Op-Ed: Is Lopez the right choice for USF1?

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Is Jose Maria Lopez the right driver for USF1? Was there a better choice? I thought USF1 was going to be an all-American team with American drivers? Wouldn’t a seasoned F1 veteran like Wurz, Heidfeld, del la Rosa or Davidson be a better choice? Who is Lopez and what has he done to deserve a seat in F1? Isn’t it really boiling down to sponsor money?

USF1 team

Those are the kinds of questions that have been posed and emailed to me over the past few weeks. The resounding query and mild confusion over the driver USF1 selected today has been running through the F1 fan base like Ex-lax without the “excellent morning guaranteed” outcome.

I’ve held my tongue, for the most part, on issues such as these to actually see what USF1 did and who they hired before popping off at the mouth about it. Now that they have announced their new driver for 2010 as Jose Maria Lopez; let the popping off begin!

I have one simple question for all of the fans suffering serious consternation over the driver selection of USF1…WHO DID YOU EXPECT? Let’s get to reality:

USF1 is a new team attempting to do what has not been done for more than 40 years–build a US-based F1 team. It may have been done before but the amount of money being spent to be competitive in the 1960’s was not on par with what it takes to just field a car today. Inflation-corrected and technology-corrected I would like to think the two era’s do level somewhat but not perfectly. The technology and money being spent today is of obscene proportions. So much so that former FIA president and spank-gate instigator Max Mosley attempted to lure new teams to F1 with a draconian budget cap.

Lure he did and USF1 was hooked (that’s hooked, not hooker). At the helm is Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson and the first driver hired is Jose Maria Lopez. USF1 is biting off a large chunk of the logistics and financial crap sandwich and while it is attempting to pioneer an American-based, low-budget F1 team, it has found (logically) that it needs capital to sustain the resources it takes to compete in modern day F1.

In my book there is no harm in admitting that you need a paying driver. Truth be known, Campos, Sauber, Toro Rosso and other teams have the same need and have signed paying drivers. No one is raking them over the coals for hiring a driver with lots of sponsorship backing. It just seems USF1 is taking the piss as they are the silly team that claimed to be all-American and revolutionary to the F1 machine.

Fair enough, Windsor has written a few checks with his mouth that he hasn’t cashed with his arse yet but that is not to suggest that they won’t be successful in showing that an American-based team on a low budget can not only field a car in F1 but be proud of doing so in the process and garner fans and sponsors at the same time.

Ken Anderson said that running a team is a difficult proposition and that just when you think you have all the “I’s” dotted; something throws you a curve ball…I am seriously paraphrasing here and most likely taking him way out of context. The point I am trying to make is that it is not easy and all the planning in the world can only be half done if your plans are scuppered by unexpected issues or the plans are a little out of touch with the actual projected costs. It’s hard folks. Have you ever attempted to write a business plan and estimate your P&L or expense and revenue structure? I have done many and it is not an easy task I can tell you.

Having said that, it is understandable to me that they would pick Lopez if he has some sponsor backing. He is not a re-tread F1 guy with mental or physical baggage that he brings to the team. He is hungry for a shot at the series and doesn’t come with a Prima Donna attitude about deserving a shot and being given a better car. He is genuine, natural, hungry, willing and funded. That is not a bad combination for a fledgling team with limited resources.

Klien, Wurz, Davidson, Sato or Villeneuve may have been available but they are not paying drivers. Of the young paying drivers out there, Windsor saw something in Lopez (other than his cash) that he liked. Let’s give Windsor the benefit of the doubt in that he has always liked Lopez and how he has handled himself in and out of the car. I think we can afford the team that much grace.

In the end game, there is still one seat left. Perhaps a veteran or even another relatively unknown or less known driver like Lopez could fill that seat as well but ultimately folks it comes down to the money the team needs to continue. Apparently there is nothing wrong with paying drivers so long as it’s only done across the pond? That’s not right.

I am happy for USF1. They have hired their first driver and methodically moved forward with a limited (anemic by F1 terms) budget. They need the sponsors and resources to continue to make payroll, pay rent, capitalize their operation and succeed. That is no different than any other team in F1. Cash is king and drivers need to carry their weight. Everyone at USF1 is betting on the come. Salaries are most likely not above scale and drivers are certainly not beyond carrying their load of the burden of running an F1 team in a, for all intensive purposes, foreign land with a new low-cost model. I wish them all success and they can count on my support and the support of all of us here at F1B.

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