F1 ‘reserve’ driver wins 100th Indy 500

Formula 1 reserve driver Alexander Rossi has just won the 100th running of the Indy 500. It amazing enough to win the Indycar race but doing so on its 100th running and not even having a ride just a few months ago, well, that’s something completely different. It’s a bit like Lewis Hamilton winning the Monaco Grand Prix earlier today…winning the biggest race of the season is a big deal and both were won by F1 drivers.

Rossi left the US to seek his fortune in open-wheel racing in Europe and while he has been in GP2 and drove in Formula 1, he was relegated to a reserve driver role in the small Manor Racing team who are back markers in the series. He drove for the team briefly during the North and South American stint of the 2015 season only to lose the ride to Rio Haryanto for 2016.

The Indy 500 win shines a heavy light on the reality of pay drivers in F1. I would be hard pressed to suggest that Haryanto could have pulled off an Indy 500 win and yet talent alone is not what secures a ride in F1 due to the pay-driver format that has become so pervasive in motorsport these days. F1 is not alone in that, many drivers have had to buy their seat in Indycar as well. There is always someone willing to pay for the privilege of driving a race car.

Rossi did very well in 2015 given the performance of the car and he’s clearly a very talented driver as today’s fuel mileage win proves. I said at the time he was leading mid-race that he’s looking good and while I was slightly reprimanded for not admitting that he was out of sequence, I’ve been watching racing enough to know that being out of sequence can pay dividends later on and it did. So there, Delphic Oracle I am. Don’t ask me for lottery numbers, that’s a game for the mathematically ignorant.

Rossi Alexander Manor Racing 2016

Alexander isn’t the first F1 driver to cross over to the series and one that will always stick with me is when Jim Clark won the race the year of my birth. Alexander’s fortunes in F1 have been with the small teams which are volatile int eh best of times and with the implosion of Caterham and Marussia, his future was very uncertain at several points in his F1 career.

So what is the likelihood of Rossi getting a full ride in F1 now that he’s won the Indy 500? It still will come down to money but can today’s win garner new supporters for his F1 efforts? Many fans felt he should have been given the second seat at American F1 team, Haas F1, but that was handed to Mexican Esteban Gutierrez. Others feel Manor should capitulate and give him Haryanto’s seat.

I might argue that he could do far better in Indycar with Andretti Autosport and will have support from a good team and ownership. It may not be F1 but few make it to the level of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso but there is nothing wrong with a robust career in a terrific series like Indycar and what better way to announce your arrival than to win the 100th running of the Indy 500.