There has not been an American driver on a Formula 1 grid since November 15, 2015, when Alexander Rossi lined up for the Brazilian Grand Prix in 17th place for Manor.
A final record of five starts, zero points and a best finish of 12th is scant reward for an entire junior career spent climbing to F1. On the other hand, that inability to secure a full-time seat led to Rossi being snapped up by Andretti to race in IndyCar, where he’s gone on to become one of the most recognizable names in racing in the United States.
So was the F1 disappointment a blessing in disguise?
“Hugely,” Rossi replies as soon as RACER suggests as much. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.
“At the time it was a really hard pill to swallow and very upsetting, but then when I got racing in IndyCar – way before the 500 – after St. Pete and the first race, even though it was the first time in my career I’ve legitimately gone a lap down because of pace, because we were just that bad, I left there and I was like, ‘That was actually awesome.’ I enjoyed driving a race car again, and I enjoyed being at the racetrack.
“It was great to be able to be introduced to IndyCar. It was a weird way that it happened, obviously, but it was a huge blessing and I’m very thankful that it all worked out the way that it did.”
Relaxing inside the Acura Team Penske transporter at Daytona during the Rolex 24 weekend, it’s easy to see why Rossi holds that view. He’s moonlighting as part of one of the biggest operations with one of the sport’s most famous teams, while he races full-time for another massive name in IndyCar.
Fernando Alonso’s exploits in driving multiple categories since leaving F1 have caught the eye of racing fans internationally, but there appears to be a shift in mentality from the younger generation to do similar, and it’s the United States that is facilitating it.
Rossi has arguably led the way in deviating from the day job. Since he last drove an IndyCar, he has raced a Supercar at Bathurst, an off-road truck in the Baja 1000 and now an Acura DPi in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“I don’t know that I can place it on one thing,” he says. “It’s just that these were opportunities that came, mostly through my relationship with Honda, and the fact that the IndyCar off-season is so long.
“So you end September 20, my team owner had a Supercar team, and he was like, ‘Would you be interested?’ ‘Yes!’ Honda has the off-road team, obviously HPD and Acura have the sports car program, so all of those kind of connections just allowed me to do it.
“It wasn’t something that I necessarily went and actively tried to put together, so it’s a hugely fortunate situation that it worked out that way. Now that I’ve gotten a taste of it in the past two years, it’s something that I want to make a regular occurrence of, and hopefully be able to – through that process – tick off the races and the race wins, and add it to the resume.
“But it wasn’t something that I was actively seeking because I had some passion that I wanted to fulfill, or wanted to emulate any racing driver. It was just kind of there, and I’m not going to say no to driving a race car.”
He might not have actively chased drives, but the opportunities came to Rossi because he had also shown an interest in branching out from just IndyCar after having seen how the F1 environment makes young drivers tunnel-visioned in their pursuit of a seat in the category.
“I feel like racing’s going through an interesting phase where team owners and sponsors are now more aware than ever that you have to do something to get the interest of fans,” Rossi says. “You have to do something that separates you from just, ‘I’m a racing driver and I race two times a month.’