Danica Patrick joining NASCAR may not seem especially relevant for F1 fans, particularly those of us in Europe.
But you have to pause for a moment and consider the scale of the missed opportunity. Here is a talented, female, American racing driver who, had things gone differently, might have ended up in F1.
Simply being the first female F1 driver in 17 years would have been a boost for the sport’s profile. But having an American driver as well would have been a marketing dream.
Patrick will appear in several second-tier NASCAR Nationwide races next year alongside her Indy Car activities. Inevitably this is being seen as an escalation to a full campaign in the NASCAR top-flight in the future.
Could things have worked out differently? Patrick considered a move into GP2 in 2005 – but instead chose the Indy Racing League.
Another American driver – Scott Speed – finished third in that year’s championship and graduated to F1 with Toro Rosso in 2006.
Any discussion about Patrick tends to lead to a debate over how good she actually is. After joining the IRL she became the darling of the category when she led the 2005 Indianapolis 500. In 2007 she joined top team Andretti-Green. But her detractors – every bit as vociferous as her fans – point out she’s only won one Indy Car race in 81 attempts.
We can discuss whether or not she could have been a success in F1. And, in my opinion, I think she would have found it very tough.
But what you can’t deny is it would have attracted a huge amount of attention and given F1’s profile a massive boost.
At least with Alexander Rossi and JR Hildebrand testing F1 cars last week the prospects of there being an American in Grand Prix racing in the future are looking brighter. Up-and-coming female racing drivers, however, are even harder to find.
Image (C) Indy Car