The Rossi Effect: How an American hitting the grid has boosted F1 in the States

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In this joint feature, lead MotorSportsTalk writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno consider the impact that American driver Alexander Rossi’s arrival in Formula 1 has had on the sport as a whole, and also in helping to crack the U.S. market.

Luke Smith: The USA has traditionally been Formula 1’s ‘problem market’. Despite hosting 44 world championship Grands Prix and even having World Champions Phil Hill and Mario Andretti, America and F1 have never quite clicked as many would have liked.

Ever since the return of the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, though, a great deal has changed. This year’s race will be the fourth event at the Circuit of The Americas, and an American team is set to arrive on the grid in 2016 in the form of Haas F1 Team.

But an American driver is arguably the most important part of the puzzle so far.

As Tony will expand on later, Alexander Rossi is not your ‘average’ American F1 driver. He didn’t work his way up the ranks towards IndyCar and get a chance to switch to F1. At a young age, he had the dream of being an F1 driver, bravely working his way up the European ladder.

This weekend, he will finally realize his dream of (quite literally) racing with the star-spangled banner on his car at his home Grand Prix. The importance of this moment really cannot and should not be understated.

Rossi’s arrival makes an important statement about America’s standing within F1. It proves that the sport is not simply a fleeting interest, but instead something that is here to stay. COTA’s success and Haas’ arrival are both big factors in this, of course, but in Rossi, American fans finally have a driver to get behind and cheer on.

As impressive as COTA and Haas are, when trying to stir up interest in the sport and get others curious about grand prix racing, there can be little more convincing than talking about the success of an American – and Rossi’s story is one of success.

He may not have obliterated GP2 like Stoffel Vandoorne or stepped into an F1 car just two years after leaving karts like Max Verstappen, but Rossi has beaten the odds as an American, who perhaps ordinarily would have been expected to aspire to become an IndyCar or NASCAR driver when he was a kid.

To make his feat all the more impressive, some of his most important racing years would have come when F1’s status in the USA was at a low ebb. Rossi made the move over to Europe for the 2008 season, just one year after the Grand Prix at Indianapolis had its last running; a time when it was believed that F1 just could not work in America.

To have risen up through the ranks in light of this only make his achievements all the more impressive.

So as well as helping to debunk the myth that F1 could not work in the USA – which many could still have argued had he moved into IndyCar for 2015 as originally planned – Rossi is also helping to conjure up interest in the sport for new fans.

As I wrote yesterday about Lewis Hamilton, by doing simple things such as appearing on TV shows and news items, he is speaking to a whole new audience. The same is true for Rossi, who had a whirlwind media schedule in the lead up to the Austin weekend – an American driver in the US GP gives serious traction to the race.

Rossi wrote in his NBC Sports blog earlier this week that his push for a seat with Manor in 2016 was going well, and ensuring that his F1 career is more than a five-race sojourn is crucial. Haas may have overlooked him for the time being, but with Romain Grosjean a Ferrari target for 2017, opportunities remain on the horizon. Staying in the picture with Manor would certainly aid any future push for a seat.

F1 may still have much to do in its drive to crack America. Haas needs to prove itself on-track, COTA needs to defend itself after the arrival of Mexico, and Rossi has just two races under his belt thus far.

However, more and more progress is being made, and arguably, things have never been better for the sport in the USA.

Tony DiZinno: The thing that’s different to me about Alexander Rossi compared to Scott Speed and Michael Andretti, the two only other American Formula 1 drivers in the last 25 years, is the fact he has unquestionably wanted the distinction for years – and he’s not gone to F1 either for marketing reasons or to test his luck in another championship.

Andretti, of course, made it to F1 in 1993 two years after winning his only CART championship in 1991. And he entered into a largely untenable situation. With McLaren, he had a customer Ford engine program and only one of the best drivers of all-time – Ayrton Senna – as his teammate. He’d spent the year commuting between the U.S. and Europe and had more valleys than peaks. At least he’d ended on a high note, with a podium in Monza before then-test driver Mika Hakkinen took over for the final few Grands Prix of the year.

It took another 13 years before Speed finally made it to a race seat. Speed was the result of the Red Bull Driver Search – a targeted program designed at getting a young American driver back into Formula 1 – and his timing was good only because Red Bull had taken on another team. Scuderia Toro Rosso was born from the remnants of Minardi, and its arrival gave Red Bull a place to essentially “stash” two of its young drivers, in Speed and Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Yet that plan was flawed, too. So began the internal Red Bull F1 pipeline, and if you didn’t cut it at Toro Rosso, you didn’t move up. Speed’s F1 career ended – like Andretti’s 14 years earlier – prior to the end of the 2007 season and with another future World Champion replacing him, in the form of a then-20-year-old wunderkind named Sebastian Vettel. Vettel won Toro Rosso’s first and only Grand Prix at Monza, ahead of Red Bull mind you, a year later, and repeated the “first” with Red Bull at China in 2009.

Coincidentally, Speed now drives for Andretti’s Red Bull Global Rallycross program, in a Volkswagen Beetle, some eight years on after a journey through stock cars and a quick detour for a handful of FIA Formula E races.

It’s left Rossi – a promising young American who started on these shores, won a Formula BMW title in 2008, then focused fully on pursuing his F1 dreams – as America’s brightest, primary young hope. And he’s doing so, in a Beetle-inspired No. 53 car paying tribute to Herbie the Lovebug.

It’s left him and his supporters more determined to make it, and the fact they have, without a major company such as Red Bull behind him, or without the name and cachet of an Andretti going into a top team such as McLaren, speaks volumes of their resolve, their dedication and their tenacity.

Rossi’s run through World Series by Renault, GP3 and GP2, with a couple sports car endurance races sprinkled in, has been occasionally circuitous. He’s not necessarily had the best team or equipment at his disposal, but he’s frequently persevered.

He stood on the precipice of his Grand Prix race debut multiple times in 2014, only to see it snatched away by precarious and highly abnormal circumstances. He’d looked towards IndyCar, and this isn’t a slight on IndyCar, but his moving Stateside for 2015 would have likely, permanently, ended his F1 dreams after a six-year pursuit.

It was only thanks to Racing Engineering – a GP2 championship-winning team only two years ago with Fabio Leimer – making the reach out to Rossi that his European dream endured, while his American fans continued the hope, continued the support as he continued to close on his F1 race debut.

From just seeing at the fourth annual Buxton Big Time Bash last night, Rossi has the fan support needed to succeed in F1, even if he doesn’t yet have all the budget sorted for a full season.

First off, he’s making his debut with Manor Marussia – so there’s a perfect underdog story right there, which Americans seem to like. While Speed debuted at Toro Rosso, the fan passion wasn’t there as a more-or-less first year team, without the soul and history of Minardi. Coming in with the smallest team on the grid limits expectations to begin with, which allows Rossi to flourish.

Secondly, he’s got enough name recognition among F1 hardcores – if not the general U.S. audience, yet – to be well known for the last few years. As an example, my interest in GP2 and GP3 hasn’t been great the last few years; they’re series I don’t cover. But tell me that Rossi and Conor Daly are involved and you bet I’ll be paying attention.

And third, he’s got the right temperament. He’s got a very good personality, he’s smart, and also has an ability to understand how to say the right things in the right moment. What he would say on a FOX Business interview fits that business-focused demographic about how he and his family have had to work at for 10 years is different than what he’d say to our Will Buxton, whom he’s gotten to know very well coming through the F1 ladder, during filming for “Off the Grid.”

How much Rossi goes forward from here will be determined firstly by budget, secondly by continuity and thirdly by general widespread U.S. awareness. The key for him, undoubtedly, is to secure a full-time seat in 2016 to carry the momentum he’s building this year, which will come if he and his supporters find enough budget. Once those two elements are complete, it might allow the key U.S. constituents to be able to market and sell Rossi over the course of a year.

He’s not there yet from a true big-in-the-U.S. standpoint, but he’s closing on the true big-time.

Follow @LukeSmithF1
Follow @TonyDiZinno

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500