Haas’ 2021 livery reveal causes controversy
As the new Formula 1 season draws ever closer, teams have begun to reveal the liveries that their cars will don for the rest of the year. Matthew Henderson takes a look at the controversy surrounding Haas’ 2021 livery.
In a sport where the athlete’s tools are more visible than the athlete themselves, a Formula 1 car’s livery is often what makes each driver identifiable. The equivalent to a football team’s strip, the livery is the on-track identity for each of the 10 F1 teams and their drivers. Furthermore, just as sponsors will spend massive fees to see the biggest football teams don their company logos on their shirt, so too will they splash out to have their name etched onto one of the 20 cars on the grid, often working the logo and colours into the livery’s design.
In the F1 pre-season, we are currently in what is known as “Car Launch Season,” as all the teams unveil their new livery designs to fans and the media for the first time. Most of this year’s launches came and went without a hitch – then Haas unveiled their car for 2021.
Owned by Gene Haas, a very prominent figure in American motorsport, the team are the only American team in the sport and they are struggling significantly. In 2019, poor aerodynamics let them down and in 2020, they were hampered by the poor performance of the Ferrari engine. Being stuck at the back of the grid is a massive drain on any team and for Haas, the smallest team of the 10, this means that their days in F1 could be numbered. A solution to their troubles would be taking on a new title sponsor, which is exactly what they did. They revealed their new sponsor and livery at their launch earlier this week, but it was clear that something was blatantly wrong.
The car was essentially one massive Russian flag, which raised significant questions, especially as Haas are an American team. It emerged that the new title sponsor for the team was Urakali, a company owned by Dmitry Mazepin – notably, the father of Haas driver Nikita Mazepin. Now, the father of a driver sponsoring his son’s team is nothing new – Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll is a co-owner of the newly-rebranded Aston Martin, with his son Lance on the grid as one of their drivers. The issue is that all Russian motorsport athletes were forbidden from racing under the Russian flag by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and many feel that if racing under the Russian flag is banned, then the team should also be prevented from displaying its colours on their car.
Haas now face an investigation from WADA into whether or not their livery breaks the rules. Team boss Guenther Steiner argued that the ruling does not prevent the team from using the flag and protested that Haas were in close contact with the right governing bodies during the design process.
The reveal of such a controversial title sponsor is perhaps reflective of the tight spot that the team finds itself in, and it could potentially mean that they are close to leaving the sport altogether. All teams, including Haas, signed an agreement that they will race until 2025. However, with Gene Haas not seeing his team make the most positive returns, he may plug the hole in his pocket in four years and move on. Haas has been on a rollercoaster F1 journey thus far, with a strong first couple of seasons, a very good 2018 (finishing 5th), followed by a terrible 2019 and 2020. The team are looking to 2021 and the major regulation change as their saving grace. The new rules, which include a cost cap, might offer them a chance to be competitive and give them a future in F1.