Caterham’s young American test driver Alexander Rossi has spoken of his pride in returning his country to the competitive Formula 1 field after the team confirmed he would make his debut at a grand prix weekend during next Friday’s opening practice session in Spain.
While the sport’s lack of a United States Grand Prix since Indianapolis’s demise at the end of 2007, prior to the advent of scheduled new races in Austin later this year and New Jersey (2013), has been extensively documented, the lack of a top-line US F1 driver has been a perennial problem for several decades. The last American to compete in a GP weekend – Scott Speed – was dropped by Toro Rosso mid-way through the 2007 season.
Twenty-year-old Californian Rossi has been on the F1 radar for several years, having first tested F1 machinery with BMW Sauber at the 2009 young driver test at Jerez prior to his test debut with Caterham (then known as Team Lotus) at last November’s corresponding sessions in Abu Dhabi. On Friday Caterham announced Rossi would take over Heikki Kovalainen’s car for next week’s first practice session at the Circuit de Catalunya and the young driver acknowledged it was an exciting moment in his career, admitting he feels a responsibility to perform well.
“I have a lot of emotions going through me at the moment and I’m sure they’ll only expand as we get closer to the time,” he admitted. “Mainly because it’s my true Formula 1 debut in the sense I’m competing in an official session with the other official drivers and with the team’s full capacity with the race engineers all present and everyone really looking to see my feedback and give my information on the car for the race weekend ahead.
“And so I’m very excited about the opportunity but at the same time I am nervous and I do feel that there is an amount of pressure that goes on me. I’m kind of the first person that is in the car for the weekend and replacing Heikki that’s very big shoes to fill. Obviously I have a lot of respect for him and I’ll be looking to him for as much advice and support as possible. But it’s my dream to drive a Formula 1 car and to be able do it as an American getting back into the field and back into a competitive environment is something that I can’t even put into words.”
Tony Fernandes’ team has consistently run with test drivers – Fairuz Fauzy, Karun Chandhok, Davide Valsecchi, Luiz Razia and Giedo van der Garde – on Friday mornings since entering the sport in 2010 and Rossi admits his first opportunity is likely to prove invaluable to his development as a driver.
“The significance and importance of being able to be involved in a Formula 1 team and getting to drive in Friday practice is the fact that I’m able to be in my environment, in the race environment, with the full attention of being able to perform,” he said. “And that’s something you can’t very often get in Formula 1 because of testing restrictions and there is no other series on the planet that can prepare you for Formula 1 as much as actually driving the car and working with the team because it’s a whole different world in Formula 1. Not only the cars are different, but just the way the team works. You have so many people that you are responsible to giving feedback to and having a working relationship with.”