Winter rumours suggested Haas could actually be fighting backmarkers Sauber and McLaren this year, but Romain Grosjean qualified a ‘best of the rest’ sixth in Melbourne.
But Haas says that midfield pack is close.
“Two seconds behind the top are five teams within half a second,” he told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.
And so while many expected the Ferrari-linked to strike F1’s typical ‘second season syndrome’, Haas said he is happy with the 2017 car.
“It is a car without weaknesses and a very strong engine,” Haas said.
And he smiled: “Grosjean complained less about the car than usual in Melbourne. That’s a good sign.”
The 64-year-old, who also co-owns a Nascar team, also sounds happy in formula one, even in the wake of Bernie Ecclestone’s departure and the arrival of Liberty Media.
Recently, Ecclestone’s successor Chase Carey said his goal is to make every grand prix like the ‘Super Bowl’.
Haas said: “It does not have to be a Super Bowl. But I do think that a grand prix weekend should have more. It should be a festival for the whole family.
“A kind of Oktoberfest with racing,” he added.
As for the small Haas operation that works closely with Ferrari and Dallara, meanwhile, Gene Haas says he is happy to keep the team small in the future.
“We do not want to become too big,” he said. “Size means bureaucracy.”
And as for goals for 2017, Haas revealed: “We want to be at the front end of the midfield and score regularly.
“Realistically the first six places are filled by Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. Behind them is the race for seventh to tenth places.”