Ayao Komatsu on becoming Team Principal of Haas F1 Team

Ayao leaning over a railing wearing a headset. There are screens behind him people facing towards the screens on either side of him.

Monaco Grand Prix 2024 - Friday. Credits: LAT Images

Alumnus Ayao Komatsu became the new Team Principal of Haas Formula One Team for this season. Now firmly into his first season in the role, F1 fans will have been watching closely as he takes Haas into a new era and goes from Director of Engineering to Team Principal.

Ayao Komatsu with his hands placed together on a table. The backdrop and table are red. He looks to the side.
2024 Team Personnel. Credits: MoneyGram Haas F1 Team

A long-standing member of the Haas team, Ayao is a Formula One engineer who has held a number of positions within the sport. Progressing from roles in Vehicle Dynamics and Chassis Performance to Performance Engineer, Test Engineer, Race Engineer and to Chief Race Engineer has provided Ayao with the breadth of experience he needs in his new role at the top. 

A two-time Loughborough graduate with a BEng in Automotive Engineering and a PhD in Aeronautical & Automotive Engineering, we asked Ayao to tell us more about his career progression, share some top tips, and give us some insights into life on the circuits. 

How did Ayao’s passion for F1 begin? We asked where it stemmed from and how that drive led him to Loughborough: 

“My interest started when I was about 14 when I was at Junior High School. The fact that I was at Loughborough was actually a result of my interest in Formula One.  

“I looked into what I needed to do to work in Formula One. The first conclusion was that I need to come to England as soon as possible. I came to the UK after high school, studied English and then went on to do a Foundation course. While I was doing that, I sent letters to many F1 teams and magazine publications to see which university I should go to to have a chance of getting into Formula One. Then quite a few of them replied with the answer ‘Loughborough’, so that’s how I ended up in Loughborough.” 

Getting into Loughborough was the first step on that journey. From gaining a place on his engineering course, Ayao continued to pursue his goal of working in F1 alongside his studies and as part of his year in industry:  

“The course was very very good and I chose Loughborough after an open day because I felt it had a very good mixture of theoretical and practical studies and the location was really good – it's quite central to Silverstone, Donnington and lots of motorsports. It was very convenient.  

“The placement I had after second year at Lotus Engineering as part of my degree course – that was brilliant. My boss was into racing so as well as having a professional work experience in the daytime, in the evenings and weekends I worked with him on his racing car.  

“Loughborough, honestly, was essential to my career in F1. 

“When I was doing my final year of study, I was running a saloon car for a local driver called Andrew Delahunty. When I was at Silverstone servicing his car, I bumped into this Formula Three racer called Takuma Sato and that got me into British Formula Three.  

“So everything I experienced in Loughborough was a foundation to what I am doing now.”

Ayao with Kevin Magnussen at the Chinese Grand Prix 2024Ayao with Kevin Magnussen on the Saturday at the Chinese Grand Prix. Credits: LAT Images

Having followed that dream, what have been the biggest challenges? Ayao said: 

“It’s probably now, this is my biggest challenge. Every time I think when I go into a new area, like the first time going to Formula One or the first time going to racing, or as a race engineer, Chief Race Engineer, at that time it was always the biggest challenge. 

“The latest challenge has always been the biggest challenge, so of course my latest challenge is being Team Principal.” 

We also asked Ayao what the most enjoyable element of his role as Team Principal has been so far:

“I think for me the biggest enjoyment is teamwork. Having chance to work with people I know and also to get to know the people I didn’t know very well before. Having a very positive working relationship and trying to listen to people and trying to really bring this team together to understand how we can move forward, that’s been the most enjoyable.” 

What does a Team Principal do on a day-to-day basis, and how does that compare with being a Director of Engineering? Ayao added: 

“That’s another challenge because it’s so variable. Before, I was Director of Engineering, so even then my job varied quite a bit but 90% involved engineering, so you can just have your mindset as an engineer, whereas in my current job, one minute I’m doing an interview and then I’m talking financially, then I’m talking to my owner [of Haas], or thinking about the race weekend or talking with other Team Principals.  

“I am constantly switching my mode of operation, so that has been a challenge, but for me it’s a new challenge and I am learning things every day. That’s what keeps you going, that’s what makes it interesting.” 

Ayao smiling. He is holding a headset around his neck.Credits: LAT Photo

Ayao’s career takes him all over the world to the many locations that make up the F1 season. For the fans of F1, we asked Ayao about his favourite tracks: 

“My favourite track is probably Suzuka (Japan) or Spa (Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium) in terms of challenges for engineers, the drivers and the cars.  

“My favourite event to go to is Singapore. It’s a night race but we stay in the city. Before you go to the circuit you can feel the city as well. Depending on what day you finish, not too late, you can still go out and have street food. The whole experience in Singapore I find really good.  

“Suzuka of course being my Japanese ‘home race’ - the fans are amazing. But British Grand Prix as well, having lived here for 30 years and I live cycling distance away from the circuit. The passion and fans there – amazing – the atmosphere is amazing.” 

So, there are many favourites, and all for a range of reasons! Finally, we talked to Ayao about some of the advice he has for any of students or alumni who are interested in pursuing a career in motorsports? 

“Even when I went to uni most people told me it’s impossible to get into F1. My advice would be the opposite. Don’t listen to those people who said you can’t do it. If you’ve got something that you want to do, some passion, just try. Try your best and whatever happens, whether you make it or don’t make it, don’t worry too much about the consequences, or the result, the important thing is that you have some passion and you put everything into it, then whatever happens I believe you don’t regret it.” 

Ayao released a book on F1 in Japan in 2019, giving fans an inside perspective of what it’s like to work within Formula 1. 

Thank you to Ayao for sharing some insight into his career journey, and we wish him the best of luck for the rest of the season. 

Find out more about Ayao Komatsu on the Haas website. 

Thank you to MoneyGram Haas F1 Team for supplying the imagery.