Analysis Sponsorship

Does Haas F1 need American sponsors after all?

Amid rumours of a Sauber buyout by US top team Andretti, Haas has found itself potentially losing its status as the only American team in F1 – but does it really need the patriotic funding?

The arrival of the team hailing from Kannapolis in Formula 1 coincidentally came around the same time the sport was taken over by American company Liberty Media.

Liberty Media made it clear from the start that one of its main goals was to increase F1’s mainstream presence in the United States – and the results show that this is being achieved.

The success of Netflix’s series Drive to Survive has brought an entire new shed of light into the competition’s worldwide attraction, including in the highly-sought States.

More viewing figures means more marketing possibilities. But, puzzlingly enough, Haas has been the team with least sponsors since its establishment in F1.

More baffling is the fact that the team’s results don’t reflect the lack of outsourced funding – a best race finish of 5th in its first season, and being the top customer team in only its third attempt.

How come a team from the other side of the pond hasn’t been able to convince big American companies to join them in the project? The answer is very simple, and goes back to Haas’ inception.

Explaining Haas’ lack of American sponsors

Gene Haas is no stranger to racing – the owner of Haas Automation Inc. has been involved in motorsport since 2002 when he opened his NASCAR team, having won 2 Cup Series.

Aside from Gene’s desire to win, his goal is also to sell his CNC machines. After dominating the American market, the next step would be to infiltrate the rest of the world.

In January 2013, Haas announced its intention to join the Formula 1 championship, in a partnership with Ferrari, as soon as 2015. The plan was starting to materialise.

While Americans fans expected a patriotic set of colours, when Haas revealed its very first F1 car (appropriately named VF-16) a wave of disappointment ensued – the car’s painting resembled that of a Haas CNC machine.

Ultimately this is the team’s main identity – a marketing platform for its CNC technology. Above all else, a successful weekend on-track is a successful weekend businesswise.

Haas F1 in 2016 pre-season testing

This strategy also influenced the team’s position in bringing a title sponsor, which looked to be impossible unless there was a commendable price on the table – once a disaster, but the second time seems to have worked out.

Since the beginning, Haas’ main F1 partners have been Mexican (Telcel), French (Richard Mille), British (Rich Energy), and currently German (1&1) and Russian (Uralkali) – but never American.

However, it is noteworthy to point out the team has caught the eyes of 3 US companies in its short existence:

Peak Auto was part of the project both in F1 and NASCAR from 2018 to 2020, while Illinois-based eyewear company Maui Jim and popular sportswear brand Under Armour only joined this year.

Coca-Cola sponsored Haas in NASCAR but when it came to join the F1 paddock, the company chose to be aligned with the more iconic McLaren team rather than its countrymen.

In hindsight, as the sport was becoming increasingly popular in the States, a better exploitation of its home market could’ve been beneficial – however, not entirely necessary – to secure the team’s feet in the F1 paddock.

Comments made by Haas’ team principal Guenther Steiner during the United States Grand Prix allude to this conclusion:

“I think we didn’t exploit the American sponsorship market as much as we should have, because otherwise, we would have more Americans on the car…. There hasn’t come anybody knocking on our door with a big sponsorship and saying because we are American this is what we are going to do, or this is why we are going to support an American driver.”

Guenther Steiner, Uralkali Haas F1 Team Team Principal

Fate has nonetheless brought major contributors to the Haas F1 project as a consequence of signing its current driver lineup of Formula 2 graduates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

Russian fertilizer company Uralkali and German telecom 1&1 became team title and main partners respectively this year, with a focus on funding the team’s future into the new technical regulations.

At the end of the day, Haas is still a beloved team from America that by its nature didn’t let its marketing be influenced by its nation but by its results.

Renowned Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille believing in the project from the very start, when things weren’t so clear about Haas’ eventual performance – then its considerable success justified the investment.

In its 6th season, Haas’ portfolio of partners is the biggest its ever been at a total of 11 companies supporting the team.

Come 2022, a great package could be the key to an improved marketability position.

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