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. Robert McKay said on 26th January 2010, 12:01

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. Brian said on 26th January 2010, 13:58

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

    • 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.

      • J.A. Summers said on 29th January 2010, 20:53

        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.

        • J.A. Summers said on 29th January 2010, 20:56

          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.

  4. CounterStrike said on 26th January 2010, 14:29

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

  5. Perhaps jose can make a diference

  6. Ronman said on 26th January 2010, 15:21

    Villeneuve for the second car, or Bourdais.

    • J.A. Summers said on 29th January 2010, 20:58

      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.

  7. Tod Fod said on 26th January 2010, 15:37

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. Scalextric said on 26th January 2010, 16:46

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

    • Justin said on 26th January 2010, 21:07

      That’s ridiculous. Its USF1 not AmericaF1.

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

  10. Xanathos said on 26th January 2010, 17:16

    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…

  11. racerdude7730 said on 26th January 2010, 20:33

    biggest load of BS i have ever heard. I been excited about the USF1 team and being an american about having an all american team with american drives. I am at this point disappointed to no end with it. Everything i hoped for with this team is falling apart in front of me. There is no way they will be more then a last place team with a driver who cant drive a one seater who has little to no experience of it. I don’t know i just hate it. Me and alot of other USF1 fans have emailed them and told them how we feel about it. its not good

  12. zerogee said on 27th January 2010, 6:45

    I’m finding the whole USF1 thing deeply amusing. We can’t judge Lopez till he has four wheels on the track, but if Renault didn’t want him over Kovalainen and *gulp* Piquet Jnr, then there has to be some doubt as to his abilities. Just because he spanked a bunch of tin-top drivers doesn’t mean at thing. Two Australian tin-toppers who were dominant in their day got nowhere in Europe (Marcos Ambrose and Craig Lowndes) so those who use that as a pointer to talent haven’t really got much to go on.

    USF1 thought they could wander in with all their half-baked rhetoric and have people bashing down their door. They’ve had no such thing – no proper sponsors to speak of, Bernie thinks they’ll have trouble making Bahrain, they’re asking for all sorts of dispensations (and getting them!). And just to make sure, one of their staff trolls people on Twitter when they make a critical remark about USF1 (Brian Bonner, aka @indy92). Although it was around Christmas, so he may have been drunk…

    Anyway…

    This team looks like it’s going nowhere and given what we’ve seen on YouTube (can their press secretary PLEASE tell Windsor to stop looking so smug?)

    Worst of all, it’s another blow to F1′s credibility in the US. I think it was vee8 who put me right in saying they’ll ruin F1 in the US (vee said Bernie had already done that) but I think if Windsor does what I think he’ll do, there are going to be some very unhappy people come, oh, Spain.

    I stand by what I said in my guest article, and given the dispensations the team has been chasing, I think Windsor is discovering that a few of the things I said were probably on the money.

    A pity. Because I want them to work, just as I want Campos and Lotus to work so we have a full grid and happy fans because we want to see cars go racing.

    • 1. Bernie thinks and says alot of junk about alot of things- it’s the way he operates. Saying things like that about USF1 or Campos is nothing new- he lives to create headlines and controversey.

      2. They never asked for any dispensation to miss the early part of the season. Regaridng testing, you’re darned right they got the dispensation to test the car here in the USA, and why should they not get that opportunity? If they were smart, they would open at least part of the test to the public, and you would be suprised to see how manyy people turn out just for a testing session…

      3. Regarding Lopez, sure Renault took Piquet over him, as Nelson had the two things that gets drives for alot of people….money, and a good last name. He also had some talent in the junior ranks, and combined with the first two he was always going to get an F1 seat.

      4. Why is any of this a blow to F1 in the USA? As I have always said, a US-based team is nothing but a good thing for the sport here. What is really needed to take the next step is a successful American driver, and while I believe there are several such drivers with the potential to reach F1 on pure merit, USF1 hopefully offers the best chance for such drivers to be appreciated in the F1 ranks.

  13. RealityCheck said on 27th January 2010, 11:04

    This from the guy that said shame on F1 for not having more American Drivers and Teams..

    I can see the Bahrain Headline now…

    “Windsor shocked to see right hand turns and to learn F1 still goes racing in the rain!!”

    Good luck to them though, anything can happen in F1 and usually does.

  14. Good luck to him and I hope for his sake he can rise to the challenge. I am however curious, as is everyone else, who the second driver will be especially as I thought Peter Windsor was adamant they would have at least one American in the driving seat…

  15. zerogee said on 28th January 2010, 11:51

    Hiya Gman,

    Bernie makes these public statements to draw something out – it’s not junk, he’s a smart man and very calculated. Perhaps you are right and Bernie’s talking rubbish, but WHY is he talking rubbish? He’s trying to get a reaction and the one he got doesn’t fill me with any confidence at all.

    I don’t doubt a public USF1 test would draw plenty of people. I don’t see why you even mention that. I don’t think there is a problem with popular support for the team if it can manage to do a decent job. The point about the dispensations is that Windsor said being US-based wouldn’t be a problem and now he’s whining that it’s too hard and he needs special permission to test there. And he needs dispensation for straight-line testing that neither Campos or Lotus have asked for. They shouldn’t get the opportunity because nobody else does – Toro Rosso can’t test in Faenza and the British-based teams can’t test in Britain and neither do they whine and ask for it.

    I don’t for a second think Flavio took Piquet on as a driver for either of the reasons you state – money was no object for Renault and the majority of fans don’t care about his Dad, they’re too young to remember. Renault though Piquet Jnr would be a good team mate to Alonso. Both Kovalainen and Alonso showed very well in the same categories. The guy’s got money, something you reckon is up to half the reason Piquet got a go. Cuts both ways. But I think you’ll find Windsor’s assessment of Lopez’s talent is motivated by the dollars that come attached.

    I’ll say it again, It WILL be a blow IF Windsor screws this up. If he pulls it off it will be epic and a great story and I will happily eat humble pie and sing his praises. I won’t ask the same of you if I’m right, though. :-D

    • Hello again zerogee…always my favorite name on this site ;)

      I don’t doubt Bernie being a smart guy- I had a bit of personal correspondence with him a few years back, and I give him alot of credit. But creating controversey with statements like that are part of his business model. He reminds me of Vince McMahon of the WWE…executives who get personally involved in stirring up the sport. And with new teams coming in, what else do you expect Bernie to talk about…Alonso’s new helmet? I’m not saying he’s right or wrong- all I am saying is it’s how he operates and dosen’t suprise me, so I put little faith in his remarks because he talks alot of hot air.

      No doubt Lopez has that funding to thank of rgetting him the ride with USF1, but I serously doubt that money/name value had as litlte to do with Piquet as you suggest. Any team loves drivers who bring money in some capacity…don’t forget that this is the same Renault team that was recently under threat and sold off the vast majority of their ownership to an outside investor.

      And about the testing….I see no reason why USF1 should not be allowed to run over here at a nearby track. Having seen those photos of the new Williams getitng a shakedown at Silverstone, it isn’t that different in my mind. As for openeing the track to fans, perhaps that was meant to demonstrate the level of interest the team can generate among American F1 fans..I would bet that we’d see better crowds for that than at the IndyCar race Barber is set to host.

      As for the humble pie, I will always back up any remark I make on this site, in either my comments or in my own guest articles. I’ll take my pie in hot apple, with loads of whipped creme ;)

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