Guenther Steiner is no longer the Team Principal of the Haas F1 Team, the decision by Gene Haas not to renew his contract to replace him with Ayao Komatsu shocked the Formula 1 world – including the 58-year-old Italian!
Speaking at length for the first time about his axing, Steiner admitted that he did not see it coming, the jobless Italian first spoke at the Autosport Awards about his shock exit and opened up in an interview with Sky Sport.
Reflecting on what happened, Steiner said: “Obviously nobody was happy with the results in 2023 but I didn’t see this coming. I knew that the renewal of my contract was coming up and then when a renewal is coming up it can be that it’s not getting renewed. I was in Italy on my Christmas break and he called me up between Christmas and New Year.”
In recent years, Steiner has become a household name among Formula 1 fans, becoming the ‘accidental’ star of Netflix’s popular ‘Drive To Survive’ series. So much so that coverage of Haas tended to focus on the TP instead of the team.
Did Steiner’s personality become bigger than the Haas F1 team he led?
The former Haas TP reckons: “Not really, but thinking back now, it could have but in the end that celebrity gave the team a lot of exposure, brought in very good sponsors like MoneyGram because they liked that because they could use that.
“There are always positives and negatives to any deal so maybe there were some positives and somebody brought up the negatives. These are things you cannot always plan for because I was not out there trying to look for ‘celebrity’. It happened to me and only the people who know me know that, so I’m ok with that.
“I didn’t get up in the morning to be a celebrity. I get up in the morning to work. But I think it worked a lot in favour of the team because without that maybe it would have been closed before,” he ventured.
Steiner’s ‘fame’ was largely down to his foul-mouthed tirades on Drive To Survive either lamenting their luck, or mishaps that were frequent and dramatised for dramatic effect, Netflix style.
Mick Schumacher took an unacceptable pounding from his boss during his two years with the Haas F1 Team. And while Gene did insist that what led to the parting of ways was “not Guether’s fault” at the same time did say he was “embarrassed that we haven’t been able to do better.”
Responding to the word “embarrassed” used by his former boss, Steiner said: “I think everybody can choose his words but you need to think about the people which work for you and put a lot of effort in. Obviously, when you say these things in the end you have to live with the consequences.”
Steiner: I think without me in 2020 the team wouldn’t have been around anymore
Reports indicate Haas and Steiner disagreed on the future path for the F1 team they built together, making its debut at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix with Guenther as their tea principal for 166 GPs.
Asked to assess what caused the split, Steiner ventured: “I would say a fair assessment is when you look at the other teams where they are going since the budget cap came into place, a lot of teams – all of the teams – invested in the infrastructure.
“Therefore it is not spending money, it is investing to use the budget cap, the operational budget cap, as best as possible that you can put money in to make the car go quick. Some people started straight away in 2020, 2021. Some people started last year, but everybody is doing it. I think that was one of the things. I look at the other ones and I suggest what needs and should be done.”
While Gene Haas was enamoured with his F1 venture early on as he financed what was essentially a Ferrari B-Team with his name on it, but within a few years he realised winning at the highest level would require substantially more than he was investing.
Gene appeared to lose interest, and from here in the bleachers he appeared to have passed the buck Steiner whose job became a matter of keeping the team afloat. Not helped by COVID.
Steiner recalled: “Obviously, I think without me in 2020 it wouldn’t have been around anymore. But Gene Haas owns the team so in the end he’s free to do what he wants. I cannot accuse him of anything. I can accuse him but it doesn’t do anything because he can make his decisions, he is free to decide.”
Steiner: I have got still a lot in me but I am not in a hurry
Ayao Komatsu has been made TP by Gene Haas, to which Steiner reacted: “In the end, he owns the team and can make this decision. I have to respect that and obviously, I do. It was 10 years and it was ok. If he doesn’t want to continue with me, he’s free to do that.”
As for his future, Steiner is relaxed: “I am actually fine, my life will continue. I will have fun, I will stay around. Something will pop up. I’m doing good. In the end a good period in my life came to an end, but maybe an even better one starts.
“I have got still a lot in me, but I am not in a hurry,” insisted the 58-year-old, who first worked in F1 in 2001 with the Jaguar team which eventually became Red Bull. I am not desperate. I want to enjoy now my time with my family.
“Good things will come. I always say: one door closes, at least two other ones open. So I will wait which ones and obviously pick the right one to do the next thing. But at the moment I want to sit back and look a little bit and do things I missed doing the last 10 years like staying with my family and doing some travel in my own time. And watch F1!” declared Steiner.
Big Question: Will the Haas F1 Team miss Guenther Steiner’s leadership?