Though he left behind his dream of a Formula One career a while ago (and happily found a home in IndyCar), one ride still piques the curiosity of Alexander Rossi – enough to playfully inquire about the interim opening at Mercedes to replace Lewis Hamilton last weekend.
During the Dec. 3 episode of his “Off Track” podcast with co-host James Hinchcliffe, Rossi revealed he jokingly had suggested his plausible candidacy to Mercedes AMG team principal and CEO Toto Wolff.
“To be honest, I did text Toto,” Rossi said with a chuckle. “Because it would be dumb not to. Did I get a response? No.” (UPDATE: In the Dec. 10 episode of “Off Track”, Rossi said he did receive a text reply (including a “winking face” emoji) on a new number from Wolff, who apparently had been told about this story.)
Explaining that he had texted “a hand-raised emoji,” Rossi said his credentials (aside from five F1 starts in 2015 and seven IndyCar victories, including the 2016 Indianapolis 500) were obvious for the Sakhir Grand Prix, which was won by Sergio Perez at the Bahrain International Circuit.
“I’ve raced at Bahrain like nine times,” Rossi said.
Hinchcliffe noted none of those starts likely came on the shorter, outer course used in Sunday’s race.
“That is irrelevant, James,” Rossi deadpanned. “I’ve been to Bahrain like 11 times if you count ‘The Amazing Race.’ ”
After working his way through European ladder series, Rossi had a star-crossed experience as the most recent American to race in F1 before joining the NTT IndyCar Series full time in 2016. He since has become a perennial Indy 500 and series title contender who has said he is committed to being an IndyCar lifer.
For the record, the Andretti Autosport driver highly approved of Mercedes’ choice for Hamilton’s seat, which Rossi called “the greatest opportunity in all of motorsports, probably ever.”
“I think there is only one person who should get that chance: George Russell,” Rossi said.
Racing for the ailing Hamilton (after the seven-time champion tested positive for COVID-19), Russell led 59 of 87 laps after starting second at Bahrain.
His shot at a breakthrough F1 victory was foiled only by a botched pit stop by Mercedes and a late tire puncture while chasing down Perez. Wolff said Russell will race the car again in the season finale Sunday at Abu Dhabi if Hamilton is unable to return this weekend.
It was the capper to an eventful week in F1. Hinchcliffe and Rossi spent much of the podcast waxing insightfully about Romain Grosjean’s miraculous escape from the fireball crash on the opening lap of the Bahrain GP a week earlier.
“As much as everybody that contributed over the last 30 to 40 years to safety in Formula One — and the creation of carbon tubs, the HANS device, the halo and fireproof everything, all those people obviously deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their combined efforts — but 50% of the appreciation or credit for Romain Grosjean’s life being spared goes to Romain Grosjean,” said Hinchcliffe, who survived his own brush with death in an Indy 500 practice crash five years ago. “For how that guy in that fight or flight moment had the wherewithal while completely engulfed in flames to take off his headrest, remove the steering wheel, unbuckle his seat belts, unplug his radio and get out of the side of the halo.
“He had to climb out a part of the car he’s never had to climb out before (while) wearing a HANS device, wearing a helmet. While on fire. I can not even fathom how difficult that would have been. Obviously, he was highly motivated but still. The fact he had the wherewithal to do it and did it as quickly as he did. And after just having suffered a massive impact as well. He just had a massive 50G hit and then had to do all that instantaneously.”
Said Rossi: “At the end of the day, it’s amazing, and we’re all very blessed that Romain is OK, and he’s fine. He’s going to get back in a race car at some point in time. And hell, he might even come IndyCar racing, that would be cool.
“It obviously shows as much as people can take F1 guys who are no longer racing F1 coming to IndyCar as a slap in the face, that’s completely the wrong way to look at it. Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsports. It always has been, it always will be. But there are guys who still love what IndyCar has to offer. They’re not coming here for the money. They’re not coming here to go to glorious locations all the time. They’re coming here because at the age of 6, 10, 12, 15, they fell in love with competing. They fell in love with racing, and they know IndyCar offers that.”
The “Off Track” episode, which also features a thick riff on Rossi’s savant-like knowledge on the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols and roster rules, can be heard by clicking on the embed below or downloading the episode wherever you get podcasts.