montoya or Button.
For Ferrari, it will not only provide more experience for Gutierrez, but it will give them some idea of how to run a customer team effectively if indeed the sport does go down that route. And that’s a big if.
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