Haas F1 Announcement Transcript
(KANNAPOLIS, NC - SEP 19, 2015 - RIS) Courtesy the team, the following is a transcript of today's Haas F1 Team press conference where Romain Grosjean was announced as the team's driver.
An Interview With: GENE HAAS
THE MODERATOR: I want to go ahead and introduce Gene Haas, founder and chairman of Haas F1 team; at the far end of the dais, Guenther Steiner, team principal of Haas F1 Team; and in the middle, Romain Grosjean.
Gene, very exciting element today, an important piece of the puzzle to Haas F1's debut in 2016. Tell us a little bit about it.
GENE HAAS: Well, you know, this is part of our long‑term strategy. I think we've always maintained that we wanted an experienced driver to lead our team into the 2016 season. You know, Formula One is a tricky business. It's like any other kind of business. You have to learn it, and the best way to learn it is to learn it from other people.
You know, we were looking for an experienced driver, and Romain was one of several candidates. He's been in Formula One for many years. He's been an excellent driver for Team Lotus. I reviewed a lot of his video of his driving styles. One thing that was very impressive is the fact that he's scored points almost every season, and that's really what our primary goal here is to be able to score points.
I think as a piece of the puzzle, he's going to have a lot of work to do. He's going to be our lead driver and we're going to depend heavily on him to help us with our strategies with the car, with the racetracks, and just the learning of the whole operations of an F1 team.
THE MODERATOR: Romain, you've had a very accomplished career in motorsports, winning championships in every series you've competed in as you've climbed the ladder to Formula One. What was it about Haas F1 Team that made you decide this was the place for you?
ROMAIN GROSJEAN: Well, it's a question I had to ask myself, first of all, and thinking about your future and your career is always important.
I discovered the project a few years ago through the media, and then got to know a little bit more about what Gene and Guenther were doing and how it was nicely building up, and I like the fact that it's a different approach to what a normal new F1 team would do. I think it's an approach that can be pretty quickly successful and, if we're racing in Formula One, it's not to be last on the grid. It's to always do our best as a team, as a driver, and what we'd like is to try to drink the champagne on the podium.
I like the idea of the partnership with Ferrari. I like the way everything has been going. I like the fact that it's going slowly but nicely and, as I said in the media recently, I'm very, very happy that I made that decision.
THE MODERATOR: And Guenther Steiner, our team principal, Gene discussed the overall reasoning for pursuing Romain, but can you talk about some of the details that make him the ideal fit for Haas F1 Team in its inaugural season?
GUENTHER STEINER: As Gene said before, you know, we looked around a lot to find the right guy because we wanted somebody with experience but still hungry to do something, to go with us this long way. I mean, I started talks with the management of Romain in Barcelona to see if he's interested and, you know, we spoke to quite a few drivers, and in the end I spoke also with technical people, what they think about Romain, how he develops a car, because we have got a steep mountain to climb here, new team, all new team members, so we needed somebody who knows what he's doing.
I think in the end we found the right guy because he has so much 'want to drive' now, and he's still aggressive or still wants it, you know, but he's not young (so) anymore that he's inexperienced. We lose time by having accidents or doing rookie mistakes.
I think we just picked the best one out there for what we are doing, and we focused on him and got him, and we are very happy and we are looking forward to working with him.
THE MODERATOR: A little bit of background on Romain: 78 Formula One races, 10 podiums, recently finished third back in August at the Belgian Grand Prix, his fifth Formula One season, currently with Lotus F1 Team.
Q. Romain, what would you say is a reasonable expectation for Haas F1 team going into the next season?
ROMAIN GROSJEAN: That's always a question you get at the beginning of the year. It's a tough one to reply (to) when you know a team. It's even more difficult when you know it's going to be the first time the car is on track. But I think from what I've seen so far, we should be able to run straight away without I think the problems for new teams, which makes – which was part of my reflection for the decision, and I think it would be really good to score a few points early in the season for a newcomer American team, and I think a lot of support behind us.
Q. Mr. Haas, could you talk about F1 being here in Kannapolis, and what does it mean for Cabarrus County and the Charlotte area?
GENE HAAS: Obviously, it's been a learning experience. You know, when we first started here, we built the F1 shop – actually we started building it before we even obtained our license and, looking back on it, that was actually a pretty risky move. But we've employed a lot of people here in the construction of the facility. At the moment we're doing mainly CFD here, so we have a handful of pretty high‑level engineers. We also employ people in the UK and also in Italy.
Our initial expectation was to do everything out of Kannapolis initially, but I think as time goes on, it'll probably be slower growth as we learn more and more and, hopefully, we'll bring more employment back here to Kannapolis. Right now, it's pretty high‑end engineering jobs and we're getting a lot of interest from CFD engineers from all over the United States, so it's an exciting time.
Q. Gene, can you compare for us building a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team as you've done over the last 15, 20 years, and the last couple of years building an F1 team? What are the similarities and what are the differences between building the two types of operations?
GENE HAAS: Well, I think if anything the main ingredient is just stubbornness, not giving up and just keeping your head pointed forward and just taking your licks as you go. NASCAR was certainly difficult. We spent five or six years in NASCAR and we were always in the back. It was a pretty grueling, tough experience. I can sympathize with a lot of guys that run in the back and just how hard that is.
We were one of the fortunate teams in that Joe Custer put together a deal with Tony Stewart, and that became Stewart‑Haas Racing, and I think in our first season we started winning races, so that was a real eye-opener. It takes the right people to make things happen.
The same thing with Formula One. When we first started out, initially Guenther took me to I think Austin, and I met Bernie Ecclestone, and that was a real eye-opener there, too, because here's the godfather of Formula One, and you get to meet him, and he's pretty coy person. It's kind of like he almost dissuades you from wanting to start this business because he's seen so many people attempt it and failures.
But, like anything else, we kept banging away at it, and I think it was a couple years later he finally said, look, if you're really serious about this, we'll make a tender for you, and he had to open it up to various teams.
You know, through the whole process, it really comes down to selecting the right people, taking your time, trying to analyze things, then adapting to what you learn. What we initially started with, say, two years ago has really kind of changed quite a bit, and our whole direction now has gone a little bit different than as opposed to say what some of the other teams are, where the other teams are looking at being a primary constructor, and we're trying to just basically use as much as we can from our partners. So I think that's the main difference between us and other ones, and I think that's really going to be a difference in the way we run our team.
Q. To Gene and Guenther: When selecting Romain as a driver, did you also look at his commercial appeal to bring sponsors to the team in the future?
GENE HAAS: You know, I'd have to say that we had a lot of pressure to hire an American driver, but the reality of it was that a rookie driver with a rookie team just isn't a good fit. Our primary purpose here is to show that, as an American manufacturer, that we can compete in the most difficult, competitive series in the world of car racing, and that was Formula One.
In order to achieve that goal, our direction was to do whatever it takes. I mean, it's like, say, when we first started out, we're not here to sit there and say, 'Hey, we as Americans can do it the American way.' Our goal is to race competitive teams and, basically, whatever it takes to get that car on the grid with the right people is what we're looking for.
I think with Romain, the difference is that there's only 20 drivers that are currently now driving in Formula One. He fits that bill perfectly and we were kind of surprised, I'm a little surprised, that we got a driver with the experience that he brings to our team because it's going to be a real challenge. He's going to be working a lot harder than he thinks he's going to be. (Laughter.)
Q. This is for Gene Haas: The last three teams that entered Formula One failed, although one did revive. Where will Haas succeed where they failed, or how will Haas succeed where they failed?
GENE HAAS: You know, I think our strategy is different than what those teams faced. I think they were under a real time constraint. They had probably almost six months to put together a whole team, and I think when people think about entering Formula One, at least from my point of view at that time, and even a casual observer, is that somehow these cars, you can go down and parts in cars are all readily available, but you really have to build everything from scratch. I think that's what really tripped up the previous teams was, is, that they just didn't allow enough time to actually build their cars so, when they got on the grid, they were really, really behind. Not only are you trying to develop and design your car, but you're also trying to race, and trying to do those things simultaneously is probably impossible. That's probably the biggest difference with us.
We took a little – we're taking quite a bit more time, actually, to get our car prepared and, at the same time, we're also able to put together some very important relationships with obviously Ferrari and then Dallara, plus our UK operation. We were very fortunate to be able to obtain a race shop that had a lot of facilities that we really needed. If we had to do that in a short of timeframe, I don't think any of that would have happened.
I think that's really the biggest difference is, just the more time you have, the more time you have to develop the relationships that you need and secure the people, equipment and other parts of the puzzle that just takes time, and time is what we need, and when we get to the grid, we won't be developing a car, we'll be ready to go. The car is fully developed, and I think even later this year we start to get to work on the 2017 car. So I think we're a little bit ahead of where those other teams were.
Q. This is a question for Romain: Can you tell us what specifically about Haas convinced you that this was good move, or is it more of a situation where you saw things weren't going the way you wanted them to at Lotus and you're just looking for a change?
ROMAIN GROSJEAN: Well, I think, as I say, I took my decision before – there was not decision A and decision B. I've met Guenther, I've met Gene. We spoke. They explained to me what was the project like, and I believe that it's a new approach going on in Formula One and an approach that's going to work. I've spent 10 years, and I know the guys very well, and it would have been easy to take the comfortable road and stay there. But, on the other hand, I want to try to win races, win championships, and I thought that coming here to Haas was a good step in a good direction to achieve that.
Q. This one is for Gene Haas: Gene, besides Formula One experience, what were the additional qualities you were looking for in a racecar driver for your team?
GENE HAAS: Well, that's actually a very good question because that was the primary focus, was looking for a racecar driver. But I think some of the other qualities would be just the maturity of experience. You know, there's always theory and then there's actual experience. I think when you start out as a racecar driver, you have a tendency to be a bit aggressive so, hopefully with Romain, his maturity will lend itself towards us being able to progress as a team.
I think other areas, too, is that he's a bright young person, so I think he's going to help a lot as far as promoting our machine tool brand in Europe. I mean, obviously he's French‑Swiss nationality, so those are both very important countries to our business. So we'll be looking forward to him representing our products over there. I'm sure that will open up marketing opportunities both here in the U.S. and Europe.
THE MODERATOR: Everyone, thank you very much for your time.
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.