The name above the door of the Haas Formula 1 team remains unaltered. But, heading into the 2024 Formula 1 season, there’s been a major leadership change.

Guenther Steiner, the founding team principal of the only American Formula 1 squad, is gone. In his place, Haas has promoted Ayao Komatsu, who had been the team’s engineering director. Like Steiner, Komatsu had worked with Haas since it entered Formula 1 in 2016. But it was his boss who possessed a high profile among Formula 1 fans because of Steiner’s popularity in the Netflix series “Drive to Survive.”

Steiner’s contract had been set to expire at the end of the year, but his position did not outwardly appear threatened.

Then Gene Haas, the team owner, informed Steiner after Christmas that he would not be offered a new contract, after which Haas moved Komatsu to the top job.

Haas said in an interview published in January on Formula 1’s website that his decision “came down to performance,” after the team finished last in the constructors’ championship and eighth the previous year. In its eight seasons in Formula 1, the team has never won a race, and its best race result was finishing fourth in Austria in 2018.

But there was also a disagreement between Steiner and Haas over what investment was required to improve results.

Haas said he “can’t understand how we can be [last] with all the equipment and people we have.” Steiner, however, wanted Haas to invest more money to upgrade the team’s production facilities.

This is something many Formula 1 teams have been doing since the sport introduced its new financial rules in 2021, which restrict how much teams can spend. In 2024, it will be $135 million.

Other teams can find savings in making their production equipment and processes better. But the Haas team’s model of buying as many car parts as possible from its supplier, Ferrari, meant its spending was largely locked in.

“You are outside, you look in and you say, ‘Wow, I pushed for a long time, seeing where other people are going,’” Steiner said in an interview in mid-January in Birmingham, England, about changing the team’s model.

“You just need to be very efficient now. You need to put the money in, setting everything up so that you’ve got a very lean machine. Our model is maybe not the most efficient anymore. Well, not our model, their model, because I’m not there anymore.”

Gene Haas said he chose Komatsu to succeed Steiner because Komatsu had been “with the team since Day 1, he knows the ins and outs.”

Haas did not want an outsider to spend time learning the team’s methods. The team is also in the process of hiring a chief operating officer to assist its new team principal.

Komatsu also provides the Haas team with important skills. Komatsu’s recent position means the team now has an engineer as a team boss. This follows a trend at other Formula 1 teams, including McLaren and Aston Martin, which have been performing well.

The logic behind this is having leaders who understand what resources are needed to make cars faster because of their engineering experience.

Komatsu also shares Gene Haas’ belief that the team can succeed with the facilities and investment it has already.

“I do believe with what we got, we can do a better job, for sure,” Komatsu told journalists in late January at the Haas factory in Banbury, England, although he also said he expected that the team would continue to struggle this year. “And if we put it together, I’m sure we can do much better. Then, once we get to the stage where with what we got we’re maximizing [race results], we are an effective racing team.”

Kevin Magnussen, one of the team’s drivers, has worked with Komatsu for six seasons. Magnussen said that replacing Steiner was a “big change.”

“It’s going to change the dynamic and communication across the whole organization,” Magnussen said in an interview published on Feb. 20 on the Haas team’s website.

This will be evident to those looking at Haas from the outside, too. Komatsu has vowed he will not seek the same profile as his former boss, who had many fans because of his outspoken style.

“I’m not trying to be Guenther Steiner,” Komatsu said. “He’s a very different person. He’s got very different strengths and weaknesses to me. Gene knows that, and if Gene wanted Steiner’s replacement in that way, he’d have appointed somebody else.

“I’ll try to be the best version of myself rather than trying to be somebody else.”

Gene Haas’ explanation for changing the leadership at his Formula 1 team has increased pressure. The 71-year-old is committed to his team to “survive for the next 10 years.” He said he was not interested in selling up, as he nearly did in 2020 before the new financial rule changes led to a change of heart.

But the team has a big challenge in the 2024 Formula 1 season. Its new car is not expected to be significantly better than its predecessor.

That racecar had a problem with its aerodynamic design and damaged its tires during races. Magnussen and his teammate Nico Hülkenberg would often drop back from their starting positions. Fixing this issue was a process Haas began at the end of 2023 with a major redesign of its car.

Komatsu is setting expectations low for the new season, given how long it can take to solve big car problems with the long production lead times required to build new Formula 1 parts. His does not expect much improvement for 2024.

“Out of the gates,” he said, “I still think we’re going to be towards the back of the grid, if not last.”

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