All is not well as Haas F1, and everybody knows it. The team is out of money. One of their two drivers is the most despised in the sport. The current car would look slow even if compared with the 2019 Williams. It’s hard to believe that this is the same team that was challenging Renault, McLaren, and Racing Point in the middle of the pack only three years ago – and yet it is. Likeable team principal Guenther Steiner is still at the helm, and Gene Haas is still the team’s owner, but everything else about the team has changed beyond recognition.
It’s hard to say precisely when things started to go wrong for the Haas team in Formula 1, but there was a definite dropoff between the 2018 and 2020 seasons. In 2018, Haas’ car and drivers were competitive. In 2020 they were reduced to swapping positions with Williams and Alfa Romeo at the back of the grid. Were it not for Romain Grosjean’s spectacular fireball crash and subsequent escape in Bahrain at the end of the season, it’s doubtful that anyone would remember anything about Haas’ season at all. Grosjean and his teammate Kevin Magnussen might not have achieved greatness in their Formula 1 careers, but neither one of them deserved to end their time in the sport in such a dreadful car. Were it not for the fact Grosjean sailed into the barriers at such pace, we’d have set that they left the sport not with a bang but with a whimper.
If you’re a fan of Formula 1, you probably watch the companion series “Drive to Survive” on Netflix. It’s always aired after the season ends so as not to prejudice anything that might happen on the racing track beforehand. If you haven’t, though, you might not know that Guenther Steiner received the kind of phone call that no team principal wants to receive from their boss at around the halfway stage of the 2020 season. Haas was tired of bad results and unwilling to invest any more money in the running of the team. Like many wealthy team owners, his finances were trained by the effects of the pandemic. Funding a failing Formula 1 team wasn’t high on his priority list. Steiner was told that he either needed to make savings and find new sponsors or start the process of winding the team up and withdrawing from the sport.
Steiner did what he could. Both Magnussen and Grosjean were on the kind of money that experienced F1 drivers are entitled to expect, so they both had to go. Replacing them with other experienced drivers wasn’t an option. Steiner was probably tempted by Nico Hulkenberg but couldn’t afford him. Circumstances dictated that he had to look at rookies instead. In Mick Schumacher, he secured a driver with a fine racing pedigree, a famous name, and a Formula 2 world championship. The son of Michael Schumacher was always likely to be a popular draw for sponsors, and so it’s proven to be the case. There’s more to young Mick than his father’s name, though – he’s a very talented driver in his own right and will probably achieve great things in the sport one day. When he does, he won’t be driving for Haas. Schumacher is a great hire. His teammate? Not so much.
Schumacher’s teammate at Haas this season is Nikita Mazepin. Nothing about Mazepin’s Formula 2 or carting career suggests he’s a good driver. What he does have going for him, though, is the fact that his father, Dmitry Mazepin, is a billionaire. Dmitry’s sponsorship money has bought his son a much-coveted Formula 1 seat and will ensure that he keeps hold of it so long as he keeps paying. That alone would have incurred the displeasure of fans, but Mazepin made matters worse by posting a wildly inappropriate video of his behaviour with a female friend on Instagram before the season started. There was a campaign for Mazepin to be fired before he’d even made his debut. Haas declined to fire him. Mazepin is disliked by the fans, and objectively not of the same standard as the other drivers in the sport. His habit of losing control of his car during practice, qualifying, and races has already earned him the nickname “Mazespin.”
With Schumacher and Mazepin finishing second-to-last and last in every race and Mazepin making the wrong kind of headlines, questions have to be asked about how long Gene Haas is willing to stay involved in the sport. When he bought a Formula 1 team six years ago he spoke of wanting to be competitive. Instead, he’s being routinely embarrassed. Every time the Haas cars come in at the back of the field it must feel like a slap in the face to him, and even if the new sponsorship money means he doesn’t have to cover the bills he still may not want his name associated with such a relentless sequence of failures.
Haas knew when he got involved with the sport that it would cost time and money to make it to the top, or even to the top of the middle order. There’s no way to make it to the top of Formula 1 without heavy investment and hard work. Haas will feel like he’s already done that, though. There might not be any such thing as a guarantee of success, but spending money on a Formula 1 team ought to be feel like the (admittedly far more expensive) equivalent of paying for a spin on the “Grand Prix” online slots game. When you make that bet, you do so in the full knowledge that you’re more likely to lose your stake than you are to make a return. That’s why online slots websites make more money than the people who place bets on them. You place that bet because you know that someone has to win, and there’s a chance it might be you. The chance of that reward is what keeps online slots players coming back to Rose Slots New Zealand. With Haas, though, the prospect of a jackpot no longer exists. Short of the entire midfield crashing into each other and failing to finish a race, there’s no prospect of a Haas car scoring points this year. An optimist is entitled to hope, but only a fool sends good money after bad.
In theory, Gene Haas has signed the Concorde Agreement and committed the Haas team to Formula 1 until the end of the 2025 season. In practice, he could get out earlier than that if he finds a buyer to take his place. There are strong rumours that just like Lawrence Stroll bought Racing Point to provide his son Lance with a seat, Dmitry Mazepin might be tempted to buy Haas for Nikita. Don’t be surprised to see the Haas F1 team replaced by Mazepin F1 for the 2022 season – and don’t be surprised to see Schumacher replaced as the team’s number one driver by his vastly inferior teammate either.