The promotional event is, on paper, glaringly banal.
On the ice of their training complex, players from the Canadiens skate with actors from the Grand Prix du Canada. Like every year, and like other players and other players in the GP have done before them since we don’t know when.
This time, however, there is an anomaly. In the past, it was the pilots who lent themselves to the game. Last year, Nick Suzuki presented a Canadian jersey to Fernando Alonso. In 2019, Lance Stroll skated with his hometown team. However, this time, the one who sweats under heavy goalkeeper equipment is Günther Steiner, team leader of the Haas team.
The 58-year-old was thrust into the limelight by Drive to Survive, a documentary series produced and broadcast by Netflix. For five seasons, the camera has brought viewers to the heart of the Formula 1 championship and meets the drivers, but also the team administrators.
Enthusiasts and neophytes alike were able to discover the strong personalities of Toto Wolff, at Mercedes, and Christian Horner, at Red Bull, for example. And that of Steiner, at Haas.
The effect, for the naturalized Italian American, was drastic and immediate. In every city on the circuit, he is now a known – and beloved – figure to the public. He signs autographs, takes pictures. And even though “everything takes longer” than before, he relishes his new status. The one that allowed him, 30 years after he last did, to put on goalie pads.
From his first words, we recognize his unique accent and his outspokenness. “I’m genuinely having a lot of fun,” he said, smiling, to a group of Montreal reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“Formula 1, like all sports, lives thanks to its supporters. Without them, we would be nothing. We owe them respect. It costs me nothing, except a little time. »
One of the great strengths of the Netflix series lies in its way of dissecting the struggles within the best motor championship in the world. That between the leading teams, who have almost infinite resources financially and technically, but also that between the middle and back teams.
Because while disparities exist in all sports, nowhere else are they named and accepted as in Formula 1.
Since the team was founded in 2016, never has a Haas driver done better than fourth place – and that has happened only once. A third into its eighth season, the American team currently sits seventh in the constructors’ standings. Such a position would be the best since 2018.
The revival is gradual, after two catastrophic seasons. In 2021, its runners did not collect any points. In 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Nikita Mazepin’s contract was terminated and a lucrative partnership with Russian company Uralkali was terminated.
Günther Steiner puts it coldly: he doesn’t see Haas vying for a championship in the next five years.
“We have to be honest with ourselves,” he says. When I talk to my team, to my bosses, to the owners of the team, the expectations have to be realistic. […] If I tell my guys, ‘We have to beat Red Bull next year,’ they’ll tell me I’m kidding, dreaming. I am not a dreamer. »
It is therefore important to him to establish stages of development and to achieve real progress, however timid, step by step. In a recent interview published on the Formula 1 website, Steiner was delighted to see his troops making some of the fastest pit stops in the Spanish Grand Prix.
This work is certainly “difficult”, but it is “motivating”, he assures.
He also recalls that Haas is the youngest team in the championship. Getting up to the top teams takes time, especially since the opponents “don’t just sit there and wait”. The spending cap imposed by the FIA in 2021 now means that the field is “tighter than before”, he believes, so that “all 10 teams can score points”.
“Two, three, or four years ago that wasn’t the case,” Steiner said. I think someone will join Red Bull. »
That day has not yet arrived, neither for Haas nor for anyone else, since the red bull team has dominated its sport absolutely unchallenged since the start of the 2023 season.
Günther Steiner is therefore staying the course, hoping for better days. And, who knows, a first podium.