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

  1. *sigh* I want USF1 to succeed and I completely understand the funding situation and the need for a pay driver. But don’t try to tell us that a pay driver is signed on the merit of his driving skills. I’m really getting tired of Peter Windsor’s bulls***.

    • I think what Peter is trying to say (although I do agree that he can be a little annoying) is that this isn’t some rich kid off the street, he is a champion.

      I seem to remember a guy driving a Mercedes touring sedan for TWO seasons and then what…..oh yea, coming to F1 and winning 7 titles and breaking every record in the book…..

    • well it is just politics. He has to say something. Let’s give them a chance to show what they got, before starting to put them down. It is too early to trash them.

  2. wif1fan said on 26th January 2010, 1:56

    I would’ve liked to see an American in the seat, but time and money will tell. The seats are just being kept warm for the eventual team of Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. Good luck this year boys!!

  3. wasiF1 said on 26th January 2010, 2:00

    Never heard about him,so let see what happen. USF1,Renault & Campos Meta still to name their second driver.

  4. Fer no.65 said on 26th January 2010, 2:07

    **WARNING: AN ARGENTINEAN WRITING HERE AND A LOPEZ-HATER**

    I’ll be honest with you all. I’m probably the only one here who really saw ‘Pechito’ racing since 2006 (except those FIA GT followers).

    I started following Jose Maria Lopez when he got his F3000 drive. But it was at Hockenheim 2006 (GP2 race) that I realized he was just another guy going round a track and nothing special.

    That day he leaded the Sprint race easily but made a mistake on the last lap, allowing Timo Glock by, thus loosing the race.

    It’s 3 years since then and he’s still the same. He’s won a lot of races here, he scored 24 poles this year alone in 3 different touring car series from 45 qualifing sessions (more than 50% of them).

    But then he failed to win more than 10 races. He often made mistakes or went a bit like Hamilton at Monza this year. “All or nothing” even if his car was much better than the rest and outpacing everyone by 3 tenths.

    That clearly shows his lack of that kind of spark talents like Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel show while driving the car.

    One thing clear. HE’S NOT ANOTHER GASTON MAZZACANE. The guy is fast and, if we all were surprised by Kobayashi (who, tbh, was a bit normal on feeder series), why wouldn’t it happen again with Lopez?

    Still, it’s good for Argentina (and maybe for F1 too) to have a driver representing our country.

    PD: About the political move. Just 2 of the 8 million dollars needed were paid by the Goverment. Most of the money came from private investors (notably, one of the touring car series Lopez conquered this year).

    Peter Windsor visited all of the investors last week, and the announcement was made by Argentina’s President today, after reciving Windsor earlier today.

    • Thanks for the inside info ;)

    • I remember Lopez from GP2 and my impression is much the same as yours, i.e. fast but on the edge all the time, with too many mistakes.

      Lopez looked quite promising in his first season of GP2 in 2005. Despite a strong field and a middling team he managed some reasonable results. Following a move to a better team (Super Nova) for 2006 he was tipped to build on that success. But the results just never came, Lopez was dumped by RDD and that seemed to be that for F1.

      It’s not impossible for quick but inconsistent drivers to make a success of F1 – Felipe Massa is one who springs to mind. But after three years out of single seaters? It’s a big ask.

    • J.A. Summers said on 29th January 2010, 20:47

      Sorry for not replying to the points you made, but I just wanted to say your English seems excpetionally good for an Argentinean.

      • mario said on 13th February 2010, 4:47

        hey! nowhere in the site says this is all about a grammar contest or something like that, right?? and what about you typing “excpetionally”? maybe your English ain’t that good for an American…lol! (:-))
        on a different matter, i think lopez could score some points this year, depending on how good his car is. sometimes in f-1 races, there are some extra conditions that make possible for non-top drivers to make their day!!!!!!!

  5. I guess I’m in the minority, but I’m not that concerned that they signed a driver who is bringing in some sponsorships/money. Is he a mediocre driver? Yes. Are the other non-pay options thrown around on this board mediocre? Definitely. Sorry, but there is a reason that for the last several seasons NO ONE was interested in Davidson, Sato, Ralf, etc. They just aren’t that good. If Davidson, Sato, etc. were competitive drivers they would have been considered as midyear replacements for Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Renault, etc. The simple fact here is that even if they are a little better than Lopez, the difference just isn’t that striking. And if you owned a team and you could either sign a mediocre driver and get some additional sponsorship money or sign a mediocre driver and pay him to not do significantly better than the pay driver, what would you do? I think I’d question this team more if they were paying Ralf or Davidson any amount of money than I am about them taking on a pay driver. Face it, top drivers don’t want to go to a new team. Granted Trulli and Kovy went to a new team, but they really didn’t have any other viable prospects of landing at an established team. And their talent level is debatable, so its not like Lotus signed two stars. Ralf, Davidson, Sato, or Lopez. There really isn’t much difference between any of the four. USF1 just made the best business decision when picking between four so-so drivers.

    • cesar said on 26th January 2010, 5:22

      mmm, Lopez is not a mediocre driver at all.

      Actually his driving style doesn´t even compare with the other “so-so” drivers you mention.

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

      Well Sato and Davidson at least have recent experience in F1 cars, and Davidson especially would bring a ton of technical knowledge to the team.

  6. 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 :)

    • 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.

  7. Ned Flanders said on 26th January 2010, 3:47

    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

  8. Florida Mike said on 26th January 2010, 4:17

    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.

  9. BNK Racing said on 26th January 2010, 5:44

    “a country where F1 is second only to soccer”

    its football. thanks.

  10. GeeMac said on 26th January 2010, 5:47

    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.

    • John H said on 26th January 2010, 8:48

      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.

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

    • Tango said on 26th January 2010, 9:25

      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).

  12. Chalky said on 26th January 2010, 8:56

    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.

    • GeeMac said on 26th January 2010, 9:15

      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…

  13. FAST37 said on 26th January 2010, 10:03

    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…

  14. commodore said on 26th January 2010, 10:12

    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.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th January 2010, 10:40

      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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  15. Ilanin said on 26th January 2010, 11:30

    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.

    • “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.

      • Ilanin said on 26th January 2010, 12:08

        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.

        • 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.

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th January 2010, 12:42

            his GP2 results were better than Kobayashi’s

            Good point. Same goes for Grosjean, of course…

          • 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.

          • Ilanin said on 26th January 2010, 12:51

            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.

          • “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.

          • Tango said on 26th January 2010, 14:56

            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)

          • Tango said on 26th January 2010, 15:01

            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.

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