LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S.-owned Haas Formula One team have nothing against American drivers but are just not ready to hire one yet, team owner Gene Haas said on Tuesday.
The industrialist, who also runs a NASCAR outfit, said in an interview conducted by the team that Haas needed to improve a lot first.
“I believe in American drivers - my NASCAR team is full of them, and we’ve won a lot of races and championships. Sure there are competent American drivers who can compete in Formula One.
“But we’re not ready for that yet, and with the limited amount of testing teams have, getting anyone up to speed who hasn’t already been a part of a development program would be hard.”
Haas spoke after team boss Guenther Steiner said he did not feel there was an American ready to step into a race seat.
“(Signing an American driver) would be an ambition, but at the moment there is nobody ready for F1 in the United States in my opinion,” the motorsport.com website quoted him as saying last month.
The team have experienced French driver Romain Grosjean and Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen as their line-up after dropping Mexican Esteban Gutierrez at the end of 2016.
Haas said his Ferrari-powered team were still learning the ropes and “bringing on a driver who needs to learn about Formula One probably isn’t the best thing for us or them.
“I felt like there were times last year where our drivers were better than our cars. So, we need to step up, but we know where we need to improve thanks in large part to the experience of our drivers,” Haas said.
“We’re not saying no to having an American driver, but the reality is that of the American drivers who have a superlicense and could actually compete in F1, they should really be with a team that can serve as their benchmark rather than the other way around.”
Haas finished eighth out of 10 teams last year and have plenty of room for improvement, with Ferrari showing that the engine is competitive with champions Mercedes.
The team owner said Haas needed to be within a half-second of Ferrari to be competitive, with the gap between a second and a second-and-a-half last year.
“Overall, we were maybe two seconds off the pole qualifiers, so we need to knock a second off that if we really want to be competitive,” he added.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; editing by Mark Heinrich