Gene Haas has recently been quoted in the press saying he wished he had listened to Bernie Ecclestone’s advice. He was referring to the decision to build his own team from scratch, rather than acquire an existing team. Mr Ecclestone was of the view that he should have done the latter.
Apart from the financial advantages of having an ongoing operation receiving FOM payments from the previous year (assuming they were in the top ten), the costs of recruiting, acquiring and equipping facilities are all major undertakings. However, there was an upside for Haas, during their two year entry programme they would not be affected by the regulations which limit the amount of testing and wind-tunnel activity competing teams can undertake.
For me, the major issue is not just one of cost, but the length of time it takes to get an F1 team into championship winning condition. Over the last eleven years, nine of the Constructors’ World Championships have been won by a team who entered F1 through the acquisition of an existing operation. In 2005 & 2006 Renault were world champions, having acquired the Benetton team and most of their facilities and staff in 2001. In 2009 the Brawn team won the world championship. They were often described in the media as a small independent team in their first season, but in fact they were a parting gift from Honda, who decided to allow their management team to compete with the well-funded operation they had relinquished at the end of 2008, and which they had purchased from BAR in 2005. From 2009-2013 Red Bull Racing won four successive championships having purchased the Jaguar Racing team from the Ford Motor Company in 2004 for £1.00 (they also took on all the team’s debts). From 2014-15 Mercedes dominated F1 with the team they, in turn, had acquired from Brawn at the end of 2009. In this period of eleven world championships only one team who started from scratch won. However, Scuderia Ferrari pre-existed F1 and therefore, you might stretch the point, and argue that they also came into F1 as an existing operation.
The evidence strongly suggests that the only way to win an F1 world championship is to acquire an existing team. Are there any exceptions to this apart from Ferrari? It could be argued that the current McLaren team started from scratch, but in reality the current team came about through a merger between the previous McLaren operation and Ron Dennis’s Project 4 organisation in 1980.
There is however one team who built themselves up from scratch and have enjoyed significant success. Williams Grand Prix Engineering started as a constructor in 1977 when Frank Williams left his partnership with the Walter Wolf (no relation to Toto, spelt with one ‘f’) racing team and recruited Patrick Head to become his designer/chief engineer. Williams were able to win their first World Championship in 1980 when they created a superior copy of the Lotus 78 ground-effect car. To date they have won nine World Championship Constructors titles, a record only beaten by Ferrari. Williams made the jump from start-up constructor to world champions in only three years. So Williams are an exception to the rule, and perhaps, despite his regrets, Gene Haas believes that he could be the next.