Gene Haas has clarified his stance on signing an American driver to his Formula One team.

Last month several IndyCar drivers reacted angrily to comments from Haas team principal Guenther Steiner, who repeated his opinion there is currently “nobody ready for F1 in the United States”. The issue returned to prominence last year when reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden told ESPN he wants to contest at least one season of F1 while still in his prime.

Mario Andretti, the only American driver to have won a world championship, was one of the most vocal critics, labelling the team “wrong and arrogant” for its stance. But Haas has responded to the controversy by saying people misunderstood what Steiner meant.

“Gunther was asked about having an American driver in Formula One and, more specifically, with the Haas F1 team,” he said. “He responded by saying something to the effect that it wasn’t at the top of our priority list, and things kind of took off in a bunch of different directions as people made a bunch of assumptions.

“The fact is that we’re still learning here in Formula One, and bringing on a driver who needs to learn about Formula One probably isn’t the best thing for us or them.”

Haas insists an American driver leading his team is still the long-term aim, but only once he feels the outfit is properly established on the grid.

“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. Now, we fully expect to eventually be in that position — ideally, sooner rather than later — but this is only our third year and we need to improve in a variety of areas, and Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are playing a big part in that improvement because of their experience.

“They help us, rather quickly, determine if the course we’re taking is a proper one or if we need to re-think our approach. That experience is invaluable as we look to become a team that can eventually challenge for podiums instead of just points.”

Haas does currently have an American driver on its books. Youngster Santino Ferrucci has been the team’s reserve driver for the past two seasons.

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