Anyone who saw Lewis Hamilton win the 2006 GP2 championship may remember Jose Maria Lopez, who finished tenth in the championship that year.
Despite not having raced single-seater cars since then, Lopez is now a front runner for a drive at the new USF1 team, whose headquarters he visited on Friday.
He has almost all the money in place to pay for a drive – but has he got enough experience and potential to deserve one?
Lopez’s two GP2 seasons were something of a let-down after the form he showed earlier in his careeer.
The Argentine driver came to Europe in 2001 and won the Italian Formula Renault championship the following year – beating Robert Kubica with 205 points to 188. He moved up to Formula Renault V6 in 2003 and won that title, narrowly beating Neel Jani.
Lopez was part of the Renault Driver Development programme which helped bring drivers such as Heikki Kovalainen to F1. He had a series of tests for the team in 2004 (when he also tested for Minardi) and 2006.
An obvious candidate for the new GP2 championship in 2005, Lopez joined the DAMS team and won the fourth ever race of the series, in Spain.
His results throughout the season were patchy and he ended the year ninth. But he comfortably beat team mate Fairuz Fauzy, who failed to score all year and is now tipped for a test driver role at Lotus.
A switch to Super Nova for 2006 brought no improvement – Lopez scored inconsistently and spun off while leading in the rain at the Hungaroring. Renault dropped him from their development programme.
Since then Lopez has competed in Argentina’s popular touring car championship, winning the title last year. He also did a few races in the FIA GT championship.
Under the circumstances you have to wonder if Lopez has been out of top-level motor racing too long to jump straight up into F1. But, as ever, money talks.
To his credit, he clearly has plenty of experience of several F1 tracks. And we should be wary of using how a driver faired in GP2 to predict what he’ll do in F1: Kamui Kobayashi finished 16th in the last two GP2 championships but has impressed since reaching F1.
Meanwhile Romain Grosjean, who won four races in the same period, is yet to distinguish himself in F1.
And if Lopez does get an F1 driver, maybe one day we can have a race at the awesome Potrero de los Funes…
Do you think Lopez deserves a shot at F1 in 2010? Have your say in the comments.
Jose Maria Lopez pictures
Read more: 2010 F1 drivers and teams
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