“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou race, I will watch: thy team shall be my team.” Ok, it’s not an exact quote, but a paraphrase. Close enough.
Alexander Rossi, winner of this year’s historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, driver for the Bryan Herta Autosport/Andretti Autosport coalition team in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and reserve driver for the Manor Racing team in Formula 1, has options for 2017. He has lots of options! The big question is which one will he chose?
[See image gallery at www.formula1blog.com] His 2016 season racing IndyCars has been successful, to say the least. He has scored four top-10 finishes with one win, and a huge win at that. He’s also the highest scoring rookie in the championship at the moment, 76 points ahead of the next closest rookie, Conor Daly. He’s also the second highest ranking Andretti Autosport driver in the championship standings behind Carlos Munoz. As well as his rookie year has gone in IndyCar, his career has been spent in pursuit of a Formula 1 seat. He spent his early years in the various karting and junior formula series in Europe up to and including racing in GP2 for Caterham Racing.
Now, as the young hot shoe looks to 2017, his options for driving a racing machine are abundant. This is a welcome and uncommon situation for young and veteran drivers alike in today motorsport climate. The potential options for the young Mr. Rossi are to either continue racing IndyCars or to race in Formula 1. Many would look at that decision tree, IndyCar or Formula 1, and think that it should be a slam dunk, but as always in life, things are not quite that clear cut.
Alexander Rossi has a good relationship now with Bryan Herta, with the Andretti Autosport Team, and through them Honda. The other advantage to racing in IndyCar is the greater opportunity to be competitive and challenge for podiums and race wins. In a recent article on Eurosport, Rossi mentioned the competitiveness throughout the IndyCar grid as an attraction to the sport.
“There are options in IndyCar that I can’t elaborate on, but I can say Andretti and I have a great working relationship.
“Everyone at Andretti is aligned and working in good faith to extend our deal for several years.
“There’s a sense of loyalty to Michael [Andretti], his team and Honda.
“As a driver there are some really good opportunities here and the competition is fantastic.” — Alexander Rossi, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport/Andretti Autosport
It’s interesting that he mentions other options in the IndyCar realm. Certainly, his current partnership has been working well, but could he also be courting AJ Foyt Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, or Ed Carpenter Racing? Jack Hawksworth has not had a great season, and after a lackluster 2015, Super Tex may be looking for a more promising talent for his No. 41 car. A similar situation exist at ECR where Spencer Pigot, who was very strong at every step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder program, has significantly underperformed relative to expectations. The Rahal team is currently only fielding one car, the No. 15 Steak-n-Shake car for Graham Rahal, but the team has the gear to run a second car and has done in the past.
On the Formula 1 side, Manor is the obviously front runner to field Rossi, and it could even happen for the final six races of this year’s championship. As Todd mentioned in his recent article, While the world focuses on Rio, I’m focused on another Rio, Indonesian driver Rio Haryanto is struggling to find the cash to fun the rest of his 2016 season at Manor. As the reserve driver for Manor, Alexander Rossi is on the short list of drivers to assume that seat should Rio not be able to fill it.
Rossi has a committment to Andretti and Herta through the end of the IndyCar season, but that leaves available to compete in the remainder of the Formula 1 schedule beginning with the Malaysian Grand Prix. This is a similar situation in which Rossi found himself last year, as he drove a Formula 1 racing machine in competitive anger for the first time on the streets of Singapore replacing the underfunded Roberto Merhi. During his five races at the end of 2015, he finished ahead of his teammate Will Stevens four times and coming tantalizingly close to the points with a twelfth-place finish in the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.
Manor may not be the only Formula 1 option for Rossi, however. Although no teams have been mentioned, he did tell Motorsport.com and others that he has been talking to others. The potential team that comes to my mind is Sauber. Both Sauber and Manor are desperate for cash and would welcome the talented Rossi, especially if there’s a sponsor’s check in the offering.
The question facing Rossi now is which to chose? Staying in IndyCar next year, he could be competitive and challenge for podiums and race wins, but it would effectively close the door to Formula 1 for good. Alternately, he could run in the back of the Formula 1 grid with Manor or Sauber in hopes of attracting the attention of one of the more competitive teams for future seasons. If a Formula 1 career doesn’t pan out and ends prematurely, there will always be a seat open in IndyCar for a former Formula 1 driver with a personal sponsorship check, even at the age of 30. Even as a life-long IndyCar fan, it would seem to be that if the total package is right, then a move back to Formula 1, even in an uncompetitive ride, would be the smartest long-term move. I’d love to see Rossi stay and do well in IndyCar, but if he chooses that path, forever will it dominate his destiny.