Gene Haas praises Mercedes for the dominance it has exerted over F1 since the start of the hybrid era, but the team owner also believes the German manufacturer’s engine supremacy has ultimately “really killed what F1 is all about”.
Mercedes’ power unit has been in a league of its own since 2014, the industry standard that its rivals – Ferrari, Renault and Honda – have struggled to match in terms of the unit’s outstanding performance and reliability.
But Haas, whose team entered F1 in 2016 by exploiting a business model that relied on a close technical partnership with Ferrari, reckons that Mercedes’ relentless dominance has unfolded at a price for Grand Prix racing’s popularity, with predictability and boring races the norm.
And the failure by Mercedes’ engine rivals to challenge its sovereignty has had a big impact on Haas’ dwindling performance in the past few years says its eponymous founder.
“I think up until 2019 we were really doing very well, and we had plenty of horsepower and the cars were very competitive,” the American told RACER’s Chris Medland. “But then we wound up doing fuel mileage races where we actually had to do a lot of lift and coasting, so that really hurt us.
“Then in 2019 we were down on horsepower considerably compared to the Ferrari cars, and that hurt. We did really well in qualifying, but when the race came, our horsepower was just off.
“Then in 2020 when Ferrari had a reduction in their horsepower, it was pretty obvious that all of the Ferrari engine cars had horsepower deficits compared to Mercedes, Honda and Renault.
“Our boat’s tied to the Ferrari ship, so when they’re going slow we’re going even slower – I don’t think there’s much you can do about that.
“We have no control over the parts that we obtain from Ferrari. We have faith that Ferrari can fix the problem, and not only does Ferrari have this problem, but so does Honda and Renault – everyone’s at a deficit to the Mercedes engine.
“They built an extremely high performance, high fuel efficiency, durable engine that no other team’s been able to come close to.
“To me, it’s really killed what Formula 1’s all about. More power to Mercedes for being able to dominate so much of the thing, but who wants to go to a race when you know who’s going to win every friggin’ race that’s out there? That just gets boring.”
Haas’ underperformance last season was also arguably rooted in the team’s decision to drastically rein in its spending following the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and the disruptions that ensued for F1.
Overall expenses were cut down and investments were freezed, but the biggest savings were achieved by reducing the very item that a team often relies on to improve or sustain its performance: upgrades.
“I’ve always talked to the drivers, and I think in 2018 and 2019 we were spending between $20-40 million per year for these updates, and every time I talked to the drivers it was like ‘Well, that didn’t do anything!’” Haas explained.
“So why are we spending all this money on updates? That is one of the things we eliminated pretty quickly, was doing all these updates, because I was pretty convinced we weren’t going to do any races.
“I thought at best we would do four or five races, so bringing all these updates for a very short season wouldn’t work. But ultimately we got a lot of races in.
“We didn’t really bring any updates per se – and I’m not really sure who did bring a lot of updates – but from a practical standpoint, they didn’t seem like they really improved the car much.”
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Haas is expected to struggle once again this season as F1’s rules have mandated the carry-over of last year’s chassis updated to conform to a series of aerodynamic changes.
However, with the advent this year of F1’s budget cap, the team owner and founder of the Haas Automation machine tooling company sees no reason to throw in the towel, quite the contrary.
“I’m optimistic about the future,” Haas said. “I know that this year’s going to be difficult because we basically have the same car as last year, and the power plant from Ferrari is going to be very similar to last year, so we know that’s not going to give us any competitive advantage.
“So I think that we have the mindset of realizing our position is always going to be probably three or four positions behind Ferrari.
“It kind of tells us where we’re going to be racing. And that’s OK, this is Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor racing.
“We know we’re not going to be beating any of the Mercedes teams, so we just have to take what we have and learn to make the best of what we’ve got, which isn’t bad.
“This whole sport is a lot more than just the engineering challenges and the engine development and all that stuff, it’s also participating in races and drivers and the whole other aspect of the glory of Formula 1 racing. Which is fun!
“From a business standpoint, being in Formula 1 has been extremely successful as far as promoting our brand name,” added Haas.
“It’s a great sport to be in, because there’s no other sport like Formula 1, and there’s a lot of excitement.
“We’ve brought a lot of customers to races, and I hope that Formula 1 can continue to bring that kind of prestige and excitement to races, because let’s face it, sports are a big part of a lot of people’s lives.
“Auto racing has been around for, like, 120 years, so I think it’s something that I would like to see continue, and certainly want to be part of it.”
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