Wanted: American driver that won’t embarrass F1

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Does the act of “not ruling out” something from contention make it newsworthy? Apparently it does these days as the mainstream media have latched on to NBC’s interview of Gene Haas during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend.

NBC’s Leigh Diffey asked Haas if Danica Patrick would be the right person for the seat in his new Formula 1 team and Gene said that it remains to be seen although it would be nice. The body language and tone didn’t seem very convincing but that doesn’t matter, it’s a dream story so everyone is running with it.

Today’s interview at AUTOSPORT is the very reason this non-event news story won’t happen and why I find the newsworthy justification of “not ruling it out” as a weak justification to get headlines.

Haas Formula will reserve the first seat for a veteran already in F1 and that means no American. The second seat would ideally be for an American but there is a caveat here as he said:

“Seat number one is going to obviously be taken by an existing F1 driver that has experience with the current engine package and chassis,” he said. “And then position two is open.

“It would be great if we could put [an American] in there – it would just be the home run: an American team with an American driver in a European series. That would be phenomenal.

“But we’re very flexible on that. Realistically, the number one thing is to make sure we don’t embarrass the sport, we arrive prepared and ready to race.

“We don’t want to run around at the back forever. We want to be able to start these races and improve every race we go to.”

While Danica may be a huge media-grabbing headline, it would wear off rather quickly just as it has in NASCAR and what would remain when the dust cloud settled is performance and results. Gene isn’t interested in embarrassing the sport and to be honest, Danica doesn’t have the chops to run with Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso or—depending on who gets the 1st seat at Haas Formula—her teammate.

I have little time for tropes, media pandering or wars between sexes. What I am more interested in is seeing is a seat for some of the American drivers who have worked their tails off trying to get into European series racing such as Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly and others that have a legitimate chance of building a career. Danica is a headline and very little else.

If this were earlier in her career, it may make more sense but she’s 32-years-old and people are already suggesting Fernando Alonso (32) is close to retiring, not just starting his career. I guess we can worship youth in F1 unless you happen to be a female and then age has no bearing at all? Simona de Silvestro is 25-years-old and that makes a little more sense to me that we could see her in a Sauber seat but Danica at Haas Formula makes very little sense beyond selling t-shirts and magazines.

Wait a minute, she could do well in F1 and what if she did throw down some really good performances and hang with the top drivers? Okay, to what end? At 32, are you building a career and mentoring a young, American driver under the tutelage of a veteran in seat #1 for the long term? No.

So what if she did okay? That doesn’t gain Haas Formula anything for the long term. Too much money is on the line to pander to fans that feel the time is ripe for a female in F1. We’re already buckling at the knees over the whole pay-driver scenario and now we want to put females in cars so they can run in F1 for the mere sake of having females in F1 or is there a merit, performance and skill factor that we still believe to be important to the series?

You could argue that she would do no worse than Pastor Maldonado and I would agree with you but I doubt she would bring Haas Formula $20 million for the privilege of driving the car so that dog don’t hunt.

The bigger question, beyond the novelty and pandering issues of a Danica ride in F1, is really this—who out there has the chops, drive, youth and current understanding of European open0wheel series racing that could be a good driver and not an embarrassment to F1 or Haas Formula? Would Rossi or Daly be a good fit? How about Chavez or Ferrucci or is there someone else that has your eye?

The other side of the coin is whose contract would be up in 2016 and would be willing to drive as the veteran? Button, JEV, Perez, Massa, Raikkonen? Anyone? Who comes to mind? And don’t say Danica Patrick…for crying out loud! Let it go! She’s fine in NASCAR.

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