U.S.-based motorsports have had a lot to cheer about in Formula One this season with the debut of the first American team in thirty years. Haas F1, sponsored by one of our advertisers, uses a Ferrari power plant out of Italy in a chassis engineered in the heart of stock car country. This makes sense because Stewart-Haas Motor Sports is on the top rung of domestic racing and has a large technical support staff.
Wading into a pool already filled with sharks may not seem like a great business decision, but Gene Haas has done it before. When American machine tool builders were dropping like flies he expanded his business to include lathes and machining centers that today enjoy a broad worldwide customer base.
There was a time when wealthy enthusiasts could dabble in F1 by buying a year-old race car and having their favored driver join the championship chase. That was a long time ago; today, if Johnny Walker Whiskey wants to go racing they buy a few inches of space on a factory team or take the old Lotus-Cosworth out of the museum for a vintage weekend. And the teams that can’t afford to buy ad space are unlikely to get much attention.
So why take on such a formidable challenge when your NASCAR team is already entertaining your current customers? The short answer is because, like Mount Everest, it is there. A business founder cannot risk his company on a whim; the truth is that Haas wants to export American built machine tools and needs a worldwide audience to do it.
You have to admire that goal even if you are not a racing fan. With the Cubs ending a 108-year drought perhaps Haas F1 can get to work on All American Racing’s record of being the last American car to win a Formula 1 race (Belgium 1968).
One further Haas F1 tidbit: the team’s point scoring streak was interrupted by brake problems; it seems the splined fit between the carbon disk and the magnesium hub is the source of the trouble. Even at the top levels of custom manufacturing, you have to understand the differential expansion rates of material and how it translates into shop floor tolerances.