Alexander Rossi on F1’s second year at COTA, his F1 ambitions and New Jersey’s 2014 race

Interview

Alexander Rossi, Caterham, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2013Aspiring American Formula One driver Alexander Rossi says the sport’s return to the Circuit of the Americas this year will be a “true test” of whether the sport can succeed in the USA.

Rossi told F1 Fanatic what he thinks it will take for Formula One to be successful in the States and what he’s doing to become the first American on the grid since 2007.

Year two the “true test” for COTA

Formula One returned to America last year with a well-received new race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Rossi called the event “a step in the right direction” for F1’s hopes of gaining popularity in the USA.

“I think Austin, from a venue and from an event, surprised everyone. From the spectators to the teams and the F1 paddock as well. So I think Austin is kind of a massive relief for everyone involved because it’s like OK, ‘F1 probably can actually work in America’ and I think that was the first step.”

“But how the turn-out is this year and how the response is this year I think is kind of the true test, to see if people enjoyed it enough to come back for another year.

“I think that it will struggle until there’s an American driver just because American people are so patriotic, they’re not going to come out or they’re not going to spend a year watching or cheering for a German, British or Spanish driver it’s not how it’s going to work. I think if there’s an American driver that’s the first step, but even then I don’t think it’ll captivate the audience, and an American driver has to be successful.”

Rossi also believes F1’s move to a different US broadcaster this year has had a positive effect: “It is quite a few years out but I think Formula One has kind of seen the highest response it’s had for a while. I think a lot of that is due to not only Austin but the NBC coverage as well because before it was an elite channel [Speed] to watch F1 so people if people weren’t really interested they certainly weren’t going to pay money to do watch it. Now it’s on cable television it just makes it a lot more accessible.”

However Rossi said F1 had to be realistic about how much it could achieve in a country where home-grown sports like the National Football League command enormous audiences.

“You’ve got to look at the size of America,” he explained. “You can’t compare it to one country in Europe or anywhere else because while there is a lot of different sports, there are a lot of people, and the motorsport fan base in the States is actually very big.”

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2012Although “the percentage of the people may not be that much”, Rossi pointed out that in such a large country even a ‘minority’ sport could have a large following in real terms.

“I think that the motor sports fans, the petrolheads, have appreciation for Formula One and the fact it is the highest form of racing, the best technology in the world and the best drivers in the world. I think there is an appreciation for that.

“There is a lot of other sports that can draw interest away so I don’t think it could ever compete with an NFL or NBA. But I do think it has the opportunity to captivate the majority of the American motor sport enthusiasts. It will do that, it’s just a matter of time.”

Rossi’s F1 hopes

Rossi’s own F1 hopes suffered a minor setback at the start of the year when a change of plans forced a reduction in the amount of seat time he will have this year. Although he has already made one appearance for Caterham in Friday practice and will continue to, he expected to be doing more when the season began:

“The original plan was just to be the reserve driver and take the Valtteri Bottas route and do a load of Friday practice sessions, take a year off racing and fully immerse myself in F1.

“Then one of the Caterham GP2 drivers [Ma Qing Hua] after the first race couldn’t continue any more. They needed someone in the car and obviously I was the first person they went to and of course I wasn’t going to turn down a race seat. It would have been nice to be able to do not only have done the first race but to have done all the pre-season testing.”

Although Rossi said he wasn’t going to equal Bottas’s 15 practice session appearances last year “we were going to get near about ten, plus or minus that”.

“Of course I would have missed racing but I think Valtteri showed that it is a possible route into F1 especially because young drivers don’t get to drive a lot.”

Alexander Rossi, Caterham, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2013Rossi added the 11th hour changes to this year’s Young Drivers Test to allow race drivers to participate was a further example of how “it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to get time in an F1 car” for young drivers. “Any opportunity you have, even if it’s 90 minutes, 20 laps, it’s going to be a big benefit.”

Nonetheless he will be back in an F1 car again this year: “Every F1 event that’s not a GP2 event I’ll have the opportunity to be in the car for the Friday practice session.”

“Obviously the highlight of that will definitely be in Austin. I was a bit disappointed to miss out on that last year. But for reasons that I did understand from the team so to be able to go back there this year and actually drive on track in front of an American audience will be something special.”

Rossi’s last-minute switch to GP2 meant he had little chance to acclimatise to the car before making his first start in Bahrain. In his own words, his season so far as been “not good”.

“It’s clear that the tyres have changed quite a bit from last year,” he explained. “The team has had to find their feet again.”

“We missed all of winter testing and pre-season testing as I wasn’t planning on doing GP2 this year. So we came into the first race very much on the back foot. So the results have been varied. We’re certainly missing some pace and hopefully we can turn that around for the second half of the season.”

New Jersey race “needs to happen”

David Coulthard, Red Bull, New Jersey, 2012If Rossi does make it onto the grid in time for next season he could be in the enviable position of having two home races. New Jersey is bidding for a race of its own in addition to the Austin event.

“I’m praying that happens!” says Rossi, who believes the race would be a major attraction for leading American companies.

“I met with the promoters, I think the plan that they have and the market they have would really get US blue-chip companies interested in it because it’s not only happening in their back yard, but I think they’d do a very good job with the event, the exclusivity of it and making it a very kind of corporate event.”

“Whether that’s good for the fans or not I think it’s something that is important for F1’s success in America. I think that if the New Jersey race could be more of a corporate race and the Austin race could be a fan race or something like that, I think that you’ve got to get the best of both worlds. I think both needs to happen.”

Although Caterham’s care features the logos of several American companies, Rossi believes races like the planned event in New Jersey are needed to generate more interest:

“I think Caterham has done a good job in that it is one of the only teams on the grid that actually have chased American corporates: GE, Dell, Intel being on the car is something that is very beneficial for me because I’m fortunate to be at the one team that has American connections. So I think obviously everyone would like to see an American in the car.

“But in terms of seeing flat-out interest generate corporations looking to get behind me personally, it hasn’t happened, and to be honest I don’t think it will because F1 is not well enough known in America yet so until it becomes kind of a household discussion I don’t think the interest from corporates will be there.”

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30 comments on Alexander Rossi on F1’s second year at COTA, his F1 ambitions and New Jersey’s 2014 race

  1. the_sigman (@sigman1998) said on 5th August 2013, 13:21

    Great to see an interview with Alex. He is very fast and I’m sure he will go to Caterham F1 soon.

    • Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 5th August 2013, 13:27

      Yeah I’m guessing van der Garde is done for. Sure he brings some nice money to the team but not really any talent, his race in Hungary was excellent though, give credit where it is due I always say.

  2. Blackmamba (@blackmamba) said on 5th August 2013, 13:37

    Rossi is right, F1 will become more successful in the States only if an American driver came along who had a life story that could be scripted into a Hollywood movie and capable of racing at the sharp end. Looking into the lower classes there is however little obvious talent there so that could take a while. I don’t think however they will find it difficult to fill the stands coz South Americans will come in force to support Maldonado, Perez, Massa and Gutierrez. Maybe Massa not so much coz they have a Brazilian race.

  3. Dane (@n0b0dy100) said on 5th August 2013, 13:51

    It was great to see him on the podium in his first GP2 race, so he has potential. Don’t rush it though, we don’t want another Scott Speed.

  4. Dan (@rcrider13) said on 5th August 2013, 14:32

    Here is something to put the popularity of F1 in the USA in perspective: The Hungarian Grand Prix had 288,000 viewers during the live broadcast on NBCSN. The last week of the Tour de France had 252,000 – 560,000 viewers during the live broadcast (a traditional American sport like baseball averaged 2.4 million viewers during prime time on pay TV). Also interesting to note that both cycling/F1 were the top rated programs on NBCSNs in those respective weeks.

    Ratings source: http://sonofthebronx.blogspot.com/ and http://www.sportsmediawatch.com

  5. Rigi (@rigi) said on 5th August 2013, 14:55

    i genuinely hope this guy gets a seat for next year, or maybe even this year!
    however i think this year is out of reach for him, IF caterham decide to ditch van der garde, he’ll most likely be replaced with kovalainen.

  6. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 5th August 2013, 15:31

    Nice to say America needs an American driver on the grid to really take off. It’s subtle advertisement right?

    • JCost (@jcost) said on 6th August 2013, 10:37

      +1 @omarr-pepper

      Not so subtle, actually…

      However, I think a successful driver makes wonders to the popularity of F1 in his/her country, more than a local race IMHO. Just look at how popular F1 is in Finland all due to a respectable history of good Finn drivers in F1 (Keke, Mika, Kimi) or the case of Fernando Alonso in Spain.

      If F1 wants to improve ratings in the States and this kid is fast, they must put him in a race winning car.

  7. davros said on 5th August 2013, 16:06

    13th in gp2 this year, 11th in FR3.5 last year this guy is clearly a very special talent! Maybe even greater than Senna.

  8. BasCB (@bascb) said on 5th August 2013, 16:07

    Nice interview, I really hope he gets those tyres working for him this year, because I think he is the US best hope of getting on the F1 grid currently

    • BJ (@beejis60) said on 5th August 2013, 19:26

      Daly may be better-aligned than Rossi, though Daly is a bit less-experienced, I believe. Plus his crash in Monaco last year probably doesn’t do him any favors…

  9. JackySteeg (@jackysteeg) said on 5th August 2013, 16:09

    According to the “BookF1″ website, it seems the main grandstands are mostly sold out already, so it’s fair to say that year 2 looks like it will be a success, although I doubt it’ll match last years attendance.

    I think the real test would be how the Austin attendance would be affected by a Mexican Grand Prix. I can’t say I was in the grandstands last year, so I’m only saying this based on what I saw on TV, but a huge chunk of the crowd seemed to be from Mexico. If the Mexican fans had their own race to go to would COTA have anywhere near as many fans in the stands?

    • mantresx (@mantresx) said on 5th August 2013, 16:37

      If the Mexican fans had their own race to go to would COTA have anywhere near as many fans in the stands?

      Well @jackysteeg I can only speak from personal experience but I think people that live in the north of Mexico (like myself) and have the money, would still go to Austin simply because it’s closer and is less of a hassle to move around, unlike a giant city like Mexico City.

      Of course in the end there would be fewer attendance but hopefully Mexican fans will keep COTA full for a couple more years until Americans grasp F1 and of course having Rossi on the grid would really help.

      • us-brian (@us-brian) said on 5th August 2013, 16:47

        I was at the race last year at Turn 1. It was packed. But as you said, there were alot of mexicans in our section. But also other Central and South americans. I will be going there again this year. From my point of view there were alot of Lewis Hamilton/McLaren supporters. But what was funny was that the Caterham Merchandise Stand was always crowded.
        As a American I hope we can get us a driver from the US. Biggest rival to the race’s succes this year might be a University of Texas College Fottbal game that Saturday.

        • BJ (@beejis60) said on 5th August 2013, 19:30

          Ya, the same weekend as the UT game will be pretty bad, especially with Ole Miss having a very highly-touted incoming class this year…

          • AlonsoWDC (@alonsowdc) said on 5th August 2013, 21:58

            No one in Austin cares about Ole Miss. And the Ole Miss game is on 14 Sep.

            Texas plays host to Oklahoma State on 16 Nov, the day before the USGP.

  10. Kisii (@kisii) said on 5th August 2013, 17:22

    I went to the motogp event this year and it was without doubt the most diverse large sporting event I have ever been to in the States. What will save F1 in America will be the immigrants..and a little bit of disposable income!

  11. Deepak (@ideepak) said on 5th August 2013, 18:11

    I remember speaking to an American recently, and he was telling me that F1 doesn’t nearly make as much money or have as many viewers as NASCAR does. LOL.

    I wish this fellow good luck, but we don’t need another Naren Karthikeyan. Being in F1 for the sake of being in F1 is utterly stupid — money will let you do that only for so long.

    We have all seen the differences between Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen class drivers and the rest. All of these guys showed something special when they were karting, even before age 13.

    The culture is vastly, vastly different. As a highly unbiased individual — as an American citizen, I am willing to say this fellow does not have what it takes to be in F1.

    As long as non-European countries don’t cultivate the culture of karting from age 3 and on — Europe will be the champion breeding ground for F1.

    • Robert said on 8th October 2013, 7:55

      @ Deepak, I have to correct you on your Karting assumption. Alexander has a whole lot of Karting experience, he has been Racing karts since he was a little kid. He set some of the fastest laptimes at Lemans this year, not bad for his first time Racing Lemans.

  12. AlonsoWDC (@alonsowdc) said on 5th August 2013, 21:54

    Regarding the status of F1 TV coverage in America.

    NBC is making a huge push in its sports coverage. Their purchase of former cable sports network Versus to become NBCSports and their purchases to the rights of NHL, various soccer leagues, IndyCar, Formula One has all but forced FOX to transform its cable motorsports network (Speed) into its own, just like NBC did with Versus.

    Beginning in 2015, NBC will air the back half of the NASCAR schedule (after outbidding ESPN). Many of the final races will air on the major network to fill in Sunday afternoons to lead into NBC’s unrivaled Sunday Night Football (NFL). But the majority of its NASCAR races will air on NBCS, which means that over the next year and a half, NBCS will be added to all major American cable providers’ basic network plans, and not just on the premium tiers. NASCAR will not allow one (let alone ten) Cup races to be broadcast on a network that is now only available in 80M American households (as opposed to ESPN’s 100M+).

    NBC is also doing right by all their contracts. They have extensively marketed Formula One on broadcast NBC TV, promote the races that actually air on NBC and NBCS, and the coverage is a marked improvement over Speed.

    NBC aired the Monaco GP live at seven in the morning (as opposed to Speed’s six hour tape delays) and it was the highest-rated F1 broadcast in America since 1994.

  13. David Noble (@newkoba) said on 6th August 2013, 3:36

    I know we enjoyed going to a live F1 event enough last year that we all bought tickets in turn 12 again this year. I actually just took a job in Austin so now I’m 26 miles from the track instead of 1100+ miles, but I still have to fly the rest of my family and friends in for the race…

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