Sky F1’s Craig Slater said Guenther Steiner was not given the chance to say his goodbyes to the Haas personnel after his shock exit, with his growing popularity and subsequent projects flagged up as potential contributors.
Haas dropped the bombshell statement on January 10 to confirm that Steiner, who had been with the team even before their F1 debut in 2016 by laying the key foundations, had left the American outfit.
In the same statement, his replacement as team principal was confirmed as long-serving trackside engineering director Ayao Komatsu.
Guenther Steiner did not make Haas farewell visit
Steiner had become one of the most well-known and popular team bosses on the grid in recent years – his funny, no-nonsense demeanour making him a key character in Netflix’s hit F1 docuseries Drive to Survive – with Sky F1 commentator David Croft saying Formula 1 has lost a “massive character”.
“Firstly, it’s Gene Haas’ team, and Guenther Steiner was getting the lion’s share of the attention, and I’m sure that didn’t go down hugely well with the team owner,” said Croft.
“But that’s no reason to get rid of somebody. Their performance on-track last year, might have been part of the picture as well.
“Great on a Saturday, in terms of the way that Nico Hulkenberg, for instance, managed to get into the top 10 in qualifying, but then part of the reason for their great qualifying performances undermines their performance on the track on a Sunday, so they would go backwards through the field.
“And that for an owner like Gene Haas was probably not acceptable, finishing bottom of the table. That’s not what Gene Haas would want, so Guenther I think has paid the price for that.
“He [Steiner] has got other business interests, I’m sure he will be absolutely fine in that respect, but Formula 1 has lost a massive character, a very popular character, and someone who transcended the sport somewhat.
“He was number three team principal I think behind Christian Horner and Toto Wolff [in terms of publicity] and that’s good for the sport, that the fans want to associate themselves with a team like Haas, because they really like what Guenther stands for and that’s the underdog taking it to the big boys.
“I really think we have lost a great character around the paddock and one who I hope returns in another guise somewhere in the future.”
Sky F1 correspondent Slater, who revealed that Steiner did not even get the chance to say goodbye to his Haas colleagues, suggested concerns were perhaps growing in the Haas camp regarding Steiner’s extra projects, such as his book ‘Surviving to Drive’, plus his CBS interactions over a potential comedy show role, while the team was floundering.
Nonetheless, without fresh investment from Gene Haas, who Slater said is not willing to sell, then he is not sure how Komatsu will be able to trigger an improvement on the Steiner era.
“People have been telling me, from sources inside the factory, that there’ll be a lot of disappointment that Guenther has gone,” said Slater.
“He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, by the way, which I think will disappoint him.
“And then there was a little bit of a coterie picking up on what Crofty said there, that were maybe feeding the line that why is Guenther releasing a book and getting involved in a US comedy series and doing all this Netflix stuff, when the team are flatlining and flatlining at the bottom as well?
“But it’s a big call. And if they’re not going to provide extra finance to rebuild the factory and all that, how is Ayao Komatsu going to do any better?
“Apparently Gene Haas is saying, ‘This is not a signal I’m about to sell the team. I’m in it for the long haul, don’t even want big new investors.'”
Slater expanded on the behind-the-scenes goings on regarding Steiner’s exit during the Sky F1 podcast, saying sources from within the team said Steiner’s exit had been known about for “a couple of weeks”, and for Steiner since late December, yet still he did not get the chance to say goodbye.
“I learned about this at the weekend, but some people I’ve spoken to say they’ve known about it for a couple of weeks now,” said Slater.
“And when I did check in with the Haas team today, with people I speak to there, they’ve told me that Guenther Steiner found out about this towards the end of December.
“He hasn’t had an opportunity to go and say his goodbyes at the factory. He is still in the UK at the moment and that’s interesting as well.
“But as far as I can glean, a surprise to him that he would not be getting his contract renewed. And that’s why I suppose we have to be careful about our wording here.
“We can’t say he’s been sacked, because his contract had come to an end and Gene has decided not to renew that.”
Gene Haas also confirmed that a chief operating officer, to be based in Europe, will be appointed to handle off-track matters.