Haas’ Guenther Steiner made waves thanks to his fiery personality and blunt approach to criticism, but the employees who worked on his Formula 1 team consider him the best boss they’ve ever had.
During research for our book Racing with Rich Energy: How a Rogue Sponsor Took Formula One for a Ride, Alanis King and I conducted interviews with several Haas employees in 2021. Some of these employees had departed the team while still others had remained; all employees chose to speak anonymously to protect their careers.
These employees described the working conditions at Haas as being harsh, especially in 2019; coming off the back of the successful 2018 season, where the American team finished fifth in the World Constructors’ Championship standings, expectations were high, but results were hard to achieve.
According to employees, Haas was targeting improvement in the standings for 2019, which would have meant a fourth-place finish overall. When it became clear that the team had lost some pace, Haas employees were expected to work even harder to attempt to resolve the issues.
Despite the stress being so high that one employee reported being asked by members of his gym if he needed an ambulance, those employees considered Guenther Steiner an exceptional team leader.
“He is the best team boss I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with a lot,” one former employee said during an interview.
“With Guenther, there’s no question. You always know what’s going on. He’s not hiding, he’s always telling you the truth. If I was f***ing something up, he came to me: ‘What the f*** are you doing? Pull yourself together.'”
While that attitude might seem harsh to people outside the motorsport world, this employee reported that it was actually quite welcome: “People in this kind of industry or environment, we love this, because if I make a mistake, I know that. I don’t need someone trying to explain why I made a mistake in language that I don’t understand.
“I need someone to come here and tell me, ‘You made a mistake.’ But on the other hand, if you did good, [Steiner] was always there tapping your shoulder, saying, ‘Mate, that’s it. Good work.'”
A second employee repeated a similar sentiment.
“Steiner is a great guy,” they said. “He didn’t micromanage, but he oversaw everything. He didn’t have to come and talk to all the different employees and departments, but he did, because he wanted to know what was going on.
“Some stuff, he’d just bat away: ‘Just go f***ing fix it.’ That’s how he was. Other stuff, he would say, ‘OK mate, let’s have a chat. What do we need to do to sort this out?'”
Sadly, that passion for their boss didn’t necessarily translate into results. The employees we spoke to were candid about the fact that nothing about Haas’ 2019 machine seemed to work; every alteration only seemed to make things worse, and there was ample pressure within the team to exceed expectations.
But one employee described that mandate as seeming to come more from team owner Gene Haas than from Steiner. Haas, they said, wanted “only a linear progression forward, no decline.”
When it became clear that the team was struggling, Haas employees began clocking 17-hour work days in an attempt to replicate the results being achieved by operations like Ferrari or Red Bull, which had both more funding and far more staff.
As it turned out, Haas’ impressive 2018 performance seemed to be the exception, not the rule; since then, the team has struggled to make any tangible gains.
Perhaps Steiner’s departure will provide a much-needed shake-up heading into the 2024 season, but no matter the results, Haas employees felt a deep respect for their former team leader.