Jose Maria Lopez: out of single-seaters for three years but set for USF1 drive

Jose Maria Lopez was dropped from Renault's driver scheme in 2006

Jose Maria Lopez was dropped from Renault's driver scheme in 2006

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

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63 comments on Jose Maria Lopez: out of single-seaters for three years but set for USF1 drive

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  1. Prisoner Monkeys said on 22nd November 2009, 10:45

    There is, I do believe, a political context to all of this. It’s something I would have explored in a guest article, but the meat of it would have refelcted this particular piece, so there isn’t much point to it.

    Anyway, back before the British Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone was looking to revive the Argentine Grand Prix, with help from the Argentine government. I know everyone would love to see Formula 1 at the Potrero de los Funes circuit, but this isn’t a possibility: San Luis, where the circuit is built, falls into a region under the control of the national opposition, and the incumbent Argentine government would be unlikely to support an event there. And so Ecclestone was talking about a street circuit in Mar del Plata on the Atlantic coast. This is not a bad thing; a quick check on Google Earth reveals dramatic coastal roads that are simply begging for a Formula 1 circuit. And Mar del Plata was the home of the original Argentine Grands Prix.

    But Buenos Aries decided it didn’t want a race. Not yet. Instead, they decided that Argentina had to be represented in Formula 1 by way of a driver, and José María “Pechito” López was seen as the man for the job. He was apparently introduced to Peter Windsor by – at the very least, he is certainly connectd to – on Carlos Reutemann, arguably Argentina’s second most successful Formula 1 driver after the Old Master himself. The point is that Lopez is getting support from government groups; I believe some of his support comes from Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), who have connections to Repsol.

    I sense the Hand of Ecclestone directing thing here once more. If they get a driver onto the world stage, the Argentins may be amendable to having a race. Argentina gets their driver, Ecclestone gets to expand his calendar, Formula 1 gets represented by another country and USF1 get a driver who can help them establish themselves. Taking two American drivers in their first year could be suicide, but López is somewhat disposable. If he doesn’t perform, USF1 don’t lose anything – it’s better that the American drivers meet and established American team than an inexperienced one. If he does perform, they can keep him and take on one American driver.

    And if it means we get to go to San Luis in the future – ie if Argentina goes to the polls and the incumbent party wins the seat in San Luis – then how is José María López a bad thing? The worst-case scenario is that we need some badly-needed accident-prone comedy in an era of hyper-reliability …

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd November 2009, 10:57

      Fascinating insight PM thanks for that.

      • I lived 3 years in Argentina, PM, thanks for this comment taking me again to the end of 90s and earlier 2000s.

        Argentina is a great country full of potential, but IMHO Argentina have some problems for transforming potential into success:

        1) Population: Just few 40 Million people spread over 2,8 Millions Km2 and 15 Millions concentrated in Buenos Aires. Internal market underdeveloped and quite a lot geographically isolated from the rest of the world.

        2) Individuality: Argentinians are great people, I still have some good friends there, but they are incapable of doing things together. Individuals are much more important than community, making impossible improve things. The concept of nation is hardly the national football team.

        Argentina is plenty of incredible places in which built amazing tracks, (One could make a GP on a 300Km straight (and flat) road long from General Acha to 25 de Mayo (The dessert route).

        Anyway, I’m afraid it will take a while to see an Argentinian GP…

        Repsol bought YPF to the Argentinian Government more than ten years ago. Now, Repsol is thinking to return them back after many years of breaches and billions of expenditure.

        • Fer no.65 said on 22nd November 2009, 15:44

          true…

          i as an Argentinean feel the country is going no where… corruption is the way to go, and there’s nothing planned to improve the situation (not even in the long term)

          i’ve had a talk with my mates the other day and all feel the way to go i moving away from here… that’s what young people think after all…

          And we sold YPF at a price similar to a candy bar… :) how clever…

      • Tavoman27 said on 4th December 2009, 8:06

        Jose Maria Lopez is a good driver, he has shown that he can drive fast, win races and win championships…Argentina is not Europe but excellent drivers come out with small budgets and accomplish big things but never reach the big circus because of the lack of funds. Now is different and for all of the F1 fans Lopes used to test the Renault for Fernando Alonso and in 90% of the races Alonso drove the car with Lopes set up…that is why USF1 is open to the option of Lopez driving besides the lack of US born drivers with real driving skills other than flat out racing with left turns only. The only thing Lopes needs to do is to learn to control his temper to avoid crashes other than that he can drive as fast as any F1 driver today, if any doubts still there ask Robert Kubica, Alonso or any other competitor that Lopez had run with or against and they will agree that he is up to it. Good luck to both Lopes and USF1

    • PeriSoft said on 22nd November 2009, 13:26

      …a quick check on Google Earth reveals dramatic coastal roads that are simply begging for a Formula 1 circuit.

      Don’t worry, I’m sure Tilke could find some billiard-table smooth, runway-width streets with some nice, soothing constant radius corners. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that F1′s management cannot fail at sucking every last bit of soul out of any location, no matter how dramatic the backdrop.

  2. to simply answer the question: no.

    the money of an ageing rookie won’t help a new team as much as the experience of a (fromer) F1 driver would.

    he is not in the original context of USF1, he is neither a young American talent, nor an experienced driver. but he has got the money. what’s this, back in the ninetees, to the era of Lavaggi’s and other paydrivers?

    • luigismen said on 22nd November 2009, 15:33

      technically he is american, well, south american.
      USA isn’t America :@

      • Anywhere from the top of Alaska to Cape Horn is America. So the USA is in America, and I’m sure when USF1 said they wanted American drivers, they probably meant US drivers, because to most of the world, including the USA, ‘America’ is synonymous with the United States of America, even though, yes, Argentina is in the Americas.

        Either way, it’s good to see that they have chosen a driver from somewhere in ‘the Americas’, but whether he is up to the job, I’m not so sure.

  3. Xanathos said on 22nd November 2009, 11:02

    One thing is for sure: Next year will see the return of the classic pay-driver, who has only been absent from F1 for the last two years. With all the new teams coming in, we are saying goodbye to the ultra-competitive grid of 2009. We’ll see next year if this is a good or bad thing.

    About Lopez: I didn’t follow GP2 back then, but judging by his results he seems good enough not to totally embarass himself. But I’m more worried about USF1. I just hope for them that he isn’t meant to be their “experienced” driver, just because he has some F1 mileage.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 22nd November 2009, 11:19

      Xanathos, the difference between now and the Age of the Pay Driver is that anyone who makes it into Formula 1 has to have a modicum of talent. The strict rules for being granted a superlicence mean that they’d likely hve to come through the ranks of GP2 and Formula 3. Even the likes of Nelson Piquet, Romain Grosjean and Jaime Alguersuari were competing in lower-tier formulae before they got called up to the big leagues. And some of them – I’m thiking of Piquet in particular here – actually did pretty well for themselves.

      If he makes it to the grid, José María López will not be in the vein of Jean-Denis Délétraz …

      • Xanathos said on 22nd November 2009, 11:29

        Of course we won’t see anyone buying himself into a seat just to have some fun. But Lopez didn’t exactly get the seat because of his racing CV.

  4. Lets give him a chance. He might well get some good results.

  5. Ned Flanders said on 22nd November 2009, 11:19

    I’ve copy and pasted what I wrote on the forum yesterday. I’m not that lazy, it’s just my views haven’t changed since then:

    Manor sign Glock
    Campos sign Senna
    Lotus sign Trulli (probably)
    USF1 sign… a paydriver??

    I think it’s safe to say that of the new teams, USF1 are the most likely to collapse. We hear so little from them that I can’t help but be a bit sceptical of their credentials.

    Also, I wonder whether that guy from YouTube genuinely intends to invest in the team, or was he just using it as a publicity stunt (not that YouTube doesn’t already have enough publicity!)

    • Senna allegedly brought money to the table for his Campos deal. There’s no shame in that. One M. Schumacher made his F1 debut with $300,000 from Merceds-Benz, too.

      • Jay Menon said on 23rd November 2009, 1:39

        Yeah, Senna has very strong backing from Embratel, which is subsidiary of Telmex, which is owned by none other than Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world. He was previously linked to buying out Honda last year.

        As one of the biggest telecoms companies in the world, it will be in Telmex’s best interest to market their brand. Especially with their strong presence in Central and South America, who else better than a Senna to use as your poster boy?

        The only difference here is that, Senna has talent, this Jose Maria Lopez fella hasn’t driven a single seater in three years!!! He’s getting an F1 drive? Hey, Nigel Mansell might be interested in an F1 return, I guess if he can cough up enough money…he may be in the second USF1 seat!

    • PeriSoft said on 22nd November 2009, 13:47

      “That guy from YouTube” is a founder who’s no longer connected with the site. YouTube is only connected to USF1 in the minds of lazy journalists (and credulous form posters).

    • rmac923 said on 22nd November 2009, 15:49

      Isn’t Campos about to sign a pay-driver as well? Isn’t it a bidding war between Pastor and Petrov on who can bring the most sponsor money?

      • luigismen said on 22nd November 2009, 16:07

        I’m so wanting Pastor in that seat, never have seen a venezuelan driver in F1

        • You are of short memory, although you could have mist him: most recently, Venezuelan Ernesto José Viso Lossada, E.J. for short, did the Brazil practice session for Midland in 2006.

          In 1960, Ettore Muro Chimeri competed in the Argentine Grand Prix, while Alberto ‘Johnny’ Cecotto, 1975 Motorcycle racing champion in the 350cc class, did 18 F1 races in 1983-84 for Theodore and Toleman.

  6. zomtec said on 22nd November 2009, 11:22

    F1 should have the best drivers in the world. I doubt that JML belongs to this circle.

  7. I dont see Lopez being an inspiring driving like Koboyashi has been. He’ll be at USF1 for a season or two and then fizzile away into some weak American series of racing. Harsh? Probably.

  8. Are they mad there @ USF1……..
    No credentials at all if you ask me.
    We’ll see…..I don’t think he’ll be part of the F1 circus in 2010.

  9. Fer no.65 said on 22nd November 2009, 13:04

    Im so glad he’s leaving the country for F1, so the world will know how idiot the guy is…

    he is erratic, fast but idiotic. He always tries to overtake the wrong way, and he has been very annoying since he got back from Europe.

    So Pechito Lopez, go to hell! :D Im so glad international press are rubbishing him :D

    • Elcho Tojara said on 23rd January 2010, 17:54

      Hey Fer..are you JM Silva or fan of him?
      Lopez beat anyone in Argentina since he came back and is clearly the fastest guy there. Having the chance to win 3 different titles at the last race of the same year…is something, no?

  10. UnicornF1 said on 22nd November 2009, 13:21

    Windsor was saying, 3 months ago, that he wouldn’t choose a pay driver but one of the many good U.S.American drivers according to the convictions of the team:
    More specifically, in August, Windsor told “Sports Illustrated” magazine:

    “We’ve been offered well over three-quarters of our racing budget by two drivers already, neither of whom have raced in Formula One but both have won races in GP2. Both of them have massive sponsorship they can bring us from their home country. Ken Anderson and I have got to be very strong, look one another in the eye and say, ‘No, we’re not going to accept that money, we’re not going to hire those guys because we’re going to remain true to our convictions’.
    ‘There are very good American drivers out there’, he added.
    To be honest, shame on Formula One and shame on American motorsport that some of these great young Americans with single-seater talent have not been nurtured more and given more opportunity.

    :lol: :lol: :lol:

    What happened to their convictions, to the very good U.S.American drivers and to the shame on F1???
    Shame on you USF1!!!

    http://www.pitpass.com/fes_php/pitpass_news_item.php?fes_art_id=39593

    • Ned Flanders said on 22nd November 2009, 16:35

      Agreed. It sounds to me like Peter ‘great manipulative driver’ Windsor is talking abou Lopez…

      USF1 talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk

    • Mike "the bike" Schumacher said on 22nd November 2009, 22:46

      Windsor won’t find a really good american F1 driver.
      He’s a bit of a fool at times.

      He said in either F1 racing or autosport (i can’t remember which) that he wouldn’t hire Danica Patrick because she’s to big of a star. Does this mean he wouldn’t hire vettel or schumacher or hamilton if he had the chance.

      I wouldn’t hire patrick either, but because she’s nowhere near good enough, she only has one indy car win, hardly star quality. Bourdais won 4 champ car titles in a row and look at what he did in F1.

      I think it will be very hard for him to find a good american driver.

      • The difference between Danica and Schumi/Vettel/Hmilton is that those 3 guys are TALENTED DRIVERS and not just primma donnas out looking to make money and look nice. If USF1 (

        • To finish the thought……

          If USF1 (or any team) brought Patrick in for a race seat, they would make fools out of themselves, because she’s all talk and looks, with no skills.

          As for your bias towards American drivers, well I won’t rant on, but attitudes such as the one you have on display are the only thing preventing Americans from being successful. If you tak a look over on the MotoGP side of things, not only are talented Americans competing and winning, but the sport really values their presence and that of the Americna fanbase.

          • Mike "the bike" Schumacher said on 23rd November 2009, 22:45

            Don’t mean to be slamming american drivers, just saying that the last few to come from america haven’t been great such as scott speed. Why can’t they compete in GP2 like everyone else who wants to make it to F1, then they could show how they relate to everyone else, making it easier to judge their talent. Maybe GP2 needs to be more global.

  11. Icthyes said on 22nd November 2009, 13:46

    Ah well, give him a chance and we’ll see. You never know.

  12. besame mucho said on 22nd November 2009, 14:42

    check out youtube.com, usf1 clip

    then check youtube.com usf1 day 1, 2, 3, 4

    this is the truth.

    Thank you for reading, and make sure to check this.

  13. Oh man….This whole USF1 thing is turning into a big train wreck. I was so pumped at the idea when it was first introduced. Now it is getting to be an embarrasment. They don’t have to dominate the airwaves with publicity, but something a little more substantive than a “rendering” of what the car will look like and now the introduction of JM Lopez. I mean…who? No good can come of this.

  14. rmac923 said on 22nd November 2009, 15:55

    I’ll wait til’ Bahrain to judge this. That’s what everyone else should do. Oh right, it’s an American team, I forgot!!! [/Sarcasm]

  15. This guy may apparently have the finances raised to race but I can’t help but wonder that USF1 may be squandering vast amounts of developmental resources and a tremendous opportunity by not getting more experienced preferably F1 drivers of which there are currently several unemployed…

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