Who is Ayao Komatsu? All to know about the new Haas F1 team boss

The Haas Formula 1 team announced this week (10 January) the shock departure of team principal Guenther Steiner, with Ayao Komatsu as his replacement.

It came after Haas finished bottom of the 2023 F1 constructors’ championship, which was its second last-place finish in three years.

Such form has led to Steiner losing his job, a role the Italian had held since the American outfit joined F1 in 2016.

So, with Komatsu now leading the squad into 2024 and beyond, who is the new Haas team principal and how did he end up in the role?

Who is Ayao Komatsu?

Komatsu is the new Haas team principal, having replaced Steiner for the 2024 F1 season. The 47-year-old was born in Tokyo but aged 19 he left Japan for the United Kingdom to study Automotive Engineering at Loughborough University. Komatsu later obtained a PhD from Loughborough and has stayed in the UK ever since to work various roles in F1.  

Why has he become Haas F1 Team Principal? 

Komatsu became the Haas F1 team principal after Steiner’s contract came to an end. However, friction had emerged between Steiner and team owner Gene Haas following disagreements over how to take the team forward.

Ayao Komatsu, Chief Engineer, Haas F1

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Ayao Komatsu, Chief Engineer, Haas F1

Steiner was effectively asking for more investment to match rival budgets, yet Gene Haas was keen for more efficient use of its resources having claimed he’s “embarrassed” that the team has not made the most of its partnership with Ferrari.   

Haas has come in the bottom three of the F1 standings every year since its best finish of fifth in 2018, which included a point-less season in 2021. Although things initially improved at the start of 2022, kickstarting the ground-effect era with points in three of the opening four grands prix, Haas was back to bottom of the standings in 2023 with just four-point finishes.

So, Gene Haas felt the team needed something different and the job was offered to Komatsu because “Ayao has been with the team since day one, he knows the ins and outs of it”.

How long has he been at Haas? 

Komatsu joined Haas F1 for its debut season in 2016 as the team’s trackside engineering director, which is a role he held every year until becoming team boss for 2024.  

He began his motorsport career in 2003 as a tyre engineer for British American Racing before moving to Renault in 2006. Komatsu started as a performance engineer at Renault and by 2011 he was promoted to the role of Vitaly Petrov’s race engineer.  

In 2012 Komatsu became Romain Grosjean’s race engineer for the Enstone-based squad, where the two formed a successful partnership scoring nine podiums across two seasons. Komatsu was later promoted to chief race engineer at Lotus (formerly known as Renault) for 2014 until he left for the newly founded Haas with Grosjean in 2016.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1, with Ayao Komatsu, Race Engineer, Lotus

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro

Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1, with Ayao Komatsu, Race Engineer, Lotus

Will he improve Haas?

Haas has taken a very different approach for its new team principal, with Komatsu quite the opposite to Steiner. The 47-year-old comes with an engineering background, so he is a very technical person who Gene Haas said “looks at things based on statistics” while Steiner was better on the operational side of the organisation acting as more of a man manager.

The appointment also continues a trend that has emerged in F1 recently, where teams have hired bosses with more of an engineer’s brain – think McLaren with Andrea Stella and James Vowles at Williams.

So, it remains to be seen if this new approach works for Haas, however, it has done for McLaren and Williams who both improved on its 2022 finishing position in 2023. The biggest task for Komatsu is to make better use of what is at his disposal because Gene Haas will not invest in the team more, so it needs to be more efficient with resources.

If Haas can close that gap to the rest of the field – the team finished four points behind next-to-bottom Alfa Romeo, who is now Sauber – then Komatsu will have done a good job. One area Haas needs to improve upon in 2024 is its race pace because the VF-23’s tyres overheated far too quickly so drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen were forced into tyre management for many grands prix.

What will happen to Guenther Steiner? 

It is unknown what Steiner will do after leaving Haas F1, as he is expected to take some time away from motor racing to decide his next steps. 

Steiner is unlikely to land a team principal role elsewhere in F1, but that does not mean he cannot go into another series like ex-Caterham and Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul did with Hyundai in the World Rally Championship.

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team, during the team representatives press conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team, during the team representatives press conference

However, Steiner does have other business ventures as the Italian co-founded American company FibreWorks Composites, which is a carbon-composites design and manufacturing organisation specialising in motorsport.

That is likely to keep him busy in the coming months, although many media and broadcasting companies may want to hire Steiner for work after his rise to stardom in Netflix’s Drive to Survive.

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