Grosjean grabs keys to Ferrari’s back door, CAR+ November 2015

Published: 03 October 2015

► Romain Grosjean joins Haas F1 team
► Haas secured Ferrari engine for 2016
► Possible back door move to Ferrari  

At the precise moment his current Lotus F1 team passes back into the hands of his Renault countrymen, French driver Romain Grosjean has jumped ship and signed for the new Haas F1 Team in 2016. His signature is undoubtedly a coup for the American outfit, but why should Grosjean – a 10-time podium finisher and one of the sport’s pre-eminent drivers – have opted for a rookie team?

The answer lies in the car’s power unit. Haas have struck up a technical partnership with Ferrari that will see them buy the entire rear end of their car – the engine, ERS and gearbox – from the Scuderia, including suspension parts and brake ducts. By committing to Haas, Grosjean has aligned himself with the Scuderia, and that’s significant because the team will most likely have a seat available at the end of 2016, when Kimi Räikkönen retires from F1. 

‘I have five or six seasons left in F1,’ said 29-year-old Grosjean at the Haas launch. ‘This option with Haas could open other opportunities for me.’

There’s speculation that a pre-contract with Ferrari is part of Grosjean’s deal with Haas; what we know for sure is that Ferrari will get the chance to analyse all of Grosjean’s telemetry during 2016. They will be able to see how he generates his speed and how he develops the car, and all the while Grosjean will get to use the Scuderia’s simulator and ingratiate himself with the top brass at Maranello.

But Grosjean still needs a good car. If Haas are too slow next season, his star will wane and Ferrari will be tempted to look elsewhere for a Räikkönen replacement. The team has a history of only hiring established stars and there will be plenty around at the end of next year, such as Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen (who will still only be 19!).

But the Ferrari link should guarantee Haas a mid-grid position. They will get the mechanical side of their car from Maranello, leaving Haas to build the chassis and to sculpt the bodywork around it. To that effect, they have hired Ben Agathangelou as chief aerodynamicist; he’s ex-Ferrari and well respected in the industry.

Billionaire machine tools magnate Gene Haas (right) has appointed Italian Günther Steiner as team principal of F1’s first American race team for 30 years

Haas will have a staff of 200, which is small by F1 standards. But the team is producing less of the car than any other team on the grid and don’t mistake a small workforce for a lack of financial commitment from owner Gene Haas. The machine tools magnate is worth nearly $1 billion, and he has very clear marketing reasons to enter F1.

‘There is a synergy between F1 and selling machine tools,’ he says. ‘I don’t see myself as any different to Red Bull or Nike.’

Personnel will be split between Haas’s HQ in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and a European logistics hub in Banbury, in what used to be the Marussia factory. Overseeing day-to-day operations will be team principal Günther Steiner, formerly MD of Jaguar Racing and technical director at Red Bull Racing, who will report into Haas. 

The switch from Lotus to Haas is a risk for Grosjean, but what it tells us above all else is how much he really wants to race for Ferrari in F1.

America and F1: not star-spangled!

American teams haven’t enjoyed much success in F1. Many have tried their hand at the top echelon, only to fail, and just two teams have succeeded in winning races. Eagle won the 1967 Belgian GP with Dan Gurney behind the wheel and John Watson took the spoils for Penske at the ’76 Austrian GP.

The US-European business model being pursued by Haas isn’t new. In 2010 the US F1 Team planned to base itself at Charlotte, North Carolina, and have a logistics hub in Europe. But the team never got off the ground and Haas is the first American team on the grid since Carl Haas (no relation) founded the unsuccessful Lola-Haas team in 1985.

Team Anglo American Racers

Car: Eagle T1G
Key drivers: Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther
Raced: 1966-68  (32 races)
Wins: 1
Points: 17

Team Penske's PC1-4 Ford Cosworth

Team Penske

Car: PC1-4 Ford Cosworth (above)
Key drivers: John Watson, Mark Donohue
Raced: 1974-77 (54 races)
Wins: 1 Points 22

Team Haas

Car: Lola Hart THL1
Key drivers: Alan Jones, Patrick Tambay
Raced: 1985-86 (32 races)
Wins: 0
Points: 6

By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller