Haas Formula 1 boss Gunther Steiner reckons the late world rally champion Colin McRae was the “most gifted driver” he ever met during his motorsport career that began in rallying.
Steiner worked alongside 1995 world champion McRae across the 1999 and 2000 campaigns during a spell at the factory Ford WRC operation run by M-Sport.
At M-Sport, Steiner was operating as director of engineering, having previously entered the motorsport industry as a rally mechanic for the works Mazda team in 1986, before enjoying roles at the Jolly Club Lancia team (1991-1996) and Prodrive in 1997.
Working alongside McRae and Carlos Sainz at M-Sport was Steiner’s last role in WRC before moving into F1 first with Jaguar in 2001 and then Red Bull (2005-2008) before joining Haas as team principal in 2014.
Steiner reflected on his time working with McRae at Ford in a guest appearance on the WRC’s official podcast this week, where he labelled the Scot, who died in a helicopter crash in 2007, as one of the most natural drivers he’s ever seen.
“I got on very well with Colin,” said Steiner on the WRC Backstories podcast. “At the time I think everyone wanted Colin.
"Of course there was money and being a Scotsman money was important for Colin, but it wasn’t everything and I think Malcolm [Wilson, M-Sport boss] could convince him about the future. Malcolm was a driver himself so he could explain to Colin where he wants to go and therefore he joined Ford.
“Colin was the man at the time and I think there will never be anybody, I mean there is always somebody, but I haven’t seen anyone with the sheer talent Colin had at the time.
“For him, everything was natural he didn’t need to put any effort in to drive a car quick, it was just there. Some people can talk a lot like me but he can drive fast. I think he was the most gifted driver I ever met.
“He was pretty good [at giving feedback]. If something didn’t work, he was pretty good at telling you. He was pretty straight forward.
“For Colin, everything was natural, either it worked or it didn’t work and then the rest was your problem.
“Carlos was going into detail and with Colin it was yes or no, there was nothing in between. If it was no it was your problem. It was black or white. If you had a good test it was very enjoyable to test with Colin, but if it went badly it was the least enjoyable test you could do because he was pissed off because he thought he was wasting his time.”
While McRae enjoyed a career largely based around rallying, the Scotsman did flirt with F1 courtesy of a run out with the Jordan F1 team at Silverstone in 1996.
Steiner was asked if he would consider returning to his rallying roots in the future, adding: “Never say never. I have said it before, I never had a plan to be a F1 team principal and I got there and worked my way there so I don’t know what is coming next. I never say never to anything, everything can happen.
“For me, if there is a challenge or an opportunity I go there. If there is something I find interesting it can be anything. I won’t say yes I’m going back to rallying or no I’m not. I don’t know.”