In the same 1980 season in which the “original” Lotus brought a young Briton named Nigel Mansell to F1, it continued to showcase Mario Andretti as team leader. Fellow countryman Eddie Cheever ( 31) was just getting established with Osella.
Americans have always had a tough time breaking into grand prix racing. Not counting the years when the
Indianapolis 500 counted as one, 55 U.S.
citizens have raced in Formula 1 events,
compared with 158 from the UK alone.
And just one – Scott Speed – has done so in
the past two decades. The reasons for this
have been discussed many times, but one
that often gets overlooked is the lack of
consistent American participation in
Europe’s open-wheel ladder series. That,
at least, appears to be changing, as
several Americans are poised to play
significant roles there this year.
Conor Daly made his GP3 series debut
last year, splitting time with Indy Lights.
As he related in our January issue and in
his regular blogs for RACER.com last
year, that two-way approach provided for
some very complicated travel schedules
as well as a steep learning curve. For
2012, Conor plans to focus his efforts on
GP3 and, now that he has secured a race
seat on the Lotus squad with which he
tested promisingly in February, he is
likely to be a prime contender.
The same is true of compatriot
Alexander Rossi, who has signed up to
run the World Series by Renault, for
Formula Renault 3. 5 cars, for Caterham
Racing. Confusingly, that’s the team
that used to go by the name of Lotus in F1
and its affiliated programs, but has now
adopted the brand of another iconic
British sports car marque.
Unlike Daly, Rossi has been focusing
on European racing for several years,
splitting time between GP3, GP2 and now
FR3.5. While the latter might sound like a
step down the “official” ladder, his new
team’s association with an F1 squad puts
him a step closer to a grand prix career.
Similarly, Lotus affiliation is obviously a
big step forward for Daly toward
emulating his father Derek’s path into F1.
Direct associations between F1 teams
and sponsors with steppingstone series is
relatively new. It has parallels, however,
to a time when entry into F1 by new
teams was easier. Eddie Cheever made a
handful of F1 starts in 1978, but by
stepping back to Formula 2 with the
Osella team – which then brought him
NOV. 17, 2011
off at F1’s Young
Driver Test. Will
there be more to
follow this year?
along when it graduated to F1 in 1980 – he
was able to land a regular place on the
grand prix grid, and attract the attention
of more prominent teams.
It can be a double-edged sword, of
course, as in the case of Scott Speed and
the abrupt termination of his Red Bull
patronage. Yet in an era of tightly
restricted opportunities, linking up with
established F1 franchises is a clear
advantage for young talents. How
exciting it would be for the drivers and
the fans cheering them on if Lotus and
Caterham F1 cars had Americans in the
cockpit when grand prix racing returns
to America in Austin this fall.