Alexander Rossi sent Mercedes’ Toto Wolff an amusing message on Lewis Hamilton opening

Alexander Rossi Mercedes Hamilton
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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.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”