Stealin' the show
“Guys, listen to me, this is a win for us, a win – unbelievable for everyone, unbelievable.”
Romain Grosjean's post checkered flag words captured the mood with aplomb.
What a debut, what an impact, what a fantastic and positive story in a sport so riven by poor decisions, bad management and a palpable lack of forethought. The Haas F1 Team’s arrival on the grand prix scene is a very welcome and entirely positive event.
Grosjean’s sixth-place finish and resulting haul of eight drivers’ and constructors’ championship points – in the team’s very first race – is a massive achievement, a remarkable result that deserves every ounce of praise that’s been heaped upon it.
Working – as I was at the Melbourne event – on a magazine feature focusing on the team’s inaugural F1 weekend, gave me a very real sense of just what a well-turned-out team Haas certainly is. In my many years covering grands prix, rarely has a team arrived in the paddock so well prepared for the cut-throat world of modern-day Formula 1. Just a brief survey of the standard of the kit neatly placed behind, inside and in front of the pit garage left one in no doubt as to the level this American team is at, and aiming for.
Front and rear car jacks, wheel guns, pit garage walls and overhead lighting, LCD wall displays, floor decals and illuminated red ‘H’s all manufactured to exacting standards made for a very professional look and feel. While no team is in the Mercedes league when it comes to garage appearance, Haas, at their race number one remember, are already some way ahead of teams who’ve been ploughing the F1 furrow for many years.
Given the level of finish and impressive attention to detail, one can almost forgive the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team their entirely unimaginative, predominantly grey and black colourway. Almost.
Perhaps the conservative livery reflects the mindset and attitude of the man who pays his F1 team’s bills? Industrialist Gene Haas has an impressive history of getting the job done, employing both impressive vision and work ethic to his on- and off-track business pursuits. His latest foray into the world of high-octane competition has one goal: to increase global brand awareness and, as a result, sell more of the machines that Haas Automation makes. His measured and focused approach has paid handsome dividends in the past, so why change now.
Haas, in his role as a multi-race-and-title-winning NASCAR team owner, is well used to facing the press, undoubtedly able to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk, but in the arrogant, self-centred and we-know-better-than-you F1 paddock Gene is a newcomer. Friday afternoon at Albert Park and he took his place on stage as one of the team principals for the FIA press conference. Up and down the media centre the assembled hacks eagerly waited to see – and hear – how the ‘new boy’ would get on.
He stole the show.
Answering questions in a professional and refreshing manner, Haas looked and sounded for all the world like a man who’s been involved in Formula 1 for years, rather than days.
An American-based team is of course good for F1. All sports are enriched by exposure in the most important marketplace of all, so it follows it’s also good for the company that owns the sport, CVC Capital Partners.
The Luxembourg-based private equity group holds their shares in a fund that matured last year. Investors can of course now walk away, but they have largely chosen to stay in for longer, since the fund holds a number of quality investments other than just the Formula One Group.
When one learns that more than 60 per cent of the stakeholders are US and Canada-based pension funds and other institutional investors, it’s not rocket science to work out that this is one of the main reasons F1 benefits hugely from North American exposure.
A successful US-based team and a home grand prix can only be good news. Convince investors that there’s money to be made and they’ll hang around for longer…
In a highly uncertain future for the sport, with ridiculously ill-informed decisions seemingly being made day-after-day, it’s heartening to see a team making headlines for all the correct reasons.
Long may it continue…