Guenther Steiner on Russian war pressure, an all-electric future – and his warning to historic race tracks
Formula 1: Drive to Survive star – and Haas F1 Team Principal – Guenther Steiner spoke exclusively to RadioTimes.com about his wild year and the future of F1.
"Oh! I'm sure I did! I'm sure I did," Guenther Steiner roars.
The term 'fok' appears on 192 of the 304 pages of the Formula 1 Haas Team Principal's new book, Surviving to Drive, and he freely admits he has said it to the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Outspoken, bullish, strangely endearing, for all Steiner has been launched into the public eye as, essentially, a character in Netflix smash-hit Formula 1: Drive to Survive, he is very much a work of non-fiction.
The eccentric, unmistakable Steiner, simply through his very being, has played a critical role in the sudden explosion of interest in Formula 1 across the globe. And he has no idea how it happened.
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Steiner said: "This just happened you know, it was not by plan, it was by accident. Right place, right time.
"Obviously you're much more recognised, you have to deal with that. Some of the things you just have to think more are about your movements, for example, what you're doing and what you're not doing because you don't want to be in an uncomfortable situation.
"Otherwise, I just get on with my job and try to do the best and still enjoy it. It's nice to be recognised, but it doesn't come for free. It involves a lot more, not a lot more work, but more thinking. I think in general, it's good for the sport, it's good for the team, it's good for me, so yeah, I deal with that in the best way I can."
Steiner found himself at the eye of a storm during the 2022 season following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Of course, sport pales by comparison to the human cost of the conflict, but Haas were, at the time, sponsored by Russian chemical company Uralkali – run by Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin – and employed Nikita Mazepin, son of Dmitry, as one of their two drivers. Even the car was decked out in white, blue and red.
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As Team Principal, Steiner's role extends far beyond what happens on any given race day. He is the public face of the operation and was ultimately required to navigate the team through to calm waters, as fully documented in his book, essentially a real-time diary of the 2022 campaign.
He said: "I tried to explain things in the heat of the moment, you know, because I'm very bad at remembering things so I have to do it straight afterwards and explain how it happened to bring it over to the people realistically, and I think it does.
"I remember the difficulties, obviously, when the biggest thing, when Russia invaded Ukraine, because that was, on a personal level, it was quite a strange thing. I never thought, in my lifetime, there will be a war somewhere.
"I wasn't involved in the war, thank god, but there were consequences for us. That is a thing I will never forget, but the racing stuff normally is because we're doing it over and over again and I'm doing it for more than 30 years. It's not always a routine, but it's things which happen normally, every second weekend, sometimes more excitement, sometimes less excitement, but the war is something I will not forget because I hope it was the only time I have to remember it."
Steiner continued: "When you're there, you need to put the effort in to sort it out, you cannot procrastinate in something like this. When we found out, I was actually sitting with Gene Haas, sitting for breakfast, when I found out that the invasion happened, and it was like: 'We need to solve this.'
"Stuart Morrison [head of communications at Haas] was with me. I said: "You have to come in my office today because there will be a lot of phone calls being made and there's no point that I always come to you and tell you what happens. You sit there and you listen in to them, that's the best way," because he has then got to communicate our decisions with the world, my decisions.
"You just stay calm and you go do it. You stay rational, you speak with everybody involved, I spoke with the Russians, you know, I am not afraid, I had two calls that day with them. I had to speak with other sponsors, who obviously raised their opinion about it and there was no compromise from them. I spoke with the Haas Automation board, which is the main sponsor of our team and they were in alignment with my ideas. Then you just need to get it done, but in the end it's just work like every other day, obviously, with high stakes."
Steiner and Haas did steady the ship. They continued on through 2022 snaffling points from larger constructors on their way, and their Team Principal confirmed his intentions to stay among the Formula 1 carnival for the foreseeable future during our chat.
The 58-year-old has no plans to leave the sport any time soon and instead, he is looking ahead to the future, the innovations yet to come, and laid down a challenge for classic, historic race tracks which are unwilling to progress with the times.
"I'm very encouraged by what is happening. I think they're putting good things on the calendar. I think this is also giving the opportunity to those 'classic' race tracks, the historic ones, they just need to step up their game and give the fans what other circuits, the new ones, give them. It's not too difficult.
"You cannot rely on classic circuits if they say: 'I don't renew my infrastructure, I don't do anything, don't give entertainment to the fans. We are doing it like we did 30 years ago.'
"People have changed in the last 30 years. They want different things, better things, more things and the classic tracks just to sit back and say: 'I want to do it like I always did because that is classic,' that is not good enough. I think there's enough examples out now from new circuits which come out now which make it happen that more people watch F1."
Steiner continued: "We cannot now look at the classic ones say they don't need to do anything, you just need to be who you are because a minority of the fans like you. No, they have now got the opportunity to step up like everybody else and stay in the game.
"Just keeping someone in the calendar because they are there for 30 years, that doesn't make it right. It's the same when you have got somebody working for you and he says: 'Oh, 30 years ago I did it like this and I was sending a fax – I don't want to use a computer.' That's not good enough anymore. You need to stay current. They have got all the opportunity – nobody was taken off the calendar of the classics, but they need to step up their game, try to make more revenue because everything gets more expensive, so I think they just need to come along.
"In terms of the sport, I think we will crack sustainability. We will we have to be sustainable by then because the whole world needs to do something and it goes the same for us. Like I said before for the race tracks, we need to stay current. How we do it, we don't know yet, but there's a lot of things going on, things we try to develop in Formula 1, sustainability-wise, that we are going to net zero as soon as possible.
"The sport is in a very good place now and we just need to always improve it every year, you know, we cannot sit back like it was maybe done 20 years ago, that we keep everything the same. I think it's in a good place and the technologies will move on. F1 is always a good place to push it, because we have got smart people, we have got money as well and we always want to be at the forefront of everything. It helps the general public as well and we just need to keep that on track to do that. There is a big push there from F1 to keep it going."
When asked asked about an all-electric future for F1, Steiner remained open-minded.
"I think there is more than electric for the future of sustainable technologies. Electric is not the only one. There are synthetic fuels, you know, some other combustion engine but fuelled differently, it could be still out there. We are not at the end to have the ultimate technology.
"Electric will be one of the ways to be but I don't know where Formula 1 will go. I mean for 2026 we go 50 per cent electric, 50 per cent combustion engine but with sustainable synthetic fuels we are still working on. We don't have the ultimate solution yet, but I think there's more than one way to do that and that is where Formula 1 has got an important role to play because we can do a lot of things other people cannot do."
In 20 minutes of frank, candid thoughts, the 'fok' counter inexplicably remained at zero.
Surviving to Drive by Guenther Steiner is out now (Bantam, £20).
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