Exclusive interview with Caterham’s Alexander Rossi

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As Formula One’s interest in America continues to grow and thrive thanks to the return of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, the one piece missing from the jigsaw is a driver from the US. Currently, Alexander Rossi is the only American driver with an FIA superlicence required to race in Formula One, taking part in tests and practice sessions for Caterham F1 Team as their reserve driver, making him well-placed to secure a full-time drive in the future. At the British GP, Alexander sat down with NBC Sports to give his view on F1 in the USA, the new track at New Jersey and his aspirations for 2014.

You had your first go at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend. A few problems with the car, but how was the weekend as a whole?

Alexander Rossi: The weekend was long. You arrive on the Sunday before and everything is kind of drawn out longer because of the event. During the event and the actual race, I didn’t really like it, solely because you don’t sleep and when you’re not doing well it’s a struggle. In the end, on Monday morning, it was something that you look back on and say “alright, when’s the next one?” In the end it was something that was very cool and the thing that stands out to me the most is being able to drive and being able to push throughout the entire stint.

Is it something you would want to do again?

AR: (immediately) I would do it again, yes, absolutely. It was something that I was very happy to have got the opportunity to take part in and, honestly, my knowledge and appreciation for sportscar and endurance racing was next to none prior to the weekend. Looking back on that, it was very cool!

You’re into your second year with Caterham in the reserve driver role, how are you finding it with the team?

AR: Yeah, it’s going good. Every year we make a step forward and progress a bit more and I become a bit more part of the team which in F1 is not the easiest thing to do, it’s a very closed environment. But being able to be a part of this team and to grow with them has been very positive. I’m very happy. If things keep progressing as they have been in the past couple of years, the goal is to be racing next year, and I think that we have a good opportunity to do that.

You did your first practice run of the season at the Canadian Grand Prix, even if the weather didn’t really help out, but was it good to get back behind the wheel of an F1 car?

AR: It absolutely was, I hadn’t driven the 2013 car on track prior to that so it was good to do that. Obviously being a changeable weather session like it was in a car that wasn’t my own… the risk versus reward scenario was a bit… I had to be a bit cautious because you don’t want to be the person who crashes someone else’s car in free practice. In full wet conditions I think the pace was alright. It was just that I had never driven on intermediate tires before so I was a bit lost on where the pace was. But at the end of the day we completed the programme.

Are there any more lined up? Are you looking at Austin potentially?

AR: Oh, yeah. I was going to have quite a few at the beginning of the year before GP2 happened, and now GP2 conflicts with quite a few of them, it reduces the number. But yes, there will be more I am sure.

Was it good to get into the GP2 car and keep racing this season?

AR: Yeah, coming into this year I was expecting to just be at the track and having to watch people race, so to be able to race is obviously great as it’s what I love to do and what I want to do. It’s a bit difficult because we missed testing and we missed the first race so we have been on the back foot, but yeah, it’s good to be a part of Caterham’s GP2 team and keep the progression going.

You said in an interview recently that you would be disappointed if you didn’t have a full-time seat next season. Have you had any talks with teams? Are there any plans in motion, or is it a case of playing it by ear?

AR: I think you always have talks with teams. It’s been the goal and the focus to be in a race seat by 2014. Obviously Formula One is a tricky business and things need to fall into place, so we need to focus on GP2 and make sure that the results in that are positive. I think if that happens, there is no reason why we shouldn’t have a race seat.

You’re the only American driver with an FIA superlicence at the moment. With interest in F1 in the US on a high, is it something you’re quite proud about? Are you aware of this mass interest coming out of the States?

AR: I’m obviously quite proud of it, to be able to represent America in the paddock which is very scarce of Americans. Yes, absolutely. The interest in the States was very clear in Austin, and I think everyone was absolutely blown away and surprised by the turnout, how good it was and how much everyone enjoyed the race. So, for me, it was a big boost, because I find that maybe people are going to start recognizing this and recognizing what I’m doing. I think it’s positive, I think that there’s a long way to go. Obviously, America’s a big place and it’s difficult to penetrate, but I think Austin will be even bigger this year as well as New Jersey coming up next year. The pieces are slowly falling into place. The timing is quite good for me to be racing.

Have you had a chance to race around the Circuit of the Americas yet?

AR: I’ve driven round COTA, yeah, I actually drove in Jim Clark’s Lotus 49, which was amazing. The track is very cool. I mean, I’m biased, of course, but yeah, I really enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be looking forward to driving there.

The track at New Jersey is coming into place and getting together. Have you had a look at the layout and what are your thoughts on it?

AR: I actually drove the layout in a mini-van in 2012. It’s mental. If that’s the layout that’s actually going to get approved and signed off by the FIA, that’s cool, because it is incredibly quick and there’s a lot of elevation, and it’s a street course. I mean it reminded me a bit of Macau to be honest. If it gets produced the way it’s thought of right now, it will be amazing.

Would it be one of your favorite circuits?

AR: I think so, yeah. Imagine Monza on the city streets!

If you could race with any American driver, past or present, from any series, who would it be and why?

AR: (long pause) Woah! Well done, I’ve never been asked that before! (long pause) Can I do past and present? Present, I would love to race with Conor [Daly], solely because I never have. His goal has always been F1, my goal has always been F1, he took the American route for a bit, I took the European route but now we’re both here on the same weekends and such. The thing is that we have never been able to race on track and I think it would be quite cool to have two Americans in a European junior formula. To be able to just compete against him would be great. Past, I’m going to be cliched and just say Mario [Andretti] solely because he was most recognized American in F1 and to be able to see where I kind of compare with him. We’ve both been young, we’ve both been in a similar car but it would be very cool to see how I match up against who is considered to be the most successful American in F1.

You said that Conor went through the American route. Why did you go through the European route then? Was it quite difficult doing that considering that NASCAR and IndyCar are so popular in the US?

AR: It wasn’t difficult because since I was 9 or 10 years old my goal was Formula One and I knew in order to get to F1 you had to be on a European radar and you had to be doing things in Europe. Winning things in America would mean nothing to Europeans, so that’s why I got over here as soon as I could and I’m very happy that I did. It’s gotten us into the position that we are now. I think Conor will be successful, it’s just two different approaches of doing it. His way seems to be working for him and my way seems to be working for me.

With the new regulations for next season, the Young Drivers’ Test has been scrapped which you have partaken in before. How valuable was that test to you and how do you think it will harm other young drivers by losing that test?

AR: It’s incredibly valuable solely because when else does a young driver get to drive an F1 car? So, even if it’s one day, it’s something, and F1 is such a big world and so much more involved that any other category in the world, so to be able to be in the car even for a half day, even for a 90 minute FP1, you’re going to gain something, you’re going to pick up something to help you when you’re in a racing environment. For young drivers to have yet another experience taken away from them is difficult, but you know, at the end of the day it’s the same for everyone and I think teams will find ways to give young drivers experience because they’re going to have to be in F1 cars at some point. I think teams see the value of giving them some track time.

From the current F1 calendar, what is your favorite corner on any of the circuits?

AR: Swimming Pool at Monaco.

Most people I have asked so far have just said ‘Eau Rouge’!

AR: The thing about Eau Rouge is that it’s cool the first time you do it, but the second, third, fourth, fifth time it’s not… I would imagine, I’ve never driven it when it was a ‘proper corner’, in the sense that it was almost flat but not quite, but now it’s every lap flat, easy, without much issue. But the Swimming Pool is not every lap flat and it’s not easy and if you get it wrong it’s going to be a big one.

Who is your tip for the world championship this season?

AR: As much as it pains me to say it, Sebastian [Vettel]. Saying that, no disrespect to him or Red Bull but I think all of us would love to see Lewis or Fernando or someone else have the championship but hats off to them for what they’re doing. We haven’t seen anything like that since Ferrari and Michael.

F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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