INTERVIEW: The ‘Guenther Steiner effect’

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Unless you’re an Alpine, it was hard not to be impressed by Haas at last month’s United States Grand Prix.

From a gorgeous photoshoot in a lounge bar to the Stars and Stripes on the clothing, Haas was embracing America. But then, that was probably a little easier to do after announcing the new title sponsor — Dallas-based MoneyGram — before race weekend.

For all the wider reasons that Formula 1 is attractive to sponsors now, Haas can definitely count on the ‘Guenther Steiner effect’. The team manager doesn’t particularly like the attention, but he’s also willing to embrace it, to such an extent that T-shirts with his face and iconic expletive-laden quotes were handed out at a team BBQ the same day as the deal. new for title. was made public.

It’s a deal Haas had been working on for some time, but it’s not quite the sign of the American boom you might think it is. In fact, according to Steiner himself, it may just be a precursor.

“I wouldn’t say (there’s been a lot of interest from America), because I think MoneyGram is a little bit ahead of the curve,” Steiner tells RACER. “I think there’s more to come from the US, and hopefully MoneyGram opened the door for other people.

“Interest has grown in F1 – you get all the fans, but the corporations, they don’t react immediately. It’s like ‘OK, it’s interesting, but let’s see if it sticks, let’s see where it goes and let’s see who else does it first’ so they have someone to compare to.

“I know Oracle is in the Red Bull car, but this is another dimension of things. Oracle is an American company, but they are really big. I think MoneyGram is the company, an American company that thought that F1 can help us develop our global business to do more. F1 is growing, so they looked at it and said ‘Wow, this is actually a big sport’ and then they got interested and eventually joined us as a partner, which is great.”

Before I go any further, I know what you’re thinking. Rich Energy, Uralkali – Haas hasn’t exactly had a good track record when it comes to her title partnerships. However, it looks like MoneyGram is a different deal, and one that Steiner thinks is a reflection of the team’s commercial growth.

“I don’t even think about it,” he says. “We’ve done our due diligence, I have a much stronger team around me now to work with these people and get these deals done.

“The agreement was reached through very difficult negotiations and this shows that it will work. They know what they’re doing, they know what they want to get out of it, and that makes me sure they want to do it. They have a clear objective of what they want to achieve from this program, they’re not doing it because they woke up one morning and they’d like to do it – it’s a publicly traded company and they have to deliver.

“They’re going to make it work for them and we have to work with them to achieve their goal. I’m not worried if it will work or not. Whether it doesn’t work or not, we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it, but right now I’m not afraid we should have a problem with it.”

This commercial growth has prompted Haas to bring in a new marketing director and in many ways benefit from the split with Uralkali earlier this year. This was a convenience to keep the team running after the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is now riding the wave of interest in F1 in a budget-constrained era.

“It’s all work, but it’s part of my job, the team’s job now, to do it,” he says. “We’ve made a huge leap over the last couple of years – when we were where we were, we got a lot better at some things. We got better at finding sponsors. You see now the sponsors in the car… I think we have made a big step.

“(Uralkali’s split) gave us a break. We just realized we have to do something and we started with a new marketing director in January and he’s doing a good job, but we didn’t start recruiting him in January, we started last year.

“It’s the same for everyone; you work and do things and suddenly they come together. And you say ‘how did you do that?’ “Oh, we started over a year ago working on this and now it’s coming together.” It always shows that you have to keep doing what you think is the right thing to do. Never say ‘Oh, that doesn’t work now’ – no, it does.”

While Haas’ focus over the past few years has been survival, the team has always had Gene Haas to keep the wheels turning as the team worked to make commercial sense. That’s not to say the team owner told Steiner to find more sponsorships, but in a year where a number of multi-million dollar deals have been completed, the team principal admits it puts him in a position to continue growing the team.

“We know where we need to go,” says Steiner. “He gives us all the support we need, but he clearly tells you ‘this is what we need to achieve as a company’ and how we achieve it he leaves… ‘that’s your problem, not mine’.

“It puts you in a situation where we say ‘we did what the investor is trying to achieve.’ We need to have an F1 team that is commercially viable, that nobody has to subsidize it. Every company should achieve this. That’s a very fair target, and if I don’t like it, then I can choose to go too. That’s part of why I love it here – you’re given a goal, nobody gets in the way of how you achieve it as long as you do it, and then he gives you all the support you want.”

It couldn’t be a more dramatically different picture to two years ago, when Haas faced Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher and admitted he was set for a tough year as the rookies learned their trade. This was out of necessity due to commercial considerations, but now all decisions about the second driver for 2023 – as evidenced already by the re-signing of Kevin Magnussen – are made without financial considerations.

“It’s a fantastic place to be,” Steiner admits. “It’s a good place to be – we just have to make the right (driver) decision, which is now the issue…”

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