Alexander Rossi was one phone call away from becoming an IndyCar driver. The young Californian, deep in negotiations with two different teams late in 2014, was primed and ready to return home and embark on a new career after years of flirting with Formula 1.
Had a few things gone differently for Rossi, the 24-year-old would be nearly two months into a long IndyCar off-season. And given the numerous relationships he’s built in the F1 paddock, it’s also likely he’d be on a plane to Texas for a weekend of catching up with old friends at the United States Grand Prix.
But that phone call never came, and with his formative efforts to join IndyCar having stalled, an unexpected invitation to drive GP2 team Racing Engineering served as a lifeline. A return to Europe for another crack at GP2 has netted three wins in F1’s top feeder series, a strong second-place in the GP2 championship, and positioned Rossi as a perfect fit to contest five rounds with the Manor Marussia F1 team.
Thanks to the door closing on IndyCar for 2015, Rossi will make his debut at Circuit of The Americas as the lone American in the grand prix field. Looking back on the circuitous path that made it all possible, Rossi reveals just how close he came to missing out on F1.
“From the end of October, early November 2014, I was pursuing an IndyCar possibility for this year,” Rossi told RACER. “It was something that we worked very hard on trying to make happen. We met with one, two, three, four different teams over that time period. At one point it looked like we were quite close to a deal.”
Rossi’s relationship with the Caterham F1 team suffered as the GP minnows faced significant financial woes as 2014 progressed. Limited F1 test driving opportunities, coupled with losing his GP2 drive halfway through the season, left Rossi with few reasons to believe his dream of racing in F1 would materialize.
“The reason that I shifted my focus to IndyCar was because I had a very difficult two and a half years in the European junior formulas with the Caterham program and the teams I was placed with,” he said. “In all honesty, after how my 2014 went, my options in Europe were slim.
“At the same time, IndyCar was very much on the rise. I think it still is in terms of the popularity and the racing and with the new aero packages. It was looking like a very attractive championship for me in 2015, so we put all of our focus into finding a drive.”
Rossi made multiple trips to Indianapolis to meet with teams like Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, where the second seat alongside James Hinchcliffe was available. He also traveled to Chicago to meet with Dale Coyne, who tweeted a photo (ABOVE) of Rossi sitting in a Dale Coyne Racing Dallara DW12-Honda next to Honda Performance Development vice president Steve Eriksen.
SPM would eventually sign GP2 graduate James Jakes to partner with Hinchcliffe, and DCR would rotate seven drivers through its pair of entries. Based on the limited results from those cars, it’s fair to say SPM and DCR – along with IndyCar – missed out on a driver who has seen his value soar in 2015.
“It was really disappointing, if I’m honest, because we were really serious about IndyCar and thought we had teams wanting to make it happen,” Rossi continued. “It wasn’t for a lack of trying, I know that, but things have worked out quite well since then. After about seven years over in Europe, we obviously had our ears to the floor, and one of the teams that I had tested with back in 2010, who I always tried to keep a good relationship with, was Racing Engineering. It was always a team that I wanted to drive for in my time in GP2.”
The decision to give Europe another try – to make one final push to break into F1 – was a risk that has paid off in every possible way.
“Racing Engineering called and made an offer for me to drive in GP2 at the same time we were coming to a crossroads with an IndyCar team, and it just felt like the right choice,” he said. “On top of that, my goal had always been Formula 1, and a certain part of me wanted to prove that I was capable of winning in GP2. The GP2 results that I had in the previous year and a half weren’t representative of me as a driver.
“So, when I had the opportunity to race for a championship-winning GP2 team, everything seemed to come together quite quickly, and it was very hard to turn down. That is why I made the decision to come back to Europe this year.”
Rossi says he wouldn’t rule out an IndyCar career at some point in the years ahead, but with the chance to secure second in the GP2 championship and three more F1 races on his calendar with Manor Marussia, landing a full-time F1 drive is his primary focus.
“Yeah, I have to be pretty happy with how everything has worked out so far, and we made the right choice to recommit to Europe,” he remarked. “It has been paying off, and I wouldn’t change a thing. IndyCar still interests me, but Formula 1 is where I want to stay.”