There isn’t a single part of me that believes running an F1 team is not complicated or difficult to raise money to support the team. It gets even more difficult when that team slides down the constructor’s championship and the prize money starts to dry up.
For those reasons, a team has to look for more outside investment and paying drivers to supplement the cost of running the team. Survival may not mean you’re putting the best driver in your car but the best-funded driver and the team livery is usually up for grabs to the highest bidder.
Haas F1 was a moment of elation for American fans to finally have an American-owned team back in Formula 1. Its launch was terrific and used a non-listed parts program to instantly be competitive but that competitive edge has waned over the years. So has the team’s prize money.
Haas F1 learned a harsh lesson by wooing the title sponsor, Rich energy, which turned into a nightmare sponsorship at the hands of an, let’s call it, interesting CEO. It took a season to untangle themselves from this relationship and it was a relationship that everyone, including the press, knew was bogus from day one.
You would think that Haas F1 would have learned but this year they have hitched their wagon to a Russian driver, Nikita Mazepin, and his wealthy father’s company, Uralkali. The relationship started off immediately with Nikita posting a video of him groping a young women’s breast and while there was outrage on social media, Haas chose to retain Mazepin.
It now becomes clear as to why they retained Nikita because the car launch revealed the complete livery transformation of the car from the Haas gray to a full-on Russian flag styled livery with Uralkali on the side.
It is clear that this team exists due to Gunther Steiner teaming with the Mazepin family to secure much-needed investment. I understand the notion that you have to do what you have to do to survive. What I am less clear about is why Gene Haas, a seasoned veteran of Nascar and acquiring sponsorship, couldn’t find American backers for his team?
It flies in the face of every American fan who is excited about having an American team in F1 only to now be cheering on the Russian flag? A bit of a non sequitur if you ask me. In fact, American fans have been hoping for an American team with American sponsors and an American driver and that hasn’t happened yet.
The interesting issue is that Haas F1 may have crossed the line with their Russian livery according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The group is looking into the Formula 1 livery and questioning its compliance with a ban against Russia.
Team boss Guenther Steiner said:
“Obviously we cannot use the Russian flag as the Russian flag, but you can use colors on a car,” said Steiner.
“In the end, it’s the athlete which cannot display the Russian flag and not the team. The team is an American team.”
Perhaps the question isn’t if it’s a legal livery per WADA but is it the right livery for an American team. There is a part of me, and don’t take this the wrong way, that believes the team is really set up for Guenther to run and he’s probably got precious little time to turn things around as Gene’s patience is only so deep. In order to keep things rolling, Guenther has to look at new ways to bring in investments like rich energy and Uralkali. At this point, being an American team has nothing to do with simply keeping the team alive. He has to do what he has to do to keep the doors open. I am just slightly stumped as to why Gene couldn’t find American backers and investors given the Williams F1 investment and Liberty Media’s investment. Surely there are more American options than defaulting to a Russian oligarch and a Russian potash company? Especially with a name like Mick Schumacher driver your car.
Guenther is an Italian. He is pragmatic and it probably doesn’t matter to him what the nationality of the owner of the team is. It could be Gene Haas today but if it changed to a Spanish owner tomorrow, he’d be fine with that. He’s practical, not nationally invested. I did see someone say that it’s red, white and blue so what’s the problem? I understand but please know that those are the order of colors in American flag, Russian is white, blue, red which is on the car. The order makes a difference as it would for French or Russians.
There is a sense of national pride, however, and he surely knows that many American F1 fans are very attached to Gene and the Haas organization. This new livery and driver choice does blur the lines and it will not be well received by some of those American fans and surely Gene had to know this. It makes me wonder if this is some sort of transition year for Gene or the beginning of an exit plan.