Alexander Rossi: The one who got away

Alexander Rossi was, for many years, Caterham’s prodigy but the two have since gone their separate ways. For Caterham, the loss may be greater than many initially expected. 

portraitBasic_Rossi014Caterham F1 is not what it once was. The era of Tony Fernandes is over and a new chapter has started for the Leafield-based outfit. Under new ownership and management, they now sit bottom of the constructors’ championship with the summer break just around the corner.

As a ‘new team’ (however reluctant we may feel to call them that), Caterham were always relying on their future and a fresh crop of talent to steer the way. It was just a lack of stable finances and the growth of the midfield year on year which curtailed this.

Top of the pile for Caterham’s development sat Alexander Rossi, their long-time reserve driver and the US’ greatest ambassador for all things F1. The twenty-two-year-old has parted ways with the team who gave him FP1 drives in Austin and a much-coveted super license – he remains the only American to hold such an accolade. In the grand scheme of Caterham’s troubles, this may not seem huge but their recent loss cannot be ignored.

Rossi brought with him the hopes of a nation, a country with a population of 317 million people. With this comes sponsorship deals and unique access to an ever-growing fan base. His home land has few Formula 1 drivers to its credit, its last being former Toro Rosso racer Scott Speed –remember him? The sport needs representatives from outside Europe if it is to solidify its expansion throughout Asia and the Americas. Consider the arrival of Mexico on the 2015 calendar as a further example.

Europe has dominated Formula 1, winning every world championship since 1998. In 2014, another number will be added to that tally when either Lewis Hamilton or his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg lift the trophy in victory. Granted, a championship win in a Caterham was a long way off for Rossi and his ailing team but given time, an American champion may have ruled supreme for the first time since Mario Andretti in 1978.

Indeed, even Sebastian Vettel’s talent was not fully quantifiable until his first championship victory in 2010; Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was not certain of how the team’s prodigy would perform alongside seasoned racer, Mark Webber._R6T0125

Rossi remains a popular and well-respected member of many a single-seater paddock. Few people in the world will have something bad to say about the American or his control at the wheel. When I arrived at the Hungaroring last weekend (more on that soon), it was strange to see the youngster donning his new overalls, void of any mention of a Caterham past. It was as if the last few years are just a distant memory.

To add insult to an already painful injury, the American has joined Marussia F1, announcing himself as their new reserve driver just one week after the split. He is to début for the Anglo-Russian outfit during FP1 at Spa-Francorchamps and more regular practice opportunities await the youngster.

By leaving the team who made him his country’s next hopeful, Rossi was always taking a huge risk but he has been gifted with something very rare in the Formula 1 circus – a second chance. Perhaps, now, his legacy is dependent on Haas F1 – should the team arrive on the grid, of course. It is by no means a necessity to hire a driver based on the team’s own nationality but it could help. The above-mentioned sponsorship and popularity is not a myth, F1 viewing figures in America are growing race by race. They are a now a country widely converted to the ways of the racing circus.

The more chances Rossi is gifted, the greater his impact is likely to be – considerations for a full-time F1 drive will take place soon and with the expected arrival of Haas F1 in 2016, now is the time to be young and American.

A struggling Caterham has lost its greatest driver investment to a team many consider to be their nearest rivals. Their new-look driver development has been formed with Nathanael Berthon the front man and the first signing under new ownership.

None of us want Caterham to fail; as long as they stay in Formula 1 they will remain a figurehead of survival at the top level and those employed will continue to live their dream each race weekend.  Sincerely, good luck to them.

Questions have been asked of the owners and what they can bring to an uncertain table but for now they need time to regroup and reflect what might have been.

For the ever-changing team, Rossi will remain the one to who got away.

Photos courtesy of GP2 series.

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