Haas have been America’s F1 team since 2016 but with others vying for the throne, 2023 looks a crucial year for Guenther Steiner and co.
When Haas were given the green light by the FIA to become the newest F1 team, owner Gene Haas described it as an “exciting time for anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula 1.”
The sport’s history in the country has been more on-again, off-again than Ross and Rachel so when Haas were debating an entry, they saw potential but also risk. It had been a few years since the United States Grand Prix had ended a four-year hiatus to return to the calendar and a similar amount of time since the US F1 Team had failed to get off the ground.
But their move would be assisted a year later when American mass media company Liberty Media purchased the commercial rights to the sport and set about their own plans of conquering the west.
Cut to 2023 and Haas are in the unique position of enjoying three home races this season, something even Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes cannot claim, and F1 has exploded Stateside.
“It’s the hot topic at the moment,” Haas’ director of marketing Mark Morrell tells PlanetF1.com. “TV viewership has more than doubled in five years or so. You saw that race attendance at Austin last year hit 400,000 for the first time, they’re expecting more this year.
“But then the interesting stat was 70% of attendees were first timers at an F1 event.
“They’ve got more races than any other country. Obviously, it’s a huge country, but three races in one market is pretty significant and then from us, from a team perspective, we see the slightly more tangible elements.
“[Such as] a huge increase in merchandise sales. For us, the USA is our number one sales market for foreign merchandise which is really great. In terms of dealing with sponsorships, you can see a lot more traction coming to us directly from US brands, US corporations who are almost discovering this sport for the first time. It’s perfect timing to be involved in sport.”
With rising viewing figures and race attendance, it is clear there is a significant interest from the US in F1 but with the sport having made touchdown, the question now is how to take its first step.
With complaints over the experience at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix last season and tickets still available just a few days out front he event, the question now comes of how to best serve this budding new American audience.
It is a question Haas have asked themselves, accelerated in no small part by comments made by another wannabe American F1 team, Andretti.
The criticism levelled at Haas is that, yes, while the team’s official HQ is in North Carolina, satellite bases in the UK and Italy give it a distinctly European feel on the outside at least.
On the inside, it’s a different story and even though that may be the case, Haas will use the opportunity that 2023 has provided to further solidify its American roots.
“I think there’s probably two elements to that [on how to define Haas as America’s team],” Morrell explains.
“There’s an internal element where we’ve been headquartered in the US since day one. So internally within the organisation whether you’re based in North Carolina, Italy, UK, we’re very much presented as a US organisation to all employees.
“Outwardly we drive with the stars and stripes on our car. We very much have a strong connection with the existing US fan base but really what we plan to do is make that connection again.
“It comes back to us growing as a team and being on a strong footing to do that. Ultimately we will be more present in the market, we’re going to have more assets there.
“This will be the first year where we actually have show cars in the States. We’ve got quite a detailed show car programme kicking it off with Miami and that will run country wide until the end of the year.
“And we’ve seen huge growth in terms of where our partners are based. Up to 50% of our partners are headquartered in the States.”
As to how Haas reconnect with the American market, Morrell believes the way to achieve that is not by changing their approach but by “dialling up” their existing efforts.
“I think for us as a team, it was less about changing our approach and more about dialling it up,” he said.
“I’ve been in position for just over a year, but before me, the focus wasn’t really on the marketing sponsorship side, it was very much on establishing a stable Formula 1 team.
“Now that we’re financially stable and established as a team, there’s a lot more confidence from us internally, from management, in how we tell our story.
“We’ll be more overt and outward in telling not only our story about how we’re the American team but also why we’re different to the others.
“One of the great things about the sport at the moment is that a lot of teams have different stories to tell. We’re not fighting the Red Bulls and the Mercedes and their marketing dollars, we’re trying to carve out our own sort of space and tell our own story.
“And I think with America, particularly that underdog story and the Haas narrative really appeals to them. We’ve got a bit of a cult following. We’ve obviously got some great personalities in the team and that brings a huge advantage to us.
“I think in the States, fans are coming to the sport and perhaps don’t have those allegiances to the historical teams. That’s a great opportunity for us.”
As such, Haas have plans for each race and fans can expect special liveries to come later in the year.
“All three races are important to us. We’re lucky as a team to have three home races but what I like about them is that they’re all very distinctive.
“Miami and Vegas is very much an opportunity to pitch ourselves in front of a very new audience. Austin is perhaps a bit more of a traditional motorsport audience and we change our approach there slightly.
“But at all races, we have significant hospitality activations, we have Haas grandstand packages, we run an event on Saturday night in conjunction with F1 experiences called Haas Hangout.
“We’ll have standalone retail units trackside at all those races, we will most definitely be running special suits and special liveries at some, perhaps not all. We’ve got special suits for Miami and then we’ll look at the car around Austin and Vegas.”