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New Haas F1 boss Komatsu: “I’m not here to replace Steiner’s character”

Newly-appointed Haas Formula 1 team boss Ayao Komatsu insists that trying to emulate predecessor Guenther Steiner’s personality is not on his radar.

Ayao Komatsu, Haas F1 Team

Instead, the Japanese says his focus is on making the right changes that he thinks are needed behind the scenes to help move the American-owned squad off the bottom of the grid. 

In a wide-ranging first interview with selected media reflecting on his appointment, Komatsu acknowledged that Steiner’s larger-than-life character was something that could never be followed. 

“Of course. I’m not trying to be Guenther Steiner. He’s a very different person,” said Komatsu, speaking as Haas’s F1 factory in Banbury. 

“I’m not here to replace Guenther Steiner’s character. He’s a very different character, as you know. He’s got very different strengths and weaknesses to me, so I’m not trying to be somebody else.   

“Gene [Haas, team owner] knows that, and if Gene wanted Guenther Steiner’s replacement in that way, he’d have appointed somebody else.  

“I understand that Gene wanted something different, so I’ll try to be the best version of myself rather than trying to be somebody else.”  

Komatsu is adamant that his way of doing things will not be the same as Steiner’s, but the objective is clear – get the most out of the strengths within Haas. 

“I’m focused on improvement, obviously,” he said. “I’d like to think that I’m correct enough and I’d like to say I’m polite enough. I’m reasonably direct, I think, and then transparency, honesty: I don’t do politics.  

“I believe that if you’ve got the right intention, if your motivation is clear to get the best out of the team, I think it will get through to people and then really empower people and bring them together.”  

Having only stepped up to the team boss job at the start of this year, Komatsu has spent the last few weeks trying to build up a proper picture of the strengths and weaknesses of Haas. 

He says that before committing to making changes, he wants to meet as many staff as possible – as well as visit its key facilities in Italy – to get a better understanding of what is needed to be done. 

“I'm going to Italy to meet with all the designers and the aerodynamicists we have got over there,” he said. 

“I need to increase my understanding in that area. What are the core issues? How can we improve that? 

“I spoke to some of the people here, but it's not like I've spoken with everybody already. So, I'd like to wait until I speak with everyone. Then get people together and formulate an overview, rather than me saying: 'Okay, within the last three days I identified this', which may not be a correct representation.” 

While Komatsu has not reached any conclusions yet, he suggests that better communication – and improving the working relationship between Haas’s UK and Italian bases, will be one area of focus. 

Asked about the structure of having staff spread across two countries, Komatsu said: “Of course, if you're setting up on a blank sheet of paper, you're not going to set up an F1 team with two separate factories in the UK and Italy. But that's how we started.  

“That was very beneficial in '16, '17, '18, to get off the ground. Then, of course, the landscape changes, and certain regulation change happens, and so the team needs to evolve.  

“This kind of things we need to assess continuously. But again, if you asked me, is that ideal, having a UK office here, and Italy office there? No. But is that a main constraint? No. Can we do better? Absolutely, yes. So that's what I'm focused on. 

“If we get the maximum out of how we are set up, and then if then that becomes 'Right, we cannot do anything better with the way we are set up', then we can talk about [changing things].”  

Ayao Komatsu, Chief Engineer, Haas F1 Team, Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team, on the Sprint grid

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Ayao Komatsu, Chief Engineer, Haas F1 Team, Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team, on the Sprint grid

It has been widely reported that one of the key areas of disagreement between Steiner and team owner Haas was over the investment needed to improve. 

While Steiner felt that extra cash was required to help the squad get better, Gene Haas believed it was more a case of maximising what is already in place. 

Komatsu is aware of the huge investments being made at other teams – such as McLaren, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri – but thinks that is not the defining element Haas needs immediately. 

“It's a very tough business, but I'm still very positive about what we can do with the current set-up,” he said. 

“Then, as we improve on the current set-up, certain things, I think, will become pretty obvious and natural that may [make us decide]: okay, we need to diverge slightly from our original model in this way, and we need to maybe invest in this way. 

“That will come up naturally, I think, rather than forcing it. I'm not here to put the place upside down, because then we cannot operate, and we will stop. 

“Even if we had a massive investment straightaway, we won't be functioning properly, we won't be using that investment properly. So, you have got to grow organically. 

“We were not where we should be in 2023 – and that's why we decided to make changes. But you cannot then suddenly just go for a huge leap, because then 2024 will be a complete disaster, right? So, we’ve got to improve the team in 2024. 

“I see it as a transitional phase, and then whatever we learn during the course of the year in '24, I'm sure that will help us very clearly define what we're going to do in five years’ time, eight years’ time, or 10 years’ time.” 

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