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LONDON (Reuters) - NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas has no desire to fuel speculation but neither will he rule out entirely the possibility of Danica Patrick racing for his new Formula One team next year.
"If the right sponsor came along, then anything is possible," the California-based businessman told Reuters when asked whether the world's best-known female racer might make a sensational switch from ovals.
Even as he spoke, on a visit to the grand prix paddock in Spain last weekend, his F1 team principal Guenther Steiner grimaced.
"Don’t put anything in that Danica is coming to F1," laughed the Austrian, mindful of all the stories written since Haas Formula One confirmed they would be making their grand prix debut in 2016.
"We’ve been down that path last year," agreed Haas, who nonetheless left no doubt that his Stewart-Haas NASCAR driver would be given serious consideration if the deal was right and she wanted to do it.
Formula One has not had a woman driver start a race in nearly 40 years and Patrick, who nearly tested for Honda in 2008, has been through the rumor mill many times already.
"We don’t want to sit there and say no to anything but the probabilities... obviously when she’s in NASCAR, it’s very difficult to participate in F1," said Haas of the 33-year-old who in 2013 became the first woman to take pole position for the season-opening Daytona 500.
Recent events may make it easier, however.
Patrick's long-term backer, internet domain name service GoDaddy Inc, announced last month they were leaving NASCAR at the end of the year and that has left her future in doubt although Haas sounded positive on that score.
"Danica Patrick is highly marketable and if anything we’re very lucky that GoDaddy is giving us enough time to find a sponsor that she’ll fit with, because she can sell anything," he said.
"She has as much attention at the race track as any of the drivers so she’s a very valuable person."
Haas F1 will be the first American-based team in Formula One since 1986 and will compete with Ferrari engines in a close tie-up with the Italian team.
They have already secured a European base in central England, buying the old Marussia factory in Banbury, and are making steady progress even if no driver announcement is expected for months.
"We kind of have to wait until mid-summer and really see who’s available. Obviously Formula One cars are a little unique; you probably have to have someone with relative experience of driving these cars," said Haas.
"It would be a home run to put an American driver in an American Formula One team, but it takes a lot of alignment of the stars for that to happen."
Haas said the team had acquired no equipment from auctions of the failed Caterham and Marussia teams, other than the latter's super-computer, preferring instead to buy big ticket items such as trailers new.
He added that the team had about 90 employees with another 50 or 60 to be hired, and would reflect the 'premium brand' of his machine automation business.
"Right now we’re in that slow period of just kind of building things, putting things together," said the 62-year-old.
"Our goal is to actually show that you can survive in F1 without the drama that some of the other teams go through. I think, from everything that I’ve seen, we’re going to be fine," he added.
Haas said he was aiming to make the most of "NASCAR efficiencies", buying in technology from different companies rather than doing it the traditional F1 way.
"We really don’t have any urgent need for sponsors but we’d certainly like to have some. But our goal is we’re going racing, whether we’re sponsored or not," he added.
With the prospect of adding a Formula One schedule to the time needed to run his business and attend NASCAR races, Haas could be short of sleep next year but he laughed that off.
"I have no idea how I’m going to make all this work," he smiled. "It is fun, might as well do it before you’re dead."
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris