Op-Ed: USF1 ~ one down, one to go..who will be next?

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USF1’s announcement this week that they have acquired the talents of Argentinian driver Jose Maria Lopez was certainly big and good news for the team and its fans. But the elemental question that inevitably remains is; who is going to be the second driver?

There are two schools of thought I have on this. Let’s look at what I call the Veteran Option first:

Veteran Option:

USF1 would benefit from the acquisition of a talented and skilled veteran in their 2nd car. The team is designing the car from a white piece of paper and working on a limited, if not anemic, budget by F1 standards.

Testing time is very limited and the team will need all the feedback they can get as fast and accurately as they can get it. Simple changes for a team this small will be big issues and expensive propositions so they have little time to just “try” things. They need laser-accurate feedback for car development from a veteran who has shown themselves as an expert car development driver.

Is Lopez that guy? Is USF1 considering Lopez their “veteran” car development guy as he was a test driver for Renault in 2006? It would be interesting to hear Renault’s take on how effective Lopez was as a tester/development driver wouldn’t it?

The major hurdle for this option is the cost. Veterans, historically, are paid drivers. USF1 doesn’t have the capital to hire a Nick Heidfeld, Alex Wurz, Christian Klien or Anthony Davidson. The biggest question mark for the “Veteran Option” is this: is there a veteran out there (like Pedro de la Rosa) who has the distinct position of being a talented development guy with the backing of sponsors?

If USF1 could find a veteran who has sponsor money behind them to help offset the cost and supplement USF1’s operation; this would be ideal for the team.

Rookie Option

USF1 would be more apt to seek the services of a rookie or paying driver as they could eliminate the driver expense and bring much-needed operating capital to the team. The rookie is a development driver for the program and could be nurtured, molded and developed into their star driver if the pace and talent is there.

Is Lopez this guy? He was a test driver for Renault and has been in and around F1 so is he, at 26 years-old, that much of a greenhorn? Lopez is a rookie to the grid but not the series.

The other issue that has been mentioned is that American drivers all suffer from a super license issue as most of them do not possess the needed credential to participate in the series. Names like Summerton, Rahal, Daly, Merz and others are all interesting opportunities but lack the needed credentials to hit the ground running in 30 days.

Can that be remedied by the FIA such as was the case with Red Bull Racing’s Brendan Hartley or Sauber’s Kimi Raikkonen? That remains to be seen but I suspect the young Americans, as evidenced by Jonathan Summerton’s tweets on Twitter, are struggling for sponsor interest and dollars as well.

So which option is it? Is there a third or fourth option available to them? In my estimation, they will need a paying driver regardless if he is a veteran or rookie. While the list of paying rookies is larger than expected; the list of paying veterans is not. Who could that be? Who do you think fits the bill and why? The presence of sponsor dollars is what made de la Rosa so attractive to Sauber…is there another Pedro out there?

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