Nico Hülkenberg is surprised by Günther Steiner’s departure from the Haas Formula 1 team, but believes in the expertise of new team principal Ayao Komatsu
The departure of Günther Steiner as Haas team principal at the beginning of the year not only took the public by surprise, but also caught Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg off guard. The driver from Emmerich received a call from team owner Gene Haas “between Christmas and New Year” that Ayao Komatsu will take over the team’s fortunes from 2024.
In an interview with Sky, the German admits that he did not expect the change at the top of the team: “It was obviously surprising, I didn’t expect it and didn’t see it coming,” he says. “[Gene Haas] informed me, but then the focus naturally shifts to the future.”
Steiner and Hülkenberg had a good relationship during their time together at Haas, as the South Tyrolean was in charge of the 36-year-old’s Formula 1 comeback last year when Haas decided to replace Mick Schumacher with Nico Hülkenberg for the 2023 season.
Phone call after the end: What Hülkenberg and Steiner talked about
“I had a very good relationship with Günter, both professionally on the work side and interpersonally,” the German recalls. “We got on very, very well. He was the one who was instrumental in my comeback. He basically brought me back, opened the door here at Haas.”
“And from that point of view, it’s a shame that he’s gone somewhere. But as I said, that’s Gene Haas’ decision, he’s the team owner and that’s the facts and the situation and we have to continue to work with that now,” says Hülkenberg, who has remained in contact with Steiner since the retirement.
“Yes, yes several times,” he says when asked whether he spoke to Steiner on the phone after Gene Haas’ decision. “I’ve spoken to him on the phone because it’s always fun to talk to Günther and also informative. He’s always in the know and that’s why it’s always good to stay up to date and chat with him a bit. “
Hülkenberg: Haas has holes to fill due to the loss of Steiner
Hülkenberg is also aware of the consequences of Günther Steiner’s dismissal, after all, “he built the whole thing up here. That was his concept, his business plan back then and it will certainly leave holes that we now have to fill in order to compensate for this,” he says clearly.
“And of course the character of Günther Steiner. He was a brand, of course, and he also brought a lot to the table off the track. On the commercial side, too, I think, for the team. It’s no secret from Netflix that he was very, very popular. “
Why Hülkenberg is convinced by Komatsu
Ayao Komatsu, another Haas veteran, will now become team principal. The Japanese switched from Lotus to the American team for the first Haas season in 2016 together with Romain Grosjean and has been the chief engineer at the track ever since.
It is no longer unusual for a high-ranking technical employee to become team principal of a Formula 1 team. With James Vowles at Williams or Andrea Stella at McLaren, there are already several examples of how such an appointment can work, which Hülkenberg is also assuming at Haas.
“Ayao is someone who has been with the team since day one, who obviously knows everyone here, the processes, inside out,” he explains. “He’s incredible, but he also brings a lot of knowledge as an engineer. I think there are other teams who have done the same in recent years, who have put people in the position with real engineering knowledge and backgrounds. There are good examples of this working very well. “