CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Story/Audio by Race Chaser Open Wheel Correspondent Joel Sebastianelli – Getty Images Photo –
Speed, innovation, and glamorous lifestyles are attributes that immediately meet the eye, but nationalism may be Formula One’s defining characteristic.
Memories from special seasons endure long after the final checkered flag unfurls. Epic showdowns between rivals like James Hunt/Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost are permanently etched into racing lore. Other seasons, like the 2015, will be remembered for little else besides mind-numbing domination carried out by the eventual champion, in this case Lewis Hamilton.
But while the rest of the world collectively yawns at another Silver Arrow Show, this year and this weekend are as special as any in recent memory for American race fans.
Although long removed from eras in which Americans played a prominent role, Haas F1 recently made their first driver announcement ahead of their 2016 debut. And this Sunday in Austin, Texas, 24 year old Californian Alexander Rossi will finally pilot an F1 ride in his homeland.
In the midst of an impressive season in GP2, Rossi was called up to replace Will Stephens at the Singapore Grand Prix in September as well as for five of the final seven races.
Rossi’s rise through the international ranks isn’t a surprise to fans who have followed his career and growth closely, but the career-defining achievement is finally beginning to register for Rossi.
“I think everything kind of sunk in on the grid Sunday evening in Singapore because it was at that point that I realized that I was actually making a Formula One race start. And that was kind if the culmination of everything that myself, and my family, and the people around me have worked for such a long period of time,” Rossi reflected on Formula One Racing PLUS. “Up until that point, it was very surreal. In practice and qualifying, it kind of just feels like another test session, so it’s not really anything different than what I was used to until I was obviously on the grid. ”
Stateside fans haven’t had anything of their own to celebrate in a long time. Scott Speed was the last driver from the US to compete in F1 in 2007. The last victory by an American belongs to Mario Andretti at the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix. And in the paddock, there hasn’t been an American team since Penske fielded cars in the mid-1970s, doing so through a factory based in Britain. Until Haas officially debuts, Rossi is the nation’s only ambassador for F1, a role he isn’t taking lightly.
“It’s a very special thing. I think every athlete’s dream is to compete at home in front of their home fans. I finally get the opportunity to do that.”
“Aside from when I did the 24 Hours of Daytona at the beginning of 2014, the last time that I raced in America was in 2008 when I was doing Formula BMW. And it was at the end of that year that I decided to go to Europe and try to get to Formula One. To come back in 2015 and race in a Formula One car in America is kind of the full circle completed.”
As race day approaches, torrential rain linked to Hurricane Patricia has created a scheduling headache at Circuit of the Americas. First practice was run in the wet, the second practice session on Friday was cancelled outright, and qualifying was bumped back to Sunday morning.
No natural threats or homecoming festivities can shake Rossi’s focus from the present task. Knowing that his future lies largely in his hands, the primary goal each race is to beat his teammate and swing the Manor garage onto his side for the rest of 2015 and beyond.
“The target needs to be first of all to obviously finish the race and be in a position to capitalize on other people’s mistakes, which is where you can see extreme results happen in inclement weather or just races where there’s a lot of attrition.”
“In terms of pure performance, I think the only measurement that I have to compare against is my teammate. So it’s important to me on a personal and professional level to be in front of that car at the end of the day.”
Through two F1 races, Rossi has done exactly that. He debuted with an impressive P14 classification in Singapore, followed up by an 18th place run at Suzuka. On both occasions, he finished ahead of teammate Will Stevens.
Especially in comparison to Racing Engineering teammate Jordan King in GP2, Rossi’s season has looked even more exceptional (ironically, Jordan is the son of Manor backer Justin King). Tallying three victories and finishing ahead of King in 14 of the 18 rounds thus far, he trails only Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne in points.
Murkier waters lie ahead for Rossi though. Now that Jolyon Palmer has secured the second seat alongside Pastor Maldonado, merely four seats remain vacant for 2016. It is believed that the second Haas seat is being kept warm for former Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez. One spot is open at Toro Rosso and both are unaccounted for at Manor.
Rossi is the eighth rookie driver to debut with Manor since the team began as Virgin Racing in 2010. His stint to close out this season is a clear tryout for an extended role in the future, so the timing truly is now or never.
“It’s a very cool chapter that’s coming to a close. Hopefully it can be the start of something very positive for the future.”
There’s still plenty to be completed on his dream checklist in F1, but he has fulfilled every obligation and opportunity he possibly could up to this point.
Nobody knows how long he’ll stay, but at the very least, Alexander Rossi has arrived. This weekend at the United States Grand Prix, that’s something worth celebrating.
Here’s the audio interview from “Formula One Racing Plus”!
“Formula One Racing PLUS” on the Performance Motorsports Network is hosted by Joel Sebastianelli and Steve Aibel. Listeners will be in the middle of the action with up to date results from Formula One, IndyCar and sports cars.
Catch “Formula One Racing PLUS” on Wednesday and Thursday at 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m., and Sunday at 6 a.m. (all times Eastern)