The Long Journey To F1 For Alex Rossi Finally Paying Off

The Singapore Grand Prix was notable for many reasons. The brief end of the AMG Mercedes dominance of F1 2015. The impressively dominant victory for Sebastien Vettel and Ferrari. The brief invasion of the track by an F1 fan. It was not notable because it was the debut for Alex Rossi. Yet for everyone that knows or is a fan of his, this marked a huge milestone in the young American’s racing career. This also marked the culmination of the long road he has been subjected too to reach F1.

Alex Rossi started out like every other child with a burning passion for motorsport. In go-karting. After honing his craft over a number of years, Rossi began to garner interest in his talents after the American IKF Grand National Karting champion for the 100cc Yamaha class in 2015, age 14. He was also amazingly a top five finisher in the nationwide American Red Bull talent search, from over 2,000 of the best young American drivers hoping to be the next Phil Hill or Mario Andretti.

For 2006 Rossi stepped up to car racing with the renowned Skip Barber Racing School, earning a scholarship that he turned into third overall in the nationwide series, becoming the youngest winner in series history at age 14. He also managed to win the off-shoot Skip Barber Western Regional Championship.

Not content to hang around, Rossi moved on to the Formula BMW USA series, a young proving ground for the top North American single seater drivers dreaming of Formula One. His rookie year was a successful one with three wins and five podiums propelling him to a highly respectable third in the final drivers championship.

For 2008 Rossi remained in the series, joining the respected European outfit Eurointernational. What followed was a year of total dominance, as Rossi waltzed to the title with ten wins from fifteen races. He also showed his talents to the F1 paddock by winning one of the two races supporting the Canadian Grand Prix. Even better was to follow at the season ending support races for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Rossi took both pole positions, fastest laps and race victories that weekend. Utter Dominance is the only word to describe his performance that weekend.

Even better was to come later in the year, as Rossi won the end of year Formula BMW World finals at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. The end of year was created to be an end of year shootout amongst the best drivers from the various worldwide Formula BMW series. His prize for winning the race was a test with the BMW-Sauber F1 team alongside Formula BMW Europe champion Esteban Gutierrez.

Alex Rossi gets his first taste of F1 with a prize test for the BMW-Sauber team in December 2009. Photo copyright BMW.

For 2009 at age 18 Rossi made the bold but logical step of moving to Europe, choosing to join the British Hitech Racing in the Formula Master series.Neither a mid-season switch to the Czech ISR team or learning the European circuits or racing culture could deter Rossi from showing his skills. Three wins meant Rossi would finish the year fourth in the final drivers standings, and he was the highest placed rookie.

His year finished in the best possible fashion with his prize test for BMW-Sauber at the end of year young driver test at Jerez. The test ran in late November and Rossi was able to complete 82 laps across the day, even ending the morning session top of the times.

Enhancing his upward career progression was his step up to the GP2 Asia series for the winter of 2009/10. The series was an Asian based off-season series for drivers looking to compete in GP2 for the following year. Rossi stamped his authority with an impressive charge to fourth from thirteenth on the grid in his opening race. As change of teams for the second failed to derail him as he finished the mini-series ninth overall.

The only negative for the young American at this time was the folding of the ambitious new USF1 team. They were scheduled to join the F1 grid in 2010, and had contracted Rossi as their test and reserve driver. But with the team folding he was left to continue rising the single seater ranks, hoping to reach F1 a few years later.

Having established himself in Europe, Rossi moved to the newly inaugurated GP3 series for 2010. The series was created as a feeder category for GP2, itself the prominent feeder category to F1. Rossi joined the prestigious ART GP team, and acquitted himself well in the new category. He won on the opening weekend at Catalunya, and at the Hungaroring in front of the F1 paddocks. He would finish the year fourth in the standings.

For 2011 Rossi was moving again, this time stepping up to the Renault World Series, a category known for competing with GP2 as the premier F1 feeder category. He joined the prominent British Fortec team, preceding to shock the paddock with victory in his first ever race of the series in Aragon, Spain. A further win at Paul Richard and further four podiums left him third in the final standings. It’s also notable that he beat Daniel Ricciardo and current Porsche factory LMP1 driver Brendan Hartley this year.

Alex Rossi in action for Fortec at a wet Nurburgring circuit in Germany. Photo sourced from Wikipedia.

In March 2012 it appeared that Rossi’s impressive results were finally being recognized in F1. Rossi was announced as the Caterham test driver alongside Geido Van Der Garde. This link with the Caterham team also meant he joined the new Arden Caterham team for the 2012 Renault World Series season.

2012 would prove to be a hugely frustrating year for Rossi. He quickly went from pre-season title contender to also ran in the highly competitive Renault World Series, eventually finishing eleventh in the final points with his new team. His only bright spot that year was a third in the prestigious support race for the Monaco Grand Prix. His F1 chances were not seriously enhanced also, as he only drove the Caterham F1 car in one practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix all year.

2013 was promised to be a bounce back year for the 21 year old, as he moved across to GP2 with the new Caterham racing team. Missing the first round in Malaysia would prove to be an omen for the kind of season Rossi would have, as the team struggled to adjust to GP2. Rossi finished the year with one win in Abu Dhabi and three further podiums. These results went a little way to saving a season where he finished ninth in the final standings.

F1 was once again a luxury for Rossi, as he only drove the car in two practice sessions supporting both the Canadian and American Grand Prix’s. These drives seemed purely a publicity stunt for a beleaguered Caterham team, who suffered throughout 2013 at the hands of fellow minnow’s Marussia.

Rossi in action for the new Caterham GP2 team in 2013. It would prove to be a frustrating year for the American. Photo sourced from GP2fanatic.wordpress.com

For 2014 it seemed there was little on offer for Rossi other than remain with Caterham, although his early season form in GP2 was poor.  With only two points finishes from ten races Rossi was left out on a limb when it was announced in June that Caterham team principal Tony Fernandes was selling the team to a European-Middle East consortium. With only one practice session outing once again in Canada, Rossi chose to also leave the team and pursue his own opportunities for the rest of the year.

After spending several years linked with the Caterham team, his future looked uncertain going forward. Rossi was able to pick up a one-race deal with the Campos Racing team to remain in GP2 for the German Grand Prix weekend, with a best result of seventh showing potential. Unfortunately for the American this would prove to be his last outing of the year in GP2.

Salvation for Rossi was announced soon after from the Marussia team, who announced in late July he was to join the team as their reserve driver for the remainder of the season. Whilst this seemed a sideways move for Rossi, it was announced only a month later that Rossi would be making his long awaited Formula One debut at the Belgian Grand Prix in late August.

Rossi in action for Marussia during opening free practice for the Belgian GP. His F1 debut would be short lived. Copyright Marussia.

Only a month on from seemingly the end of his F1 ambitions and now he was set to make his debut for Marussia. Unfortunately, in typical unlucky fashion the contract dispute between Marussia and Max Chilton was swiftly resolved, keeping Rossi on the sidelines after taking part in free practice one. This was especially cruel for the American, who would have been ecstatic to make his F1 debut, yet it was ripped away from him on the Friday afternoon of the weekend.

From here Rossi sat on the sidelines until terrible circumstances seemed to give him another chance at his F1 debut. Lead Marussia driver Jules Bianchi was severely injured in an accident competing in the Japanese Grand Prix, and for the subsequent Russian Grand Prix Rossi was announced as his stand-in. Once again fate snatched his debut away from him after Marussia announced out of respect for Bianchi to only run one car in Russia.

His difficult year was completed when Marussia went into administration after the Russian Grand Prix, leaving Rossi out of a drive for the second time that year because of a team folding. This was a year where Rossi seemingly could do nothing right and his F1 chances looked very slim indeed.

Over the winter Rossi strongly considered switching his attention back to his homeland and switching to the Indycar series, where he would of had a strong chance of attaining a decent drive for 2015. After several very difficult years his stock in Europe was seriously depleted, however he decided to give Europe one last chance to show his talents and make inroads on an F1 drive.

He decided to return to GP2 for a third consecutive year, with the Spanish Racing Engineering team. Unsurprisingly he was not mentioned as a pre-season title contender, yet with a strong team behind him he began to show impressive consistency in the early portion of the season. A string of podiums culminated in his first win of the year in Belgium, and has since won two of the last four races in Monza and Sochi.

Rossi in action for Racing Engineering in a revitalizing 2015 season for him. Photo copyright of Motorsport.com

Whilst more favoured title contenders failed to impress, Rossi has proved himself the only man to take a challenge to big pre-season favourite Stoffel Vandoorne. He kept the McLaren junior driver honest right up until Vandoorne sealed the title in Sochi. Rossi can take consolation with a clear second in the points, but better was to come for the American.

With speculation mounting about the future of Manor driver Roberto Merhi, it was quickly announced on the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix that Alex Rossi would finally be making his F1 debut. This time there were not twists of fate, and aside from a free practice incident he impressed on his debut weekend.

His lost track time in free practice meant he qualified last, half a second off team mate Will Stevens. In the race it was a different story however as he passed Stevens and finished ahead of him in 14th on his debut. Whilst he may not have made headlines, he at least impressed the team with his drive.

Rossi once again qualified last on an emotional weekend for the resurrected Manor team, one year on from the terrible accident that eventually claimed the life of Jules Bianchi. Once again in the race Rossi overhauled Stevens to finish 18th in another solid outing for him. Merhi returned in Russia, leaving Rossi free to return for his home Grand Prix in America.

Alex Rossi in action for Manor during the Japanese GP weekend. He finished above his team mate once again. Photo copyright Motorsport.com .

Using the support of the crowd he out qualified Stevens for the first time, using this as a springboard to come home the last finisher in 12th come the race. With Stevens retiring mid-race he once again had beaten him in now every race. At the most recent Grand Prix in Mexico, Rossi was able to repeat his trick of out-qualifying and finishing in front of team mate Stevens. So far in four grand prix’s Rossi has out-qualified team mate Will Stevens twice and finished ahead of him in all four races.

Rossi has been slowly gathering interest from the F1 paddock with every passing weekend, as he has consistently showed he can impress in F1. Whilst he only has one more race in the car this year, Rossi is putting himself in with a great chance of retaining his Manor drive full time next year. With Manor receiving Mercedes engines and Williams gearboxes for next year, the team will be looking for a chance to move up the grid from their back marker status.

For Rossi, should he keep his Manor drive for next year, that would be an incredible exciting opportunity for the American to finally show his talents in a good F1 car. From a personal perspective I can’t think of another young driver more deserving of that opportunity than Rossi, who has been on the fringes of F1 for far too long when his talent should had merited him a place on the grid several years ago.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let me know in the comments box below and thank you for reading.

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