Who is Ayao Komatsu, the new Team Principal of the Haas F1 team?

With the surprise exit of Haas’s Guenther Steiner, ATRL’s Ayesha Ninan takes a look at Ayao Komatsu’s journey and rise to the role of Team Principal of the Haas F1 team.

Ayesha Anna Ninan

January 23, 2024

In an announcement that has shocked the world of Formula 1, the Haas F1 team has chosen not to renew Team Principal Guenther Steiner’s contract going into the 2024 season. The position will be filled by Ayao Komatsu (47), previously the Director of Engineering. 

Ayao Komatsu has been named the new Team Principal of the Haas F1 team (Photo via @haasf1team on Instagram)

Ayao Komatsu has built an established career in racing. However, his roots do not lie in motorsport. He told F1i,“My father was a musicologist, he wrote a book about Beethoven that I saw in Beethoven’s house in Bonn!” Komatsu initially considered investigative journalism but his interest in motorsport developed in the 1980s with the 1988 and 1989 Suzuka races being particularly influential. The Japanese Grand Prix served as the title decider in both those years (Senna won in ’88 and Proust in ‘89) and, as Komatsu says, “Prost vs Senna was the Drive to Survive-style story of those days and I was absolutely sold.” 

Ironically, he didn’t have much interest in mathematics or physics but understood that he would have to take his studies seriously. To him, it was a logical decision to move to England if he wanted a career in Formula 1. As a student at Loughborough University, he crossed paths with then-Formula 3 driver Takuma Sato who brought him on to the team. Sato later helped him connect with BAR-Honda (which has now evolved into Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team) where he got the job. After starting out in vehicle dynamics and tire performance analysis, he moved to Team Enstone (whose many identities include Benetton, Lotus, later Renault and currently Alpine) in 2006. Working his way up to becoming race engineer with driver Vitaly Petrov and then Romain Grosjean, it was nine podium finishes with Grosjean that took Komatsu to the role of chief engineer in 2015 at Team Enstone.

Komatsu’s winning days began as race engineer for Romain Grosjean (Photo via @rgrosjean on Twitter)

As Chief Race Engineer, it was his job to coordinate both sides of the garage (compared to the role of race engineer who is responsible for a particular car and driver’s set up). He said “When you become the chief engineer, you are responsible for representing the viewpoint of trackside engineers. You then need to be able to understand the bigger picture as a team.”

In 2016, Grosjean moved to Haas so Komatsu met with Steiner and “liked his vision and what he was doing,” so he decided to follow. Since Haas was debuting as a new team, they did not have data from previous years to learn from, which was a challenge for Komatsu and the team.

With Steiner’s exit, Haas has announced that Komatsu will be responsible for team strategy and on-track performance. There is a shift in Formula 1 towards leading staff being pulled from the engineering ranks, whereas earlier, it was former racers or team owners. For example, James Vowles was Motorsport Strategy Director at Mercedes before becoming Team Principal at Williams. Adam Cooper at Motorsport Magazine writes that “running a team has become such a complex operation, especially in the era of managing resources around the budget cap, that a deep understanding of the technical side is now a must.”

Haas placed last in the 2023 Constructors Championship (Photo via @moneygramhaasf1team on Twitter)

Komatsu has many challenges ahead of him. Haas have currently finished their second-worst season in the team’s history and finished last in the 2023 championship. Finishing two places down from the previous year has cost them approximately $20 million in prize money. In an official statement, Komatsu says he is “naturally very excited to have the opportunity to be Team Principal.” Haas is the only new team to have entered Formula 1 in the last twenty years. Yet, it remains to be seen whether the team can overcome its hurdles under this new stewardship. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ayesha Anna Ninan is an editor and script development consultant based in Mumbai. She developed an interest in Formula 1 through Drive to Survive, and supports Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. In her spare time, she teaches film editing, runs a nonfiction book review blog and now writes about Formula 1. She holds a masters in film production from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia.

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