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Ayao Komatsu Thinks He Can Rework F1’s Worst Workforce. Right here’s Why He Would possibly Be Proper.

Ayao Komatsu Thinks He Can Rework F1’s Worst Workforce. Right here’s Why He Would possibly Be Proper.

Haas F1 scored a point for the Formula 1 Driver’s Championship at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday, which, for now, puts the team in sixth place in the constructor standings out of the 10 teams competing. Sixth is an improvement on last year, when Haas finished last. Sixth is also better than in 2022, when the team finished eighth, and better than in 2021, when the team didn’t score a single point all season.

Haas, in other words, is Formula 1’s basement dweller; their aspirations each year are not to vie for a title but to best fellow also-rans like Williams and Alpine. Team principal Guenther Steiner has presided over Haas since 2016 and become a star in the process thanks to Netflix’s Drive to Survive, but that wasn’t enough to save his job. Steiner’s contract was not renewed for 2024 and he was replaced by Ayao Komatsu, a longtime Haas engineer. The new team principal’s remit is to simply to make Haas better, a Sisyphean struggle when compared to better-financed teams such as Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes, but a task that might be made a little easier by the fact that Komatsu is a change of pace.

In his own words, Komatsu is, “not trying to be Guenther Steiner,” who became famous for profane outbursts made more endearing by the hard-luck nature of running a Formula 1 minnow.

“Gene,” Steiner told owner Gene Haas during the Australian Grand Prix in 2019 in a moment captured in Drive to Survive, “if they finish fourth and fifth here, we look like [expletive] rock stars.” Instead, both Haas cars failed to finish, and Steiner lamented that the team looked like “wankers” and “clowns.”

Komatsu promises a different presence.

Formula 1 2024: Bahrain GP

Simon Galloway

“I’m naturally very excited to have the opportunity to be team principal at MoneyGram Haas F1 Team,” Komatsu said in a press release after his appointment in January. “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.”

In that same press release, Komatsu elaborated on his reasons for optimism. “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.”

Haas F1 is still the only American team in Formula 1, based in Kannapolis, N.C., outside of Charlotte. After Komatsu’s appointment, Gene Haas said in an interview with Formula1.com that he was “embarrassed” and “humiliated” by the team’s performance in recent years and cited their car’s aerodynamics as a primary reason. Haas also said it wasn’t Steiner’s fault, but it was merely time for a change.

Haas F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg, right, in Bahrain

Haas F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg, right, in Bahrain

Simon Galloway

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“If Gene wanted a Guenther Steiner replacement in that way, he would have appointed somebody else,” Komatsu later said. “So I understand that Gene wants something different. I will try to be the best version of myself rather than trying to be somebody else.”

The early results are somewhat promising. Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg finished 12th and 16th, respectively, at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the opening race of the new season. At Jeddah, Hülkenberg finished 10th and Magnussen finished 12th, with Hülkenberg scoring the first point for the team, the goal this year merely to score points in as many grands prix as possible. That means a top-10 finish, something Haas cars only accomplished four times in 2023, seven times in 2022, and not a single time in 2021.

For 2024, it is still early days, but Komatsu’s engineer’s eye for the proceedings is also in keeping with how modern F1 teams operate, which is less like a team in an athletic sense of the word and more like a science, with reams and reams of data. Modern F1 cars have many parts in common and are separated by just tenths of a second on race day, which means that the differences between winning and losing are margins that are just as fine, and often a function of aerodynamics. Some cars have comparatively slow speeds in a straight line but excel in corners, like McLaren’s last year, while others might have the opposite problem. Some cars can do both well, like Red Bull’s, while others, like Haas’s, need improvement everywhere.

Komatsu, who was not made available for an interview by Haas, is a bet that the team can do more with less, especially with two vastly experienced drivers in Magnussen and Hülkenberg. Hülkenberg, in particular, has seen just about everything as a Formula 1 driver,and sounds impressed with Komatsu so far.

“He has a lot of experience and know-how. Engineers can’t [mislead] him, no one can . . . because he knows what’s going on. He looks [at] things very much from the technical side,” Hülkenberg said in February. “What he’s done so far already, the restructuring within the technical department, it looks good. He’s obviously trying to—and that’s his job—optimize a lot of the structures and maximize what we have currently.”

Source: Robb Report

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