Speaking to Haas F1 Team principal Guenther Steiner on Friday at this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, I was curious to know how he felt the team was doing as the season approaches the one-third mark this season. Having spoken to him at the Australian GP on the team’s debut, the team’s approach and success were both in focus as he shared his thinking.
At the 1/3 mark we know where we are, whereas at the beginning there is just so much to day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Now we’ve got better processes in place, where we can evaluate what we’re doing well and where we have to work from. I think we’re quite stable, where we are performance wise, what we can do better and what we can do worse, but we know where our threshold is. Part of our job now is to evaluate what we did wrong and how we do it better for next year. We are working on next year’s car and just refining processes we learned weren’t perfect, and we need to do it now to be ready for next year because 2017 isn’t tomorrow, it was yesterday.
A lot of the team are spending 50% of their time on next year, and the race team is thinking about this weekend because they are out on track. It’s pretty challenging and personally I’m very satisfied with the team and all the people we employed. Out of 100 people we expected some changes, and some people weren’t happy with what they were offered, so we didn’t have a lot of turnover, and nobody left because they thought we weren’t a good team.
So for this weekend, just to explain where you make progress, it’s our seventh, and our mechanics went home at the same time as those from the top teams, at 7 o’clock from the rack track to the hotel. The first races, we worked until curfew: ’30 seconds to go lets run out to the gate’, otherwise we get a penalty. So the team has done a good job to get organized, it’s not only how fast the car goes, its also how to stabilize the team so that when they come back to the track the next day they are not tired anymore. We’ve made a lot of progress but we still have a long way to go.
After the team’s surprising 6th place finish on their debut in Melbourne, Guenther used a phrase that captured his thinking for making measured progress ahead, saying: “If you get too sharp, you cut yourself.” Sounding like words of wisdom, I asked him to elaborate.
If you think ‘oh, we’re good now, and we need to panic and use the latest and greatest developments…’ no, this isn’t reality. We need to stabilize what we have got, and then we can add something new to the car. The idea that ‘we finished 6th, let’s make a new front wing, or make this or that…’, that’s where you lose the plot. By just looking at what we can do this year to make the car that much better would gain us three or four positions – and besides being very difficult, it means we can’t focus on next year’s car. It means you just delay your drop in performance.
You need to be clear and honest with yourself. Can we get to a podium this year? I don’t think so, but if it happens, we’ll get lucky. There are a lot of things we can work on the get on the podium next year, and that’s more important. I stay well grounded in how we direct resources and how we do things.
When asked what keeps him so grounded, Guenther replied:
Experience, getting old! No – it’s experience because by doing things wrong, you get experience… If you drop off too fast, people lose confidence in the company and in the team, so my job is to guide them how not to make mistakes… Right now, we’re building a solid base and not just putting a ladder on it to be high up. Instead, we’re getting the base higher, and not just a ladder which can tip over more easily.