Motor racing-Haas steps into F1 with Ferrari sponsorship

SILVERSTONE, England, July 3 Thu Jul 3, 2014 1:09pm EDT

SILVERSTONE, England, July 3 (Reuters) - Haas Automation, the machine tools company whose owner Gene Haas plans to enter Formula One in 2016 with a new U.S.-based team, announced a sponsorship with Ferrari on Thursday as a first step.

The deal, which sees Haas branding on the lower sidepods of the Ferrari cars from this weekend's British Grand Prix, is likely to be a prelude to the Americans eventually signing up the Italian manufacturer as engine partners.

The sponsorship deal will last until the end of the 2015 season.

"Over the past few months, we have been exploring with Haas a number of potential areas of collaboration, and this agreement is an immediate opportunity that we are pursuing," said Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci in a statement.

"In parallel, but as a separate project, Haas is committed to entering Formula One with its own team, a testimony to the growing appeal of our sport in the USA, and on this front, technical discussions are ongoing between us."

Haas said the current partnership would allow the company "to become engaged in the business of Formula One" before becoming primary sponsor of Haas's planned team.

Haas, whose entry has been accepted by the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), will be the first American-based team since Haas Lola competed in 1986.

Gene Haas, whose Stewart Racing team won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2011, is no relation to Haas Lola's co-founder Carl Haas.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Stephen Wood)