New Haas team principal, Ayao Komatsu has warned that his approach to running the team will be entirely different to that of his predecessor, Guenther Steiner.
Last week the world of F1, and particularly those new fans won over by his antics on Drive to Survive, were left in shock when Haas announced that Guenther Steiner had left the team with immediate effect.
The Italian, with his no-nonsense approach and expletive-laden tell-it-like-it-is outbursts had won him a legion of fans.
However, on track – where it actually matters – the team was struggling, with Gene Haas admitting that its performances, especially as it was partnered with Ferrari, had left him embarrassed.
Speaking to the media for the first time since the announcement, Komatsu was keen to make clear that he had no intention of being another Steiner.
“Of course, I’m not trying to be Guenther,” he said. “He’s a very different person.
“We got on, honestly, really, really well,” he continued. “We respect each other, we respect each other’s positions and job roles during work and off work as well. We used to go to dinner quite a lot over a race weekend… again, not to talk about work but because we got on pretty well.
“But I’m not here to replace Guenther Steiner as a character,” he insisted. “He’s a very different character, as you know, and he has got very different strengths and weaknesses to me. I’m not trying to be someone else and Gene knows that, and if Gene wanted a Guenther Steiner replacement in that way, he would have appointed somebody else. Gene wants something different and I will try to be the best version of myself rather than trying to be somebody else.”
Ahead of his firing, Steiner has warned that the team faced another couple of years in the wilderness ahead of the 2026 rules overhaul, while behind the scenes he is understood to have argued with Haas over the American’s lack of investment in the team.
Like Steiner, Komatsu has been there from the outset, and no doubt aware of the financial limitations, believes the team can make better use of what it has.
“If you’re setting up on a blank sheet of paper, you’re not going to set up an F1 team with two separate factories in the UK and Italy,” he admitted, “but that’s how we started and that was very beneficial in ’16, ’17, ’18 to get off the ground.
“Then of course the landscape changes, certain regulation changes happen, so the team needs to develop. Those kind of things we need to assess continuously. But again, if you ask me is that ideal, having a UK office here and an Italy office there? No. But is that a main constraint? No. Can we do better? Absolutely yes, so that’s what I’m focused on.
“If we get the maximum out of how we set up, and then if then that becomes right, we cannot do anything better with the way we set up, then we can talk about that. That’s my strategy, if you like. But of course you’ve got to have that, not in the back of your mind, but as a strategy medium, long-term where you might want to go. But that’s not my focus at the minute.
“I’m going to Italy to meet with all the designers and the aerodynamicists we have got over there,” he revealed. “I need to increase my understanding in that area. What are the core issues? How can we improve that?
“I spoke to some of the people here, but it’s not like I’ve spoken with everybody already. So, I’d like to wait until I speak with everyone. Then get people together and formulate an overview, rather than me saying: ‘Okay, within the last three days I identified this’, which may not be a correct representation.
“It’s a very tough business, but I’m still very positive about what we can do with the current set-up. Then, as we improve on the current set-up, certain things, I think, will become pretty obvious and natural that may make us decide, OK, we need to diverge slightly from our original model in this way, and we need to maybe invest in this way.
“That will come up naturally, I think, rather than forcing it. I’m not here to put the place upside down, because then we cannot operate, and we will stop.
“Even if we had a massive investment straightaway, we won’t be functioning properly, we won’t be using that investment properly. So, you have got to grow organically.
“We were not where we should be in 2023, and that’s why we decided to make changes. But you cannot then suddenly just go for a huge leap, because then 2024 will be a complete disaster, right? So, we’ve got to improve the team in 2024.
“I see it as a transitional phase, and then whatever we learn during the course of the year in ’24, I’m sure that will help us very clearly define what we’re going to do in five years’ time, eight years’ time, or 10 years’ time.”
Asked if fans of Drive to Survive might expect the Japanese to occasionally do a Guenther and turn the air blue, he admitted: “This is not something I’m proud to say, but my language is not great. I swear way too much, but, again, I try not to do that.
“Honestly, my job role, fundamentally, is to improve the team’s competitiveness,” he continued. “So I’m focused on that. That’s my focus full stop. It’s not like I am going to be consciously looking for certain exposure to promote the team’s popularity, that’s not my job. At the end of the day, that’s somebody else’s job, as far as I’m concerned. Again, I made that clear to Gene.”