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F1’s breakout Netflix star Guenther Steiner enjoying life after Haas
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F1’s breakout Netflix star Guenther Steiner enjoying life after Haas

Some might consider the presence of the former Haas team principal Guenther Steiner at this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix as something of a vindication for the man who played a leading role in Formula One’s boom in popularity in the United States. But not Steiner, who insists he remains unaware of the impact he has made and as for those who doubt that, well, they can ask his wife.

Miami is the first of three races this season in the US, where the sport is enjoying a resurgence, much of which has been driven by the Netflix series Drive to Survive. Steiner was the unlikely but enormously entertaining breakout star of the show, the first and perhaps only team principal to have had his visage and quotes on a T-shirt.

The 59-year-old Italian-American’s outspoken and often explosively blunt and honest outbursts, liberally interweaved with expressive use of the expletive which he pronounces as “fock”, made for riveting viewing and by the end of season two he was a star, for all that he was managing a team at the far end of the grid from Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.

This weekend he is in Miami as an ambassador for the race after Haas did not renew his contract at the end of last season, having led the team since 2016 and been integral to their formation and the innovative model they adopted to enter F1.

The race in Miami is sold out this weekend, as the US GP in Austin and the Las Vegas GP towards the end of the season are expected to be. From having almost no presence in the country in the 1980s and 1990s, F1 has not enjoyed such enthusiasm in the US for decades but Steiner plays down any part he may have played.

“I am not one of those guys who says it’s all because of me,” he says with a self-deprecating air. “People say I was a big draw to the people who watched it. But I’ve never watched it. People still don’t believe me but you can ask my wife and she wouldn’t lie.

Guenther Steiner catching a gridiron football.View image in fullscreen

“But it’s nice to hear when people tell me: ‘You were part of raising the popularity of F1 in the US.’ I started out in motorsport because I loved the sport so then being able to pull in other people to watch the sport, well, it’s cool and I am proud of that.”

Steiner is recognised and besieged by autograph and selfie hunters the moment he steps out of the paddock in Miami but his real achievements are greater than his portrayal as the sweary guy from Drive to Survive.

He was instrumental in forming Haas, and in proving that a new team could compete in F1 under a new, if contentious, model of a close technical relationship with Ferrari. In the team’s early years they punched well above their weight, not least in securing a remarkable fifth place in the constructors’ championship in 2018.

It was a feat acknowledged across the paddock. Steiner started his career in motorsport as a mechanic in 1986 in rallying before working for Jaguar and then Red Bull in F1. Haas had neither the budget nor the infrastructure of the opposition and they were a startup, a fearsome challenge to overcome.

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Steiner remembers the team’s debut in Australia in 2016, when Romain Grosjean claimed sixth place, not as vindication but validation of his plans.

“We had all these naysayers: ‘This can’t work, why are you doing it differently?’” he says. “Then you come out of the box and everything is there, you have a good bunch of people around you and you go out there and perform.

Setting up an F1 team from scratch, writing up the business plan for it and then being at the race is something pretty cool.

“A lot of people came to me afterwards and said: ‘I didn’t think this could be done, well done, fair play for having the guts to do this’.”

Steiner remains friends with the Mercedes and Ferrari principals Toto Wolff and Fred Vasseur, having proved himself to them and to the sport on what was not a level playing field in competitive terms.

“Fred and Toto, we always speak still,” he says. “They respect what I do and I respect what they do. It was different things we did as we were at different ends of the spectrum in competition but they still respected what I can bring to F1.

Romain Grosjean finished sixth at the Australian grand prix on Haas’s debut in the sport.View image in fullscreen

“They knew that from what we had got we were competing at a very high level. They knew that we didn’t have what the other teams had but we always got the best out of it and I think they respected that more than anything else.”

As time went on, however, the optimism and success of the early years faded. Steiner cites a lack of investment in infrastructure and capital as preventing the team from moving on from where they stand, anchored to the back end of the grid.

The split with Haas has not been trouble free, with Steiner launching a legal action against the team this week for money he claims is owed and for continuing to use his name and image, but in Miami he is enjoying life as an ambassador for the race and as a TV pundit, able to comment on the sport from one step removed.

“When you are team principal for a long time it gets almost like you do more of the same every day,” he says. “But now I have to see if I can do a job out of it, I always do my best but sometimes in life you run out of talent …”

Source: theguardian.com