America’s First F1 Car in 30 Years
Get to know the Haas VF-16.
The Haas Formula 1 racecar, dubbed VF-16, has been revealed. The team dives into its first official test sessions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya tomorrow. First, here’s everything you need to know about the VF-16...
This is the first F1 car from an American team in 30 years; Carl Haas and Teddy Mayer fielded the last one, in 1986. Bizarrely, that team was also called Team Haas. No relation, though.
Gene Haas, team boss and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing’s champion NASCAR team, started out working in machine shops as a kid. He invented a machine called the VF-1, which revolutionized manufacturing. Today, Haas Automation (founded in 1983) is the one of the world’s largest machine-tool businesses. The new F1 car is named VF-16 after that first machine tool Haas invented years ago. The VF stands for Very First; the 16 is for 2016.
The two-team car will field drivers Romain Grosjean (France) and Esteban Gutiérrez (Mexico). Both have F1 experience, in particular Grosjean, who’s proved he can pilot uncompetitive cars to strong finishes with Team Lotus. Between the two drivers: Ten F1 podiums, 280 points, 78 Grand Prix started.
Haas, 63, isn’t in this game for fun. His ass is on the line. This is a seriously ballsy thing, gambling untold millions of dollars to launch a team from scratch—an American team, in a racing series that has traditionally been hostile to Americans. Why’s he doing it? To win, and to sell machine tools globally. “From an international standpoint, Formula 1 is the highest echelon of racing,” Haas said today in a statement. “And Haas Automation builds the highest-quality machine tools.”
Though American, Haas F1 Team is really an international enterprise. Haas has partnered with Ferrari for engines and technical assistance—a clever move, since he needs the tech, and Ferrari gets to support its brand in America, its most important market. Win-win. But can the car win? The team is based in Haas’s 125,00-square foot headquarters, next the Stewart-Haas NASCAR offices, near Charlotte, North Carolina. But the car has been built in a shop in England, where most of the F1 teams are based, and where the best F1 technical talent (save Italy) is situated.
Why has there been no American F1 team in 30 years? Money. F1 is spectacularly expensive. In a recent interview with The Drive, Haas put the budget somewhere around $100 million to get the team off the ground.
Haas’s best asset might be a guy named Gunther Steiner. He’s team principal, an Italian-born racing impresario who was once Red Bull F1’s technical director. He came to the U.S. years ago to run the now-defunct Red Bull NASCAR team. Smart guy, real F1 experience.
Amazingly, only one American-built car has ever won an F1 Grand Prix. It was Dan Gurney’s beautiful Eagle, which took the top podium spot in Belgium in 1967.
Fans should have realistic expectations. “If the team makes a podium this year, it’ll be a miracle,” says Mario Andretti. “I’m sure they’d tell you the same thing. If they come away with some points, that would mean success. And I think they will.”
This week’s first official test should tell us a lot more about the VF-16. The season kicks off in Australia on March 20.