For a long time nobody knew Günther Steiner. He was a Formula 1 hillbilly. A dutiful servant, a decent leader and highly respected in certain circles.
And then last year at the Mexico City airport, a girl, maybe 16, ran off to get his autograph, or rather a selfie, so fast that she fell flat on her face. On the hard, shiny floor. Guenther didn’t see the bang, but he was aware of the group gathering around him, and we quietly swapped places in line so it was only slightly better concealed.
That’s what Netflix did to him. The Haas team principal is Drive To Survive’s breakout star for his direct and, frankly, expletive-ridden demeanor, and he’s a hostage to fame wherever he goes.
We meet in a hotel in central London, in a quiet room, secluded. Nobody sees him this morning. And if you’re going to believe it, he doesn’t swear either – just a light four-letter word once, really – over the course of 35 minutes of light-hearted chitchat.
The latest series, the fifth, dedicates an episode to Italian-American Steiner and American owner Gene Haas firing Mick Schumacher, who, despite his legendary surname, wasn’t quite up to par. In unprotected bursts in front of the fly-on-the-wall cameras, Steiner says, “We give him a year to study — what does he do on the second day?” He fucking wrecks the car just because the other guy is faster.’ He also calls the German “a walking dead man” and castigates him as “in over his head”.
Günther Steiner, Haas’ team principal, hasn’t watched Netflix’s Drive to Survive series
While his wife and daughter may have done it, he doesn’t want to change his habits
The behind-the-scenes documentary means Günther will be recognized by fans on the street
It’s fair to assume Steiner and Schumacher aren’t best friends as a result, but the outspoken team boss denies bullying Mick, who has been replaced for the season by the more experienced and capable Nico Hulkenberg, and claims his criticism was spontaneous . moment and that his more moderate interpretations of his ex-driver’s abilities were likely left on the cutting room floor.
Probably? Well, that’s because Steiner is the last to know. He has never seen Drive to Survive. His wife Gertraud, for 25 years, has. Her teenage daughter Greta probably has it, he can’t be sure.
Steiner, whose journey through the Dolomites in a tiny Fiat 500 accompanied by former Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto, speaks to Italian and American influences in the Germanic-tinged Italian-American accent that is his trademark, helped launch the latest Drive to Survive Series. says: “I’ve never seen it. I want to avoid it. When you look at yourself, you change, and I don’t want that. You want to get better or improve. But I’m not an actor, so I don’t need to improve. If I don’t watch, I don’t feel the pressure the next time I do it. I don’t want to change It’s no use now.’
The Australian Grand Prix is this week and in the old days of darkness Steiner walked from his hotel near Albert Park in Melbourne. In any case, he likes to go for walks.
Now it would be ages before the fans besieged him and he will instead drive to the paddock gates by car. There in the fan area they serenaded him for his birthday last year. He will be 58 years old on April 7th – Good Friday. But who is this object of cult fascination?
He was born the son of a butcher in Meran, South Tyrol, northern Italy, near the Austrian border. He went to university to study engineering but never graduated, instead taking a role as a mechanic in the 1986 World Rally Championship.
In 2001, Niki Lauda, who would become a close friend until his death four years ago, brought him to Jaguar Racing in Formula 1. “Niki asked if there were any talented people at Ford,” said Steiner. »And the answer was, there is Günther. The guy lied!’
Günther was introduced to Formula 1 by his close friend Niki Lauda, who brought him to Jaguar
Steiner’s journey with former Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto helped launch the latest series
He stayed for a while after Red Bull bought the team in 2005 but then moved to America where he met Haas who founded his Formula 1 team in 2015. Steiner still resides in Mooresville, North Carolina. He also spends a lot of time in Europe. Around 250 employees are under his supervision, many of them at the US F1 team’s factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire.
If Steiner had his way, he would eliminate a lot of practice time every Grand Prix weekend and rearrange the schedule to: “Qualification on Friday for a sprint race. Then on Saturday morning the qualification for the Grand Prix. Sprint race on Saturday afternoon. I brought the case to the Formula One Group.’
It’s a good point, even if it offends some traditionalists and a hundred well-paid engineers. But what about his own team, now with Kevin Magnussen and Hulkenberg? They finished eighth, eighth, fifth, ninth, ninth, tenth, eighth place. Steiner says of the loss of Schumacher: “I feel good about what we did. We wanted experience.
“We tried the rookie route and it didn’t work very well for us. So we went back to what we knew – with two experienced riders – to try and take the team to the next step. Nico is experienced and he’s mostly been with midfield teams and has been very helpful with them.
Veteran Haas rider Kevin Magnussen was brought in to deliver in his sixth season
“And Kevin is with us for a sixth season. We know him and he is experienced. Now he has to deliver.” Magnussen has scored one point in the first two races so far. Fine, but there’s work to be done.
But Steiner is doing his bit for the F1 gospel through Netflix and for the devotees he addresses. “When one person spots you, the crowd comes,” he says. “Eating around the races can be difficult – it’s not difficult, it’s just the people wanting to talk to you.
“I always obey them because it would be arrogant not to, and I’m not arrogant. When it’s too much after a bad day, you just don’t go out to eat. My daughter is 13 and she would ask, “Do you know this guy?” “NO.” You walk down the street and people know your name. “Hello Günther, how are you?”
“That’s the way it is now and I don’t mind. And if hardcore fans don’t like Netflix, they don’t have to watch it. It doesn’t take anything away from racing.’