Ayao Komatsu, the newly appointed Team Principal of Haas F1 Team, asserts that there should be no doubt about Gene Haas’ commitment to Formula 1 amidst recent internal changes within the team.
Komatsu was promoted to the role for 2024 following Haas’ decision not to renew Gunther Steiner‘s contract, who spearheaded Haas’ entry into F1 and its first eight years in the sport.
Haas also parted ways with Technical Director Simone Resta after a season that saw the team drop to the last place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Haas is in the process of hiring a Europe-based Chief Operating Officer to relieve Komatsu of off-track duties.
Komatsu Confident in Haas F1’s Future
With investments by competitors like AlphaTauri, Williams, and Sauber, and Andretti’s entry attempt, Haas’ commitment to Formula 1 has been questioned, a notion Komatsu dismissed in his first media interview in his new role.
“Obviously, you’ve seen and heard how unhappy Gene is with the situation. Of course, who would be happy running in last place? It’s embarrassing, truly embarrassing.”
“I think it’s positive that Gene is unhappy with where we are. If team members think OK, we’re last and we don’t know where we’re going, Gene says nothing, then OK, is Gene happy just being 10th? Clearly not. So, it’s indeed motivating for everyone here: ‘OK, Gene is serious, he wants to improve the team, so let’s do it together’. He is definitely committed.”
“Otherwise, he didn’t have to make this move, to change directors. That’s also huge for him. You know, Gunther played a pivotal role in launching the team. So, for him to do what he did, the decision he made, if he wasn’t committed to advancing Haas F1, why do it?”
Komatsu, who joined Haas at its inception in 2016, is still assessing different departments and visited the Maranello-based team this Wednesday. Komatsu emphasized his belief that Haas can extract better results from its current structure.
“We really have good people, talented people, among the best I’ve seen in the last 20 years in Formula 1, so we have very good people. It’s really about getting the mix right, better integration, communicating, then working for and with each other. That’s why I firmly believe we can achieve this. We can improve a lot.”
“I’m not trying to be Günther Steiner.”
Komatsu also discussed his transition to Team Principal. How was he perceived by his colleagues?
“I’m really overwhelmed by the positive support I’ve received. Everyone has been really positive, enthusiastic, and supportive, so I’m really excited about what we can improve with the people we have here. I know there are so many high-quality guys here, so I really want to provide them the environment and framework so they can show their best. So, I’m really excited.”
“Of course, I’m not trying to be Gunther Steiner! He’s a very different person. Honestly, we got along really well. We respect each other, respect each other’s positions and roles during and outside work. We also went to dinner a lot during a race weekend – again, not to talk about work but because we got along quite well. But I’m not here to replace Gunther Steiner as a character.”
“He’s a very different character, as you know, and he has very different strengths and weaknesses than mine. I’m not trying to be someone else, and Gene knows that, and if Gene wanted a Gunther Steiner replacement in that way, he would have appointed someone else. So, I understand that Gene wants something different and I’ll try to be the best version of myself rather than trying to be someone else.”
However, Komatsu admits he also has quite colorful language, like his former boss!
“It’s not something I’m proud to say! My language is not great, I swear too much, but, again, I try not to do it too much.”
“And I’m not here to make the team popular. I’m here for the technical, for competitiveness, not for image or marketing. That task will go to the future COO.”
A technical director who must improve communication among his engineers
Komatsu, with no experience as a director, indicates that during a conversation with Gene Haas, it became clear his boss wanted to change tactics and have a more technically focused leader.
“When I was given this opportunity, I just made it clear to Gene: ‘You know my expertise, it’s pointless for me to focus on the marketing side and try to get a sponsor because that’s not where my skills lie’. In that area, I need someone else who is an expert to lead it, so I can focus on the technical side, trying to have an organization that allows us to improve the technical side of the team.”
“So yes, it’s a very different responsibility, but at the same time, whatever
job I’ve done – I’ve been in vehicle dynamics, performance engineer, race engineer, chief race engineer – when you do your current job, you always do your best in the job you’re doing but you also look at what are the other constraints, if certain things are improved or how can I do a better job.”
“You always think about it, so even when I was in my previous role, of course, this team means a lot to me because I’ve been here since day one. I know the potential of this team, so in some areas, I could see how to envision doing things differently. So, in that sense, we’re not short of ideas, if you will, there are many areas we can look at to improve the team.”
When will his right-hand man in charge of operations arrive?
“Not having a COO right now doesn’t slow us down. But if you’re looking to move forward, we clearly need one and this person needs to manage this area consistently. But it’s better to find the right person rather than rush and settle for someone you’re not so sure about.”
No radical changes are expected in the short term on the technical side, as Komatsu believes there are efficiency gains to be made with what they have.
“I believe that with what we have, we can do a better job, that’s for sure. With the people, with the ideas that people have, if we put them together, I’m sure we can do a much better job. And then once we get to the stage where ‘OK, with what we have, we’re maximizing, we’re an efficient racing team, then there’s a next step to take’. But I think we’re far from that, if you will, so yes, I’m focusing on improving what we have, that’s for sure, to start with.”
First changes as early as 2024
With adjustments nonetheless planned for this year, Komatsu considers this moment “a phase of transition”.
“Whatever we learn during the year 2024, I’m sure it will help us to define very clearly what we will do in five years, eight years, ten years. One area I want to work on is communication between our different sites. We will always have a challenge in this area because our experts are spread over different sites – and it’s not something that’s going to change anytime soon.”
“For example, for me, the reason we couldn’t develop last year’s car was partly due to this. So, we’re reviewing the internal structure of the team. I’m talking to all the main managers, then we’ll put things in place as soon as possible to improve communication between Banbury and Maranello.”
“And, of course, disagreements occur everywhere. That’s healthy. It’s not a problem. But to move forward, everyone needs to know: ‘OK, X said this, Y said this, I don’t agree, but we’ve resolved all the disagreements, as a team, we’ve decided to go in this direction’. I think that’s important, rather than people not knowing why we’re taking this direction.”
Before committing to changes, he wants to meet as many collaborators as possible.
“I’m going to Italy to meet all the designers and aerodynamicists we have there. I need to deepen my understanding in this area. What are the central issues? How can we improve that?”
“I’ve already talked to some people in Banbury, but it’s not like I’ve already talked to everyone. So, I’d like to wait to talk to everyone. Then, gather people and form an overview, rather than saying: ‘OK, in the last three days, I’ve identified this and I’m doing this’. No, that might not be a correct representation, not in three days.”
“Of course, if you start a team with a blank sheet of paper, you’re not going to create an F1 team with two separate factories in the UK and Italy. But that’s how we started.”
“It was very beneficial in 2016, 2017, and 2018 to take off. Then, of course, the landscape changes and some regulatory changes occur, and the team therefore needs to evolve.”
“These kinds of things, we need to continually evaluate. But again, if you ask me, is it ideal to have an office in the UK and an office in Italy? No. But is it a major constraint? No. Can we do better? Absolutely yes. So that’s what I’m focusing on.”
“If we maximize the way we’re organized, and we can’t do anything better with the way we’re organized, then we can talk about changing things.”
Ayao Komatsu’s Vision to Revitalize Haas F1 Team. Komatsu’s Vision to Revitalize Haas F1 Team. Komatsu’s Vision to Revitalize Haas F1 Team. Ayao Komatsu’s Vision to Revitalize. F1 Komatsu’s Vision to Revitalize
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