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

  1. I’m willing to give both USF1 and Lopez the benefit of the doubt. The main question mark over Lopez so far is that he may not be eligible for a superlicence – just being a race winner in GP2 is not necessarily enough, he may have to get some serious testing under his belt as well.

    As for USF1, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that they are any less prepared for F1 than any of the other new teams. Just because they don’t have a big name driver on their books (yet) doesn’t mean they’re going to be an out-and-out failure. Let’s wait and see.

    • The best comment on here to date- at least someone is being a bit sensable. Indeed, I was suprised about Lopez getitng a seat, and thought ehre were many other better options for the team. But perhaps they know something we don’t.

      • This is true. Yes, we’ve seen nothing from USF1 past a few interviews and some photos of the facilities, but all we’ve seen of Lotus is a photo of a very basic car done by an aero company, and some basic and predicable interviews with Mike Gasgoyne.

        I’ve heard or seen next to nothing from Manor other than the possibly Virginisation of the operation, and even less from Campos Meta aside from hiring Senna Jr.

        So currently I’m looking at all four glasses half full, and am very much looking forward to hearing more from all of them, their progress, driver choices, and then onto Bahrain.

  2. The Sri Lankan said on 23rd November 2009, 0:43

    people here say that he’ll be sh*it but didnt we say the same about Kamui Kobayashi? on paper Nakajima handed Kobayashi his a*s in GP 2 but Kamui is now the lead Jap driver in F1( if he gets a drive) i think Lopez could do the same

  3. wasiF1 said on 23rd November 2009, 1:10

    He have a lot of experience in single seater so he deserve the seat,& I agree it may put Potrero de los Fune on the calender.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 23rd November 2009, 1:16

      Like I said: it’s unlikely. Porero de los Funes is in need of some upgrades to qualify for Category-1 status, but the bigger problem is that the circuit is in a region controlled by the national opposition. The government in Buenos Aries is unlikely to provide support for the event in that region; the only way it will happen is if they win that seat in an election, or if Lopez’s presence can prmpt private groups into hosting an event (but the government has made it clear they’ll support a race, so it’s likely a privately-backed effort would be in a region whose seat is held by the incumbent party).

  4. USF1 could hire Schumy himself and it wouldn’t matter. After all, it’s about the quality of the car and the experience of the team. And the biggest unknown of all is Cosworth’s engine.

    How well will USF1 compete against the other new teams is the real question. Someone will come home last and it could be any of the newbies.

    The second driver needs to be a racer who competed in F1 last year, even if they have to pay him. Hell, I’d even accept Jarno Trulli if they could capture him on the cheap.

  5. The Captain said on 23rd November 2009, 3:16

    Peter recently said in an interview that since their preferred option of an american drivers was out, they where looking for at least one driver that had a good bit of open wheel experience, but wasn’t “set” in how a team should operate or they should be handled. someone experienced, but not set in their ways. I think this may be a fit for that. Let’s wee who the other drive is.

    I also think that since USF1 is contracting out so much of their manufacturing (an advantage to being in Charlotte sine none of you vendors have other F1 clients so you can do that) they are getting a bad rap for not being up to speed as compared to the other new teams.

  6. Personally I’d like to see a Trulli or Heidfeld at USF1, but I doubt it really matters because their car will have to work its way up to speed just like the other new teams, so whoever is driving will be at the back of the pack or maybe slightly better. As long as this guy doesn’t wreck half the cars then I think he’ll be okay for the first year.

  7. Well, this was not the signing I was expecting for USF1, but it is interesting in any event.

    Perhaps Windsor/Anderson have found a diamond in the rough- heck, if the guys dose well for them and gose on to another F1 team, I can’t think of any better PR for the outfit. But I can’t help be a bit skeptical about his experience- heck, Pantano would have been a much better option in my book. Three seasons is a long time to be out of a car, esp. with the change in designs and specs that have taken place since then.

    For me, the time when USF1 will be a credible operation or not is when we hear if they have a driver development scheme set up to nurture some combination of Alex Rossi, Jon Summerton, John Edwards, Jake Rosenzweig, JR Hildebrand, and whoever else is a promising young driver over here. If there is some support for those guys to run in GP2 or F3 (Rossi has done some GP2 Asia races with impressive results this year) then it will be a real step for the future.

  8. GeeMac said on 23rd November 2009, 5:50

    Wow, I really didn’t see that one coming!

    USF1 were just starting to look like a serious F1 team with serious aspirations. I had assumed, as most people had, that USF1 would sign a talented young American driver, and an EXPERIENCED european F1 driver, not someone with very little experience who frankly doesn’t deserve the seat.

    I guess its going to be good “Go team USA” marketing if JML doesn’t perform as well as his American team mate (We sure did show those pesky euros how to drive in their own back yard etc. etc. etc.).

  9. Xanathos said on 23rd November 2009, 9:49

    I’m just trying to imagine how many people on this site would have been happy and said things like “finally” and “totally deserving” if Paul Di Resta or Gary Paffett would have gotten the seat at USF1, two drivers who have been out of single seaters even longer than Lopez and are fooling around in a national touring car championship (like Lopez)…

  10. F1inSTL said on 23rd November 2009, 22:25

    It’s all about the cash. They need a guy that can help them build and tweak their car and Lopez brings along some sponsors. What’s the problem??? They aren’t expected to be a contender anytime soon and you have to start somewhere.
    Plain and simple…everyone except Button lost this season. Sure – I’d love to see them bring in Schumi but we need to be realistic. And let’s not dump on the team for being interested Lopez – let’s give him a shot. I trust that the guys in charge are doing their best and I do think that someday the team will consist of 2 American drivers. I love the debate but let’s take a deep breath and relax.

  11. zerogee said on 24th November 2009, 11:04

    Ha-hem. I feel a rant coming on.

    USF1 was founded by at least one shameless opportunist and that opportunist is Windsor. He has an excellent reality distortion field and a lot of people are being sucked into it. Just look at the way he has adopted an American management pattern of speech – he’s an Australian, just like me. Ding ding ding. Can anyone see the deliberate mistake here? Ever since he announced it, my Aussie-talking-rubbish-meter has been off the scale.

    There are too many compromises suddenly surfacing in his story and in the USF1 story and signing Lopez is just painful. I don’t have an issue with pay drivers (although I think mentioning the Senna/Schumacher pay drives is a little disingenuous – they’re hardly in Lavaggi’s and co.’s league as they both had real success behind them) but I draw the line at touring car stars.

    Lopez would complete seventeen laps of any given track before we got out of the pits, I’m sure, but he doesn’t strike me as F1 talent and if he has so much money and talent, why is he faffing about running around in Honda Civics? At least an international category would be believable.

    USF1 stinks and it’s a crime that Windsor and co. are probably going to make a massive mess of this and completely nail F1’s US coffin shut.

    I would love to be proven wrong and will run Silverstone naked if you lot will fund my ticket there. Okay, mostly naked. Okay, I’m really unfit, so if I ran it at all, it would be worth seeing my puke by Abbey…

  12. I would place experience and a young talent. In this case I would place Bourdais which represents american open wheel and a either Graham Rahal, Hildebrand, Edwards.

  13. I wanted so badly for the team to sign Takuma Sato. He’s out there. He’s fast. He’s experienced. He’s desperate to drive F1. HE HAS PERSONAL SPONSORS WITH MONEY!

    I just wanted to get that off my chest… Anyways…

    I don’t think Lopez should be looked down upon because he’s a pay driver. Peter Windsor made a good point that technically Alonso is a pay driver because a large part of Ferrari’s decision was the new Spanish bank sponsor. But while his resume is acceptable and he has knowledge of European tracks, where’s the Grand Prix racing experience?

    I hope the second driver isn’t this British rookie I’ve been hearing about. I certainly hope it’s a veteran driver like, say…

    Takuma Sato!!!

  14. F1Yankee said on 23rd November 2009, 8:41

    yeah, you’re the champ alright.

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