Jose Maria Lopez confirmed at US F1, Peter Windsor insists he’s good enough

Jose Maria Lopez with US F1's Peter Windsor

Jose Maria Lopez with US F1's Peter Windsor

US F1 have confirmed their first driver for 2010 and it isn’t a rising American star or an experienced F1 hand – it’s 26-year-old Jose Maria Lopez, who last drove a single-seater in 2006.

Lopez – often referred to by his nickname ‘Pechito’ – has won various domestic championships in his native Argentina since then. But his lack of recent experience in open-wheel racing raises questions about whether he should get an F1 drive.

US F1 vice president Peter Windsor refuted suggestions that Lopez’s inexperience would be a problem:

We’ve been following his career since he dominated the Renault V6 Championship in 2003 and we’re thrilled to have him on board as we return America to Formula One.

Lopez is a consummate professional and born leader. The most revealing thing about his character was how he handled the disappointment of not racing for Renault after three years of testing with them in F1. Instead of moping around and feeling sorry for himself, he returned to Argentina and totally dominated the local scene, winning 38 races and three championships. He became a major star as a result and, in turn, the Argentine nation ?ǣ a country where F1 is second only to soccer – has got behind him.
Peter Windsor

But the fact that the deal was announced by the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, shows Lopez has his political connections to thank for the drive as much as his talent behind the wheel.

Lopez’s deal has been rumoured for several months and with that has come speculation he is bringing a major sponsor to the team, or the deal has political backing (see this comment from Prisoner Monkeys for more).

But US F1′s management clearly believes Lopez has untapped potential and it’s worth considering why.

He was formerly part of the Renault Driver Development programme. His last season in GP2 in 2006 featured an especially competitive field: Lewis Hamilton won the championship, Nelson Piquet Jnr impressed with a string of wins and Timo Glock enjoyed a breakthrough performance for iSport. Lopez often qualified well but tended to fade in the races.

The crucial question now is who US F1 pair him up with. An experienced hand in the second seat will bolster their credibility and would present Lopez’s presence as an opportunity for him to learn from an established star.

Argentina has had great F1 drivers in the past including one of the greatest of them all, Juan Manuel Fangio, and the bright yet mercurial talent of Carlos Reutemann.

But the recent record of Argentinian drivers in F1 is not good. Gaston Mazzacane was dropped by Prost after just four races in 2001 having been miles off the pace. The young Esteban Tuero had a forgettable 1998 for Minardi and mysteriously disappeared despite having a drive in place for the next season.

And Norberto Fontana is best remembered for holding up Jacques Villeneuve in the 1997 season finale under orders to help Michael Schumacher win the championship.

I hope Lopez fares better than those three – I’m just not confident he will. But I’ll say this again – if this gets us a race at Potrero de los Funes than it’s not all bad.

Do you think Jose Maria Lopez deserves a shot at F1? Who do you think US F1 should put in their second car? Have your say below.

Video: Jose Maria Lopez’s F1 tests

This video (with Spanish narration) shows footage from two of Lopez’s previous F1 tests for Minardi and Renault:

Jose Maria Lopez joins US F1 for 2010

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118 comments on Jose Maria Lopez confirmed at US F1, Peter Windsor insists he’s good enough

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  1. Still don’t get why they signed him. I can see him being absolutely miles off the pace but we’ll have to wait and see.

  2. hopefully better than the last Argentinian who have been in F1 (Tuero, Mazzacane …)

  3. Steve K said on 26th January 2010, 0:23

    Maybe they needed the money to survive. If that is the case than it was a brilliant move. Hopefully the second driver is a bit more proven so we can compare, because if the car is no good it wont matter who drives it. Graham Rahal still has no IndyCar contract for what it’s worth, though I am not sure how the Licensing works.

    • R.E.M. said on 26th January 2010, 0:45

      Rahal is likely remaining with Newmann Haas in Indycar. The only American USF1 considered was Johnathan Summerton, but he lacks the funds (Rumoured to get a F2 ride in 2010).

      There 2nd driver will hopefully be someone with experience. However, the team ruled out Wurz and Villenueve weeks ago, and Davidson lacks the funds. The only plausible contenders I can think of are Klien, Ralf, Sato and Grosjean.

      Out of those 4, I’d take Sato.

      • Joshy said on 26th January 2010, 13:13

        I’d take Sato as well.

      • I’d take Klien actually, just ahead of Sato.

        I think Klien showed glimpses of good potential in his short time in F1, and it would be nice to see him get another chance. I don’t know if he has any sponsorship money though.

      • J.A. Summers said on 29th January 2010, 20:13

        I’m sorry, but where did they rule out Villeneuve exactly?

  4. Hairs said on 26th January 2010, 0:29

    Good spin from Windsor there but the fact remains he’s driving because he’s handing them money and/or a sponsor, something USF1 claimed they’d never conscience. Is this a bad thing? I’m not fond of pay drivers, but all the teams are guilty of it, whether it’s a man with a sack full of dodgy russian cash, or one that just happens to have a “Title Sponsor” (Hello Ferrari, we know you had no interest in Santander, really, honest.) the result is the same. As always with Bernie, any politics are both obvious and murky beyond belief, so let’s just sidestep that and leave the furtive shenanigans to the experts.

    Lopez is no worse than any of the people Torro Rosso have incompetently flung onto the F1 scene only to throw back out again a few months later. With this singing, Windsor and Anderson are finally admitting that;
    a) They’re not operating from a position of unassailable genius
    b) They have to get as far as the grid before they can do anything else

    c) They’re not going to be able to flog the entry to someone else at a profit.

    None of those things are good for the team’s Ego, but they’re all signs that hard truths are being faced and rhetoric is being replaced with hard nosed decision making. That’s a good thing. Fact remains they should have hired this guy and a Team Principal about 5 months ago, though.

  5. Texas F1 Fan said on 26th January 2010, 0:30

    Can you lay off of F1 for 3 or 4 years, then come back and be competative? Michael has struggled and he was at the pinnacle (I know he has an injury). Does F1 progress that much in 3-4 years?

    • F1 Outsider said on 26th January 2010, 14:52

      Not that I’ve ever driven an F1 car to know for sure, but the cars have changed dramatically in the last 3 years. Even from one team to another the cars vary greatly. Just look at Fisichella in a Force India and then look at him in a Ferrari. In the end though it all comes down to how quickly and how well a driver can adapt to his current pony.

  6. Number 38 said on 26th January 2010, 0:51

    Peter Windsor should know better, he sold out for a few pieces of silver. US F1 has lost my support and I live only two hours drive from their headquarters!
    I’ll cheer for Trulli and de la Rosa this year.

    • be more open minded. The fact that he never won the gp2 title, doesn’t make him trash. In the history of the sport, many good drivers started with a suitcase full of cash. Lauda and schumacher came to mind. And look at kobayashi, in gp2 he didn’t set the world alight, but you could see during his debut race, that he belongs in f1. It’s a matter of self confidence, personality and speed.

      • Hallard said on 26th January 2010, 17:33

        Totally agree, and you present a good example with Kobayashi.

        • I dont think its about him being a pay driver, this is about his abilities, I can’t think of a driver who came close(tester for Renault for 2.5 years) went away for three years( at least schumi and Glock had F1 racing exp.) and then came back because of their talent. He sucked at Renault, I hate to think how good he may be now after racing tin tops in Arg.

  7. Number 38 said on 26th January 2010, 0:58

    After reading this several times the words “good ENOUGH”
    seem to tell the tale. This sounds like they’ve got a piece of crap and just hope to finish (last). If you haven’t got a chance of winning, or at least placing well, WHY START? How does a start up team develop a car when they haven’t got a driver who can offer USABLE feedback? Sato & Davidson would have been useful and probably driven for expenses!!!!! Again I say, Peter Windsor should know better, this isn’t going to work.

    • Jay Menon said on 26th January 2010, 4:37

      Yeah, this is what I was going to say.

      When the team principal tries to insist that his driver of choice is “good enough”, says a lot about credibility doesn’t it?..haha.

      Having said all this, this guy did test the Renaults that won the championship in 05 and 06, so he cant be all that bad. But then again, we’ve come to see last season thanks to one Luca Badoer that testing and racing are worlds apart.

      This is definitely down to money, why would a team from America, a country with probably the largest community of speed junkies in the world, swoop for an Argentinian? I was hoping that some kid from NASCAR will get a shot!!

      What we need in F1 are guys with raw speed and no fear…not a politically connected Argie!

      • hey Jay
        i am Argenrinean and i don’t like pechito lopez either, but to say a nascar driver can race an f1 car, sorry but thats crazy. racing in circles is nothing compares to drive in silverstone for example.
        sorry again but not even an indy car driver went well on a f1 car.

  8. Icthyes said on 26th January 2010, 1:00

    Sato! And if we get to go to Portos soon, all the better.

  9. manatcna said on 26th January 2010, 1:11

    Lopez was signed for the money he brings to the team, obviously.

    I won’t be supporting this team, but no doubt many will.

    And I’m not anti-American.

    • what are you, anti-pay drivers? Then you must be anti schumacher, and anti niki lauda. 10 world titles between them.
      Hive the guy a chance. He might be better than you think.

  10. James_mc said on 26th January 2010, 1:21

    I’d rather teams did this than promote drivers before they’re ready.

  11. George said on 26th January 2010, 1:23

    I dont think it matters what the drivers are like, I’ll be surprised if it isn’t the slowest car on the grid.

    • Steve_P83 said on 26th January 2010, 1:35

      So what if they are the slowest car on the grid in their very first year of existance, in a country outside of Europe, starting on a design from scratch, and being the only new team to build their own gearbox? It’s impressive that they are evening trying and accomplishing their goal.

      • I agree Steve (again). Their goal is to build a car and get it to go around the track. Maybe in 2011 they can compete for midfield. In 2012, if they score points it will be considered a major triumph. I don’t think anyone is honestly cheering for them to win anything just yet. Some people just think it is cool to build an F1 car from the ground up….

        At the grid this year with a car that doesn’t fall apart = success. It’s a little dramatic to say the car or the drivers will be dangerous after some of the SLOW cars and drivers we have seen over the years……

        Also, Keith, I think the word deserves is a bit off….does he deserve an F1 drive? According to who his mom? He got one, therefore he deserves one….

        • his_majesty said on 26th January 2010, 3:54

          2011 2012 lets not get ahead of ourselves. Will they make it that far into the future? Somebody stole my crystal ball, so I can’t. I do wish them well though.

          • GeeMac said on 26th January 2010, 5:50

            Exactly. If your team wanders around at the back of the field in 2010, way off the pace, where are you going to get the funds to race in 2011 and 2012 from?

          • his_majesty…I said MAYBE in 2011 they can compete for midfield and IF they even score 1 point in 2012 that would be a huge sucssess. That is not getting ahead of oneself….I said MAYBE….In reality, they may be at the back for quite some time. My point, is that NO ONE thinks they are going to be competing for a championship in 2010…not even them.

            GeeMac, you’re telling me you’ve never seen a team at the back of the field for a few years and then they score points, really? Especially in a season where you have 3 new teams??

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th January 2010, 8:35

          He got one, therefore he deserves one.

          There have been plenty of F1 drivers in the past where that plainly hasn’t been the case.

          • Yea, but in this case it’s obvious that he has a lot of experience racing and he has driven in the starter series and he has driven an F1 car, so to say “does he deserve it” doesn’t really makes sense to me. He has worked very hard racing cars and he has some experience in the F1 world, so it’s not a matter of deserving it to me. Is he going to be great, who knows, probably not. But it’s not fair to say he just paid his way in and is going to be more dangerous or deserves it less than Alguesari, Buemi, Grosean, etc.

        • Steve_P83 said on 26th January 2010, 13:15

          mfDB, I was on a roll with my comments yesterday. I guess great minds think alike huh?

      • George said on 26th January 2010, 8:19

        I didn’t say I wish they weren’t there, hell I’d be pleased to be proved wrong about that prediction. Just giving my opinion based on the information available to me :).

  12. Florida Mike said on 26th January 2010, 1:25

    I think I’m going to be a big USF1 fan.

    It seems smart to me to bring in a driver that knows how to be a winner, and brings a bucket of cash with them. Have Sato or Davidson won anything recently, and why pay for mediocrity when you can use the income from a paying driver (sponsor/government). With all respect to Number 38, the back half of the grid seldom has a chance of placing well, let alone winning, but they still start, and represent their sponsors, and develop talent, and sometimes even do well. And if the results are bad, it might be easy for USF1 to say they were wrong, and maybe their drivers weren’t “Good enough”. Humble beginings for a new team seem right to me.

    • cesar said on 26th January 2010, 5:12

      I Totally agree with you.
      As Lopez is “Unknown” for almost all the F1 fans is being critized very hard.

      In Argentina (and in his early career in Europe) showed to be a great driver, talented and ambitious.

      I believe he was the best option for USF1 in many facts

  13. Steve_P83 said on 26th January 2010, 1:28

    Pechito is bringing at least $5 million with him. Why do I say the figure $5million? Robert Doornbos tweeted that he was offered a ride for $5million. I don’t know why some of you are saying you won’t support the team because they signed a pay driver. Do you guys know anything about F1? Re-read the post from Hairs. There are A LOT more people bringing money into the team than you guys care to know about.

    Anyway, don’t follow the team. You’re not going to hurt Peter Windsor’s feelings. They’re brand new. They’ll be fine. Year one is all about learning.

    • Steve_P83 said on 26th January 2010, 1:33

      I also forgot to mention that US racing media are saying Lopez only has a one year deal. So, he’s bringing money to the team, he is pretty disposable, and the President of Argentina was involved in making the announcement. Maybe he won’t be the best driver…but he probably won’t be as bad as Luca Badoer was. I don’t really see any negatives in the story. Maybe I’m blinded by my American patriotism though…I don’t know.

    • J.A. Summers said on 29th January 2010, 20:16

      Actually, Robert Doornbos declined the offer because according to him, he didn’t have $5million.

  14. your questions will be answered at baharain.
    he is a top driver.
    alonso & schumacher also pay for a shot on f1….

    why lopez don´t decerve that?

    he works with the champion car on 05 & 06 with alonso.

    and the poor results of the GP2 was for a “middlegrid” car.

    say what you want… is ok…
    but lopez will work well on track, i´m sure of that, give the boy a little trust.

    Lopez IS NOT LIKE MAZZACANE or TUERO.

    Lopez is (along with Guerrieri) our best driver.

    • who is guerrieri, Never heard of him. The best?! Where, argentina? nonsense.

      • Guerrieri drove at Superleague formula in 2009.
        for 2010 he goes to Indy Lights or Superleague formula… is not sure.
        Both, Guerrieri and Lopez are the best Argentinean drivers.

        they don’t dissapoint us.
        you’ll see.
        grettings.

        • okey. At the present times. I see. I really hope you are right. We need talents from all over the world, and argentina has a big heritage in the sport.

          • Antifia said on 26th January 2010, 16:51

            No it doesn’t. Fangio raced in the 50s and after him the best Argentina produced was Carlos Reutman – and the guy left F1 in 1981. They haven’t had a single decent driver ever since. And the Argentinian GP track was what could be called a typical Herman Tilke classic before Herman Tilke!

          • In reply to Antifia’s comment on the Buenos Aires track: I would urge everyone to type in “autodromo galvez” on Google World and take a look around. You’ll see that it’s not at all like a Tilke track. You’ll be able to see the fantastic long “slipstreamable” straights and high speed turn around the centrally located lagoon, where the F1 Grand Prix and 1000Km Sport Prototype races were held back in the 1970/80s and multiple hard-braking passing opportunities it could offer. Unfortunately, in the 90s the F1 safety boffins chose to run their races in the Mickey Mouse infield variants, turning a once exciting GP into a processional merry-go-round. But domestic races still use the fast stretches with wonderful results. Of course it would need sprucing up and bringing safety standards up to date before hosting a GP -and “Potrero de los Funes” might be an ever better design- but, Tilke? I think not.

  15. Well! More one south-american driver in F1!!!

    • “one more” you wanted to say, i imagine. Who cares where they are from, as long as they are talented, and have interesting things to say.

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