Another man representing the “Stars and Stripes” in the world of single seater racing around the globe has one foot already in the door, when it comes to being close to taking that coveted and hard fought race seat in the “fastest sport on four wheels”, even though Lotus GP3 driver, Conor Daly, who we interviewed here earlier this week is the other American hopeful that people are tipping to reach Formula One in the very near future.
California’s very own Alexander Rossi, who currently competes for Caterham Racing in GP2, was announced alongside Holland’s Giedo van der Garde as a test driver for Caterham F1 in March of last year, before the Dutchman’s promotion to the race team this season, and is currently the only North American to hold an FIA Super Licence since 2008.
The resurgence of Formula One’s return to Formula One has been bolstered with the first race since Indianapolis 2006 taking place under the Texan sunshine at Circuit of the Americas last November, but now the focus for Alexander is to take that final step into the arena of F1 and do himself and his country proud by becoming the first American since Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Scott Speed to race around the world.
Like any other driver, Alexander is hopeful of that drive, but for him, where did it all begin? He cut his teeth in karting just like any other youngster, who looked up to the likes of Senna, Schumacher, Prost to provide inspiration and clear motivation to make it there in F1 one day.
At the age of 13, Rossi became the IKF Grand National Champion in the 100cc Yamaha class, but in that same year, he made a clear impression in the Red Bull Formula One American Drivers search, where he finished as a semi-finalist, placing in the top 5 out of 2,000 candidates from all over the USA. The following year, he was awarded by the Skip Barber Racing School a National Scholarship to race that year in Skip Barber’s National Championship.
At the age of 14, he finished third in the standings, but was also the driver to become the youngest race winner in the history of the Championship itself. Following on that was the difficult transition that any hopeful, who is destined for F1, has to make – competing in a “slicks and wings” championship in Formula BMW USA, and showing some stern resolve and gaining some resounding success for two seasons in 2007 and 2008.
2007 saw Alexander join up with Team Apex Racing, where he scored three victories and five podiums, before he made the move to EuroInternational the following season, who had won the championship twice before. That year was to provide a welcome opportunity for him, as he made history being the first ever American driver to win the Americas Championship. However, he was to go one step further at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez by winning the Formula BMW World Final, ahead of Michael Christensen.
This event in Alexander’s career was to give him the chance, alongside a name we now also see in F1, Esteban Gutierrez who won the Formula BMW European Championship, to test the 2009-spec BMW Sauber F1.09 at the Young Driver Test at Jerez, which would in the process, provide him with the Super Licence, and prompted his move over to Europe away from friends and family to chase his dream.
The International Formula Master series was his next destination for 2009, making his debut with Hitech Racing, before switching to ISR Racing, who took him in as a member of the “family”, taking into consideration the sacrifice Alexander had made to move to Europe. He competed against the likes of Fabio Leimer, who won seven times, against Rossi’s three, which all happened under reverse-grid victories, and helped him to be the highest placed rookie driver, placing fourth overall.
When GP3 was introduced in 2010, the progression for the then 18-year-old was in full swing, as he teamed up with Gutierrez at ART GP, alongside Pedro Nunez, who remained in the team until the end of the 2011 season, as Gutierrez moved up to GP2 the following year. Alexander yet again showed his potential to secure good points, as he again finished fourth, securing two wins along the way at both sprint races in Barcelona and Hungary that season.
Several drivers have switched between GP3 and World Series By Renault 3.5, including Carlin’s Nick Yelloly who moved to GP3 this year, as Rossi made the reverse switch to WSR for 2011 with Fortec Motorsports, competing against drivers such as current Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne, who he considers to be a really good friend of his, as well as Mercedes-Benz DTM driver Robert Wickens, who made the switch to Touring Cars after winning the title that year.
Alexander went on that year to win one of the opening races at Aragon, to follow that up with another one at Le Castellet later in the year, and kept pushing hard, placing as top rookie that year in third overall, before the “Red Bull” connection re-emerged the following year. The reason was that Arden International, run by Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s Team Principal, Christian Horner, agreed to team up with Caterham to join in the category, and Alexander was partnered up with former MW Arden GP3 and Red Bull Junior driver, Scotland’s Lewis Williamson for that year.
Monaco saw Rossi make his first appearance on the podium at the one-race meeting, whereas Williamson’s season went from bad to worse, having been dropped by the Junior Driver Programme and replaced by Portuguese ace António Félix da Costa, who also took the Scot’s place in the Programme as well. The American finished 11th overall, but showed good consistency, having 8 top ten finishes, but a spate of DNFs didn’t help him, as every driver finds out during their career on their way upwards.
Before he moved to GP2 this season for Caterham Racing, Rossi had spent some of his time during his tenure at both GP3 and International Formula Master in 2009 and 2010 competing in the GP2 Asia Series, which became amalgamated with the main Championship just last season.
He also switched teams during this time, firstly going with Ocean Racing Technology, before moving to MalaysiaQi-Meritus.com, placing in the top 5 three times, with two DNF’s which would help his experience come this year. He took Ma Qing Hua’s place at Caterham from Bahrain earlier this season, and instantly placed 3rd in the Feature Race, but his results have really not shown the true potential of a driver that has already tasted title glory on his way to Formula One. But race craft is there with the American in spades.
Having raced against the likes of those also close to knocking on Formula One’s door, before having to break it down, Alexander is charismatic, also approachable and a very mature individual, and is always smiling and being optimistic about where his future lies. He has been the first American since Speed to drive an F1 car in a race weekend for just under five years since the 2007 European Grand Prix, replacing Heikki Kovalainen in Free Practice 1, before following that up with a run-out in FP1 at Montreal this season, which helped bring a few more American fans to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to see how he would fare. He also took part in the recent Young Drivers’ Test at Silverstone and showed good speed, consistency and interaction with his engineers, which is the sign of a driver trying to find that little bit more to make a good gain in racing.
This is a welcome break for the 21-year-old, as had the USF1 venture gone ahead in 2010, Alexander may have been further along now that where he currently is, but there is still time on his side to make it big in F1. He is happy to be part of a team, as well as helping their developments on upgrades and performance, as well as even taking on Le Mans this year, which he talks about in a recent interview with NBC Sports.
Many people in the F1 paddock, according to Alexander’s official website, including Caterham F1 Team owner, Tony Fernandes, Lotus ART Team Principal, Nicolas Todt and Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Franz Tost, hold the Californian in high esteem and say that he would be a credit to the sport in how he conducts himself both on and off the track. This was very apparent at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed, which celebrated 20 glorious years of history at Lord March’s estate, where he drove the Caterham F1 car up the hill climb on the estate, as well as having a bit of self-indulgence like any petrol head, taking a few of their new production cars up there too.
This young American hopeful knows that results help get you noticed no matter the route you take and he is doing his fair share of the hard work to make sure that the dream is realized. He’ll be there before you know it.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic (c)