Haas will race with a new team boss in 2024, having appointed Ayao Komatsu to replace Guenther Steiner after almost 10 years.
Having been the very public face of Haas ever since their arrival on the Formula 1 grid in 2016, Guenther Steiner has departed the American squad – leaving some huge boots to fill as one of the most memorable team bosses in recent history.
Into those boots steps Japanese engineer Ayao Komatsu, a familiar face to everyone at Haas as he’s worked in senior roles with the team since 2016.
Who is Ayao Komatsu?
Ayao Komatsu is a 47-year-old racing engineer, who was born in Japan but chose to pursue his higher education at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. Initially studying automotive engineering, he achieved his bachelor of engineering in 1999 before pursuing a Ph.D. in vehicle dynamics and control at the same institution.
Leaving college in 2003, Komatsu was an attractive graduate hire for any F1 team – and it was legendary motorsport figure David Richards who took the punt on hiring him. With Richards in charge of British American Racing (B.A.R.), Komatsu was brought on board as a tyre engineer for Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button in 2003.
He stayed with B.A.R. until late 2005 before swapping over to Renault/Lotus at Enstone for the next decade.
Initially serving as a performance engineer for Renault’s test team between 2006 and 2010, he was quickly promoted to the race team and worked closely alongside drivers like Nelson Piquet Jnr., Romain Grosjean, and Vitaly Petrov.
Komatsu picked up his first race engineering role at the start of 2011 when he was appointed to Petrov for that season. He was moved over to Grosjean for 2012, with the two forming a close friendship as they worked together over the next two years as Grosjean’s reputation grew alongside World Champion teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
But, with Lotus’ performance taking a nosedive in 2014, Komatsu was promoted again as he took on the role of chief race engineer. With Grosjean taking a punt on joining the Haas team to lead the American squad’s entry, Komatsu decided to follow his friend and became trackside engineering director.
Komatsu has since worked at Haas in leading engineering roles, choosing to stay in F1 with Haas after Grosjean’s departure from the sport to race in the United States with IndyCar.
Having become Haas’ director of engineering, he was one of the lead figures in the team – working closely alongside Steiner and sitting on the infamously tiny Haas pit wall to monitor the cars on track.
For fans of Netflix’s Drive to Survive, the famous episode centering on Haas’ struggles in 2019 features Komatsu – he can be seen summoning Grosjean before Steiner at the British Grand Prix, as well as saying “Kevin just f**king smashed the door. That’s not acceptable” as Magnussen angrily stormed out.
With a long history with Haas, and in F1, Komatsu makes logical sense for an internal promotion – but all eyes will be on the Japanese engineer to see how he adjusts to life as a team boss and representing Haas on the big stage.
After all, Komatsu’s strengths lie in engineering. Other engineers who have climbed into positions of power include James Vowles – who is thriving at Williams – and Mattia Binotto, whose long tenure at Ferrari came to an end as he failed to control the chaos in the Scuderia.
“In appointing Ayao Komatsu as Team Principal, we fundamentally have engineering at the heart of our management,” read a very pointed statement from Gene Haas following the promotion of Komatsu.
“We need to be efficient with the resources we have but improving our design and engineering capability is key to our success as a team. I’m looking forward to working with Ayao and fundamentally ensuring that we maximize our potential – this truly reflects my desire to compete properly in Formula 1.”
Komatsu is yet to speak to the media following his confirmation but said in a statement: “I’m naturally very excited to have the opportunity to be Team Principal at Haas.
“Having been with the team since its track debut back in 2016, I’m obviously passionately invested in its success in Formula 1.
“I’m looking forward to leading our program and the various competitive operations internally to ensure we can build a structure that produces improved on-track performances.
“We are a performance-based business. We obviously haven’t been competitive enough recently which has been a source of frustration for us all. We have amazing support from Gene and our various partners, and we want to mirror their enthusiasm with an improved on-track product.
“We have a great team of people across Kannapolis, Banbury, and Maranello, and together I know we can achieve the kind of results we’re capable of.”