BARCELONA May 11 One small step for Alexander
Rossi on Friday marked a significant stride for Americans eager
to see a U.S. driver back on the Formula One starting grid.
When the Californian stepped into a Caterham cockpit and
roared out of the pits in first practice for the Spanish Grand
Prix, he became the first American to take part in a Formula One
race weekend since Scott Speed in 2007.
"It's only free practice but it is a step in the right
direction," the 20-year-old British-based driver told Reuters in
the Barcelona paddock.
"It was quite cool for me ... it was an actual Formula One
official session with the entire team being here and me being
one of their first drivers on the track and them looking at me
"There was quite a bit of pressure that went with it but at
the same time so exciting for me to actually be in a real
session and representing America," added Rossi.
The team reserve, who had previously taken part in a young
driver test for the Malaysian-owned team, has a long way to go
before he starts a race but the stars may be aligning in his
A new track in Austin, Texas, will this year host the first
grand prix in the United States since 2007 with New Jersey set
to follow in 2013.
Caterham, owned by airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, are
meanwhile acquiring a growing list of U.S. corporate partners -
including CNN, Dell computers, aircraft parts supplier Rockwell
Collins and General Electric.
"Hopefully when Austin comes around and basically I'm part
of the team, the fans there can put two and two together and
start to get behind Formula One," said Rossi.
"It's a long process I think but with two races on the
calendar and hopefully having me on the grid next year, we're
working very hard with corporate America. I think it's all
coming together but it is a long process."
British-based Caterham, who use Renault engines, have
Finland's Heikki Kovalainen and Russian Vitaly Petrov as their
two drivers. The team have yet to score a point since their
debut in 2010.
Speed also failed to score a point in 18 races for Toro
Rosso in 2006 and 2007 and the last U.S. driver to have any
measure of success in Formula One was Michael Andretti with
McLaren in 1993.
But the son of 1978 world champion Mario was widely seen as
a failure in grand prix racing, scoring seven points in 13 races
before heading back across the Atlantic.
Formula One, with an eye on a key market for carmakers and
sponsors, has long dreamed of having another U.S. winner like
Mario Andretti or 1961 champion Phil Hill.
"Caterham realises corporate America and the American
consumer market ... is the largest consumer market in the world
and it is something that needs to be part of Formula One," said
"At the same time corporate America doesn't really have an
interest in Formula One because there is nothing American in it
at this point.
"It is European and all made by Europeans. Until that
changes the interest isn't going to be at the level it needs to
be," added Rossi.
"The timing is very good, with two grands prix coming ... I
feel I am well enough prepared to be in a race seat next year."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)