LONDON (Reuters) - The first U.S.-owned Formula One team in 30 years will get lots of attention next week but the sleek new Haas car is, without denigrating its performance, more commercial vehicle than all-American racer.
There is a splash of red on the VF-16 (for Very First) that will make its race debut in Melbourne on March 20 but forget about any white and blue, stars and stripes flag-waving patriotism.
Grey, light and dark, is the standout color and Haas branding dominates.
“The colors on the car are kind of Haas primary colors. That’s what we wanted,” said Gene Haas, the industrialist whose Haas Automation company is the largest machine tool manufacturer in North America with more than $1 billion in annual sales.
“Our sales thrust here is to sell more machine tools,” added the 63-year-old.
“We are doing this more as a challenge to market our products and be involved in the races,” said Haas, a familiar face to U.S. motor racing fans as co-owner of the Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup-winning team.
Their drivers are French and Mexican, Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez respectively, the team have a European base and the number of actual Americans on staff are in a distinct minority.
Most of the race mechanics have been recruited from British-based F1 teams.
The chassis is made in Italy by Dallara, the engines are provided by Ferrari and the principal is Guenther Steiner, a German-speaking, Italian-born naturalized American who has spent much of his career in Europe.
There was some disappointment when Alexander Rossi, who last season raced for Manor Marussia as the first U.S. Formula One driver since 2007, was passed over for a race seat but that was never the plan.
“We were not looking at nationalism when we came to put this team together, we were looking at obtaining the best possible people and products and engines and transmission that we can,” Haas told reporters at pre-season testing in Barcelona.
“We’re here to win races, not to do it the hard way.”
Haas have forged close ties with Ferrari and used their NASCAR experience to keep costs down with as much as possible outsourced.
The headquarters are in Kannapolis, North Carolina but there is a European operational base in Banbury, central England for logistics. The team use the Ferrari wind tunnel at Maranello in Italy.
Previous American teams have been shortlived, the most recent being Lola Haas which competed without success in 1985 and 1986.
That team’s founder Carl Haas is no relation to Gene.
Before that there was the Parnelli Jones outfit that raced between 1974 and 1976 and the Anglo-American Racers Eagle team in the 1960s that won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix with Dan Gurney at the wheel.
Winning races is very much a dream for Haas at the moment and an achievement that few teams have managed when dependent on an engine provided by a manufacturer that also has its own factory team.
Toro Rosso did it against the odds with Ferrari engines in 2008, and Haas have a winners’ mentality from NASCAR, but scoring points — maybe even in the opening race — is more realistic.
With only 11 cars finishing last season’s opening race in Melbourne, and points going to the top 10, just having the reliability to get to the finish can be sufficient.
“Our plan is to basically capitalize on reliability. If we can just be reliable and stay in the races we can actually probably finish eighth or ninth just by that,” said Haas.
“If we have performance, then we can even move up from there.”
Even if Haas says the team have a reasonable budget and do not need sponsors to go racing, he is open to other backers coming in once the team have shown how professional they are.
He also hopes American fans will get behind the project.
“We’ve been involved in NASCAR for over 15 years so this is just a continuation of that on an international basis,” said Haas.
“Certainly we’d like to be an American team ... but we haven’t specifically gone out there and said ‘We’re doing this because we’re an American team’. We’re doing this because we’re in motor racing and we just happen to be an American team.
“If we can beat them (the Europeans), or at least keep up with them, I think people are going to want to watch,” added Haas. “They are going to watch to see if you beat them and if you don’t, how badly you crash.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez