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SBD Global/January 29, 2016/People and Pop Culture

Hangin' With ... Haas F1 Team Owner & Founder Gene Haas



Gene Haas hopes to increase his machine tool brands global market share through F1.
GENE HAAS is the founder and owner of the Haas F1 Team. The team will give its debut when the new F1 season kicks off in Australia on March 20. Haas, who is also co-owner of NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing, hopes his involvement in the global racing series will increase the market share of its machine tool company, Haas Automation. On April 11, 2014, motorsports governing body FIA granted Haas an F1 license for the '16 season, making Haas F1 the first U.S.-led F1 team in 30 years. With less than two months until the start of the season, Haas talked with SBD Global about the F1 project and its value to Haas Automation.

On the F1 team's potential impact for Haas Automation ...
Gene Haas: The more notoriety you get, the more our brand will be known and the more machine tools we will sell. It’s all part of the plan. You can’t buy the kind of notoriety with advertising that we are getting now and it helps sell our product in the rest of the world. Just like NASCAR is very dominant in the United States -- half of our production is actually consumed in the United States -- if we could increase our market share by even 1 or 2 percent in the rest of the world that would almost double our sales. That really is the goal to bring that brand recognition, produce more product in the United States and sell more overseas.

On whether the F1 project has already had a positive effect ...
Haas: Yes, absolutely. We were in Madrid for an open house and there were TV cameras, reporters and people wanting to know about Formula 1. They said, ‘Okay you are a Formula 1 guy. But what do you do? How did you get into it?’ That’s what leads into, 'We build machine tools and this is part of our marketing plan to sell more machine tools.' We are getting the message out. I was in Mexico City [for the F1 race] and there was incredible interest. I’ve never seen so many fans. The only time I’ve seen that many fans at a race was at the Indy 500 or at the Daytona 500, those two premium races and I saw that in Mexico and we sell a lot of product there too. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for Formula 1, especially outside the United States, if we could get that kind of enthusiasm in the U.S. that would help a lot with our sales here too. There’s no way I could have bought that publicity by advertising.

On the team's final preparations before the season opener in Australia ...
Haas: It’s just a lot of busy work, obviously the Barcelona test sessions -- Feb. 22-25 and March 1-4 -- are coming up. There’s also NASCAR, we have a Las Vegas test session and then you have the Daytona 500. February is going to be a particularly busy month. We haven’t seen a car. We would like to see a car. In Formula 1 all these little bits and pieces come together all in the last few weeks and then you build a car. Every day I read the latest tidbits coming out of Formula 1. There’s always a lot of drama going on and it’s fun to read. It’s like a soap opera.

On when the car will be unveiled ...
Haas: Probably in Barcelona. There’s no time to do [a big launch event] anymore. Those were the good old days. I think we will have a photographer’s day somewhere in Italy so people can see the car. I’d like to see the car myself.

Esteban Gutiérrez and Romain Grosjean
On the team's driver lineup ...
Haas: [Esteban] Gutiérrez has been a Ferrari test driver, so he’s up to speed with simulators and Ferrari equipment. He has driven some of the Ferrari cars, so he’s going to be a little bit further ahead. [Romain] Grosjean as a current Formula 1 driver is going to be more familiar with the tracks, requirements and tire strategies. We have none of that knowledge now. Most teams will develop a book as they go from race to race, year after year and you look at those notes. We don’t have a notebook, so we have to develop all of that. I think that’s where Romain will have an advantage, and then Gutiérrez will have the advantage on the equipment side since he’s going to be more familiar with it. Those two guys together will be able to complement each other and give us a better package.

On the potential for an American reserve driver ...
Haas: We don’t have a reserve driver at the moment. If we can find a common reserve driver with Ferrari or someone that would probably be the best way to do that. With the safety there is today you generally speaking need a reserve driver just for sickness or some other emergency. The need for a reserve driver probably isn’t as important as you think. We don’t typically have reserve drivers in NASCAR either.

On expectations for the '16 season ...
Haas: It will be a building experience. We are going to this party without really knowing what it’s like. We can sit there and watch what other people do but there’s nothing like being there. That’s going to be the experience. I think we are prepared, I think we will do well at it but you have to really be there to learn it. All the reading you can do and talking to other people, the challenge is being able to do it. I’m sure we will make tons of mistakes, correct those mistakes and be better prepared for each race. After we are done with those 21 races [this] year, we will have a whole year behind us and our notebook will be full of what we need to know. And we will do better after that.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.
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