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Can an American Formula One team succeed?

Are Romain Grosjean's outbursts genuine or exaggerated? (via Haas F1)
Expert
30th September, 2015
2

Formula One may have a global reach these days, but the heartland of the sport remains very much in Europe, where the majority of manufacturers and teams are based.

Even manufacturers that hail from the likes of Japan have traditionally had to pair up with a European-based team.

American efforts to break into Formula One have been rare, partly due to this geographical fact and partly due to its own thriving motorsport scene, negating the need to go racing on a global stage.

There have been some attempts. The greatest American racing team of all, Team Penske, had a brief crack at Formula One in the seventies and scored a solitary win. More recently, the proposed US F1 team never materialised as potential suitors toyed with the idea of splitting bases between North America and United Kingdom.

Haas F1 will look to fly the American flag in Formula One from next season with the latest ambitious plan from North America.

The NASCAR team will have headquarters in Kannapolis, North Carolina, with a European base in Banbury, England. Haas F1 will enjoy a close relationship with technical partner Ferrari, who will provide the engine and other internal components with Haas responsible for the chassis.

This arrangement means Haas F1 already has a head start on the likes of US F1, as the partnership limits the amount of construction and development the upstart team needs to complete.

Haas F1 will be, in many pundits’ eyes, a Ferrari ‘B’ team, though the fact the American side of the operation will build its own chassis means the new team is not entirely a customer outfit.

What does Ferrari get out of the deal? No doubt a significant payment from Haas F1 with a new technical partner with whom it can accelerate its own development program.

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Haas F1 has signed Romain Grosjean as its lead driver with Ferrari test drivers Jean Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez in the frame for the second seat.

But while the Ferrari partnership means Haas F1 has a strong platform for its launch into grand prix racing and Grosjean is a strong team leader, there are several concerns over the logistics.

How will a team split between three bases (American headquarters, English base and Italian technical partner) synchronise its operation in a sport that demands attention to detail?

How will the team be funded adequately at a time when the Formula One revenue stream delivers little for poor-performing teams? Especially without an American driver, who could have assisted in the search for North American sponsors?

As such, it seems a brave decision for the team to recruit two non-American drivers, at a time when American native Alexander Rossi has just broken into Formula One.

By taking on Ferrari-linked test drivers and an established grand prix driver, Haas F1 is demonstrating already how closely associated this team will be with the Italian operation.

As a result, the fortunes of Haas F1 could depend on the future direction of Formula One. If full customer cars are allowed to expand the grid, then Haas F1 is in a strong position to become the American arm of Ferrari in Formula.

In the meantime, as team owner Gene Haas states, it’s about surviving in the most cut-throat and financially strenuous sport in the world.

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“I don’t have any expectations of grandeur that we’re going to go out there and win championships,” he says.

“I’m not expecting to beat anybody, just maybe beat the guys at the back.”

So why bother entering? As with most things in Formula One, it’s being driven by commercial considerations.

Formula One has had a strange relationship with America. Despite North America’s importance to the automotive industry, Formula One has struggled to gain a foothold in America having jumped from one venue to another, from street circuits at Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit and Phoenix to permanent circuits at Riverside, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis and more recently Austin.

But with an established event in Austin, an emerging driver, team and a decent television deal, Formula One has its best chance yet to establish itself in America.

But how successful Haas F1 will be at flying the American flag in Formula One remains to be seen.