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

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

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

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  1. It’s not what I was first expecting, but it is a smart move overall. Here is why I believe the deal is a good one…

    – Credit to the posters above who said that Lopez is no worse than some of the young drivers who have entered the sport recently. Really, take a guy like Buemi..nothing against him, but is he the next Vettel? Not really- same with his teammate, Grosjean, and some others. I wanted Heidfeld to get a shot, but for whatever reason maybe it wasen’t the best deal for him. Sato, Davidson, Klein, etc..may be in the running for the second seat, but who knows how sharp they will be after being out of the cockpit for so long?

    – In this deal, USF1 gets some money, and a prepackaged fanbase in the sports-mad Argentine public. If the team is marketed right, there is great potential for Lopez to connect with America’s massive Hispanic population, a group that has helped gratly in the continued growth of soccer in this country.

    – As another poster said, there are a slew of talented young Americans at various stages of development who are coming along, and surely in a year or two at least one will be ready for a race seat. That includes Summerton, Rossi, Rosenzwig, Hildebrand, Daly, Newgarden, De Phillippi, Edwards, Smrz and others…

    – There is nothing more in the sporting world that I want than for an American driver to get into F1, win races, and contend for the championship. If Lopez and whoever else can do a good job with the team in the meantime, good for them :)

    1. I agree it is a smart move. While he might not be from the USA itself, he is still from the same sort of region. Well more so than a driver from Europe, Asia, Australia etc.

      I’m looking forward to seeing how USF1 go. We’ve certainly heard more out of them, then any other of the other new teams. Haven’t heard much from Virgin, which I think is weird considering how media tart-ish the the Virgin brand usually is; they do have a nice website though.

  2. On the Prisoner Monkeys quote from last year- I don’t always agree with what you have to say Mr PM but you’re a very good writer and your F1 knowledge is impressive so muchos kudos from me. But then again, I don’t expect an Argentine GP anytime soon

  3. I also like the fact that someone thought highly enough of USF1 to bring in $5mm. It certainly makes me feel more confident that USF1 is for real (not that I would know the truth) and might be key in winning additional sponsors. Attracting investment is one of the most crucial elements of a successful start up. How much did Virgin pay for it’s spot on the Brawns ($250m per race for ’09?), and how many races did Brawn have to win before that happened.

  4. “a country where F1 is second only to soccer”

    its football. thanks.

    1. you ment futbol, right?

      1. He’s speaking for USF1, so “soccer” would be correct.

        1. Exactly right…America is becoming more and more passionate about soccer, but “football” over here refers to a completely different sport ;)

  5. Man I hope Peter Windsor knows something we don’t!

    I’m trying so hard to take USF1 seriously, and I had just managed to convince myself that they would be ok, but without an experienced driver, I’m no sure. We can only hope they sign someone half decent to drive the other car.

    1. My guess is they had to confirm the Lopez finances before signing somebody ‘half decent’ as you say. I thought Villeneuve would drive, but that would mean no American drivers so it’s unlikely.

      I reckon Scott Speed will get it personally because he is the only American driver with any recent F1 experience. I’m not sure what his NASCAR contract is however.

      1. Good grief. Scott Speed. I hate to sound trollish (what with my prediction of US F1 folding after a couple of years) but that would be the final nail in the coffin IMO.

  6. US F1 won’t last as long as the US GP did IMO.

    1. After having seen Prost GP crash and burn (who the hell goes on and says: one country, one team), i am very doubtfull about USF1.Associating a team with a country is somewhat old fashioned and can allow people who are just not good enough to remain in place because they have the right nationality.

      Prost GP at some point had decent drivers, a potentially great engeneering team, but the “all French” thing about it just made it non competitive (And Prost wasn’t the best with money obviously).

      Mind you, with Mclaren turning in an English team vs Mercedes being the German team, who knows? (not really great examplse, both teams “nationality” are based mostly on drivers and don’t affect engeneering team, and their drivers aren’t half bad. I am more wary of Ferrari’s “all latin” positionning, who might well flop).

      1. I agree, I hope they stick around, but the whole US think is going to bite them in the a$$

  7. If USF1 sign up a pay driver who is less than competitive they can always blame the driver if the car is poor.
    I hope the car isn’t poor and that Lopez holds his own. But with so many new drivers and the extra cars on track, Q1 will be so much more interesting to watch.

    1. We all hope the car is good and Lopez holds his own.

      My issue is that USF1 seem to be making this far more difficult for themselves than it need be by, inter alia, hiring a rookie who hasn’t driven a single seater for 3 years, being the only new team who are designing their own gearbox, being based a million miles from every other F1 team etc etc etc…

  8. People, I can understand you dont know who JM Lopez is, but you will be surprised… I can’t say he is best than the other drivers at Formula 1, but he is the one that deserve more than the others…

  9. How long has it been since montoya raced ?? could he be a good choice for the 2nd seat?? I thought he was spectacular during race starts although he would forget to brake at the end of the 1st crnr and take out a few cars along wid him (oops!!). Also the chubby one was mostly unfit so he would start panting half way down. But mostly he had vey bad luck for sure…still, dont think he might want to race among the backrunners.

    1. He seems to be completely happy with life in NASCAR. More’s the pity – I think he’d go well in current slick-shod TC-free F1 cars.

      1. Have you seen the documentary that NatGeo did on Montoya?

        He’s even more of a crash magnet now than he ever was when in F1. And that is saying something!

        His whole style is aggressive to the point of pushing other cars out of the way.

        And his attitude towards F1 is very bitter – openly so. Of course now he maintains that “F1 is just about the car and that NASCAR is all about the driver.”

        If you like crashes and drama he’s perhaps an interesting choice, but if you actually want a driver who is racing to the level of F1 I really think Montoya is (and always was) a bad choice of driver.

    2. If I remember correctly, he said he wouldn’t come back to F1 even if he received an offer from Ferrari (Though I’m sure he would come back for that) ;)

      He complains about F1 being about the car and that he just wants to win, but he hasn’t done that in Nascar. I think he was just sick and tired of the lifestyle of F1 like Kimi was. It is a shame, he may not have been the best on the grid, but he was close to being a champion so he’s not as bad as some people say.

      1. and don’t forget. The ferrari years, would have been harder to take, without him on the track. He put a fight against the all mighty team, better than most.

  10. Can somebody explain to me why Lopez should be given a super licence? He meets none of the criteria in the FIA’s International Sporting Code, Appendix L, you can’t say he didn’t have the opportunity to (given he has in fact raced in GP2), and how on earth he can be judged to have “met the intent of the qualification process” when fairly clearly what the FIA are after there is a driver who has excelled in international single-seater competition, recently.

    1. “Outstanding ability in single-seater formula cars” can be demonstrated by driving 300km in a current F1 car at racing speed over a two day period. Presumably, Lopez will have at least this much testing before Bahrain.

      1. Yes, but clause f) (“outstanding ability in single-seater formula cars”) includes the rider “but with no opportunity to qualify under any of [the provisions about being successful in GP2/IRL/F3 etc.]”. I don’t see how you can say that about Lopez given he spent two seasons in GP2 without making much of an impact.

        1. But the seasons Lopez spent in GP2 (2005-06) are outside the qualifying period of two years, so his GP2 experience isn’t recent enough to get him in on that front. Demonstrating “outstanding ability” simply means the driver is competent and won’t be a danger to himself or others, nothing more.

          I honestly don’t see the problem with giving Lopez a superlicence – he may only be at US F1 because of his money but he’s shown he can drive a powerful single seater at racing speed, his GP2 results were better than Kobayashi’s and he also has some F1 testing experience with Renault.

          1. his GP2 results were better than Kobayashi’s

            Good point. Same goes for Grosjean, of course…

          2. What interests me about this is the question of whether under the current rules, read in black & white, he is eligible for a Super License or not.

            I have no idea of the mans ability. Never followed him.
            I am sure he’s safe enough etc. etc.

            But if he’s “technically” outside those required qualifications then is this another case of F1 applying the rules selectively. i.e. Money talks.

          3. Kobayashi won GP2 Asia, which qualifies him for a superlicense outright.

            It’s not that I think Lopez is likely to be dangerous in F1 – I just don’t see the point of the FIA’s having this detailed qualification structure if they’re going to let anybody in who meets the minimum requirement of not being a danger to themselves and others.

          4. “I just don’t see the point of the FIA’s having this detailed qualification structure if they’re going to let anybody in who meets the minimum requirement of not being a danger to themselves and others.”

            Anyone who meets the requirements of the detailed qualification structure pretty much gets a superlicence automatically.

            But there may be other perfectly legitimate ways in which a driver can be fit to compete in F1 without having met one of those criteria. This is where the discretionary clause about “outstanding ability” is applied and it doesn’t necessarily follow that a superlicence will be dished out to whoever wants one.

            Kimi Raikkonen jumped straight from FRenault 2.0 (not the WSR) to F1, for example. Under a strict reading of the FIA criteria, Michael Schumacher doesn’t automatically qualify because he has been out of F1 for three years and infrequent Ferrari tests don’t appear to count. A driver who won the GP2 title but then spent three years in the DTM wouldn’t automatically qualify for a superlicence.

            “But if he’s “technically” outside those required qualifications then is this another case of F1 applying the rules selectively. i.e. Money talks.”

            Having discretion within the regulations to consider individual circumstances is not the same as selectively applying the rules. Unless Lopez has completely lost his ability to drive a single seater in the last three years he should still be miles ahead of the likes of Deletraz and Lavagi.

          5. With all those things about superlicense making sure pilots are not a danger for themselves and others, it seems counter productive to have newbees drive a car in the middle of the season without proper prior experience (cf: Alguersari and Grosjean’s “off moments” last year)

          6. To add: what i mean is, I believe having proper testing and some experience with the car is more important to driver qualification than previous experiences on various openseaters etc.

  11. I don’t have anything against Lopez, indeed I wish him well. As someone else said Kobayashi was nothing special in GP2 and looked good in 2 F1 race outings regardless.

    But USF1 made a lot of bluster about not taking pay drivers, and taking American ones at that. Looks a bit silly now.

    Be very interesting to see who their number 2 is.

  12. If Lopez had secured a drive in F1 straight after his stint as a Renault tester finished then there probably wouldn’t be as much fuss as there seems to be even if he was still bringing some funds with him.

    I tend to like it when drivers race in different types of series and with all the negative press USF1 seem to be receiving I hope both he and the team do well.

    Even for an established team I think it would be unwise for both drivers to be rookies so hopefully USF1 manage to get an experienced driver for the second seat.

  13. One name comes to mind. Robert Wickens. I want to see him get a drive.

    1. Wickens is probably our best hope. The problem is that he lost his Red Bull backing. I was expected to be a reserve for Red Bull or Toro Rosso. I cannot understand
      why drop Robert when he finished 2nd in the
      F2 championship?

      JR Hildebrand recently tested for Force India. He still is looking for sponsor for his Indy Car ride. But there are none. His only salvation would be GP2.

      John Edwards won the Atlantic series and has
      no funds. Newman-Wachs have folded operations as they look for the Indy Lights route. But there ar no report. Newman-Wachs are also interested in GP2. Durango recently folded, and they might get that spot.

      Summerton will attempt to get the F2 way amid funding.

      1. Mirko Bortolotti has also been dropped from the Red Bull young driver programme. At this rate, in a few years they’ll be out of decent young drivers because all the ones they sent away will have been snapped up by other teams.
        I wonder if they would ever offer to take one back, something they to my knowledge have never done before, though Red Bull usually continues to sponsor them.

        1. Sorry to double post, but there is no edit button.

          I would like to say about Hildebrand, that I’m slightly worried about him, and that he needs to get into a European racing class now, otherwise his development will slow down. One more year in Indy Lights or whatever will hurt his ability. The best American drivers (Cheever) “grew up” in European lower formulae, and especially with Rossi and now possibly Summerton going the same way, J.R. could find himself trailing the pack of next generation American talents if he doesn’t join them. Which, and that is also the reason why I post this comment, would be a shame, because I like him.

  14. CounterStrike
    26th January 2010, 14:29

    If he’s half as good as Juan Manuel Fangio,he would have done Argentina proud.

  15. Perhaps jose can make a diference

  16. Villeneuve for the second car, or Bourdais.

    1. Oh yes please. I’m still rooting for Villeneuve to get the seat at Renault, but if he doesn’t, he would be easily the best available option for USF1. And a logical choice too. Now, I would really like to see Bourdais back as well, because he hasn’t been given a fair chance in an F1 car yet, so if Jacques gets the Renault seat and Seb goes to USF1, I will be very happy indeed.

  17. Yeah im all for seeing Villeneuve return. It will be good to have 5 WDC winners in the field. Petrov is another good prospect… but I hope Bourdais stays out.

  18. OK, this guy brought money to the team. From what I’ve been reading, Campos should have gotten money up-front from their drivers too. Sounds like they are having financial troubles. Lopez will most likely be a dud, but if he doesn’t crash the car, (too much), he won’t hurt the team. By the way, does he have the required superlicense? The other question is, does this give USF1 enough to hire a veteran that doesn’t have to bring in funding? If so, I hope they bring in Heidfeld! But please…not Ralf.

  19. He may or may not be a ‘rising star’ but if he’s from Argentina he is American. South American.

    1. That’s ridiculous. Its USF1 not AmericaF1.

      Lost interest in USF1 ages ago when they said there wont be a US driver.

  20. Give the guy a chance. His results in GP2 were decent enough to justify an F1 seat, but at the time Kovalainen and Piquet were Renault’s “chosen ones” and so he never really had a chance. Now he’s got a new chance without too much pressure, he just has to keep the car off the walls…

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