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Late Deal Aborts Rossi’s F1 Debut

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 22 2014

Alexander Rossi will provide an American presence in the Grand Prix of Belgium. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Grand Prix)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

American Alexander Rossi’s Formula One debut weekend with Marussia began and ended with Free Practice 1 for the Shell Belgian Grand Prix Friday, after the team hurriedly resolved its contract issue with Max Chilton.

Marussia reinstated Chilton for Round 12 of the FIA World Championship at Spa-Francorchamps one day after announcing native Californian Rossi would get the drive. Rossi participated in FP1 and turned a lap in 1-minute, 57.232-seconds around the 19-turn/7.004-kilometer/4.4-mile circuit to place 20th overall in the Ferrari-powered MR03 chassis.

Chilton took over during FP2 and turned a best lap of 1:54.040 to place 18th while teammate Jules Bianchi posted a lap of 1:52.776 to place 16th during a session topped by Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in 1:49.189 and teammate/championship leader Nico Rosberg in 1:49.793.

Marussia formally applied to change its nominated driver from Rossi to Chilton Friday morning and the request was approved by race stewards, clearing the way for the Englishman to make his 31st Grand Prix start on Sunday. Marussia also requested that Rossi, a 22-year-old native of Auburn, Calif., remain in the car for FP1 and stewards approved.

“The main point for me today is to reiterate my thanks to the Marussia F1 Team for the chance to drive the MR03 for the first time,” Rossi said on the F1 website. “Obviously, it’s disappointing not to race but then I was not aware of the opportunity prior to coming here anyway, so it went away almost as quickly as it arrived.”

The only American to currently hold an FIA Super License, Rossi said he was informed of Chilton’s return at the end of the first practice. “Of course it was (a surprise), but at the end of the day there is nothing you can do about it so there is no point complaining or anything,” Rossi said. “That’s the way it goes and we will be back very soon.”

Rossi added the session definitely served to boost his profile throughout a paddock that has not seen participation by an American driver since Scott Speed in 2007. “It not only gave America and the F1 fan base a bit of confidence in the fact that I can make it, but it gave me the confidence, too,” Rossi said. “Coming to this team and being here for such a short period of time, the fact that they showed faith in me when necessary went a long way. Beyond all this, the biggest emotion I have is gratitude I am here and that I am involved with these people.”

Rossi joined the British-based team as a reserve driver on July 24 after serving as a reserve/test driver with the Caterham team. He was poised to become the first American to compete in an F1 race since fellow-Californian Speed drove for Scuderia Toro Rosso in the 2007 European Grand Prix.

“I’m a racing driver, so obviously opportunities to race are welcome. But equally I am part of this team now and I’m here to do whatever is required of me, and that means taking the rough with the smooth,” Rossi said. “So switching to the positives, I really enjoyed my first free practice session. I felt very comfortable in the car and I’m pleased with my performance considering I have never driven the MR03 prior to today.

“I got up to speed quite quickly and although this is early days, I hope I have demonstrated to the team what I can contribute. They seem pleased with my progress and feedback and I look forward to my next FP1 opportunity.”

John Booth, Marussia team principal, indicated that Rossi had posted solid grades.

“All credit to Alexander, who has conducted himself really well today, on and off-track,” Booth said. ”I have been following Alexander since his early junior formula days and I’m proud to have him in our car and on our team. Alexander acquitted himself incredibly well to the MR03 and its systems. Despite a few system glitches that held back his overall lap time, he had a very good practice session and helped the team prepare for FP2.

“I have huge respect for him and he’s done a tremendous job. It’s not the first time he’s been in a Formula One car and it certainly won’t be his last. That I am sure.”

That sentiment was echoed by engineer Dave Greenwood during Friday’s weekly news conference for team representatives. “Well, clearly we had quite a lot going on (Thursday) as a team and I’m quite proud of the way we handled it and the guys in the garage have ultimately been very professional and got on with everything thrown at them during the course of yesterday and today,” Greenwood said. “They’ve done a fantastic job.

“In terms of the drivers, all three have done a good job. Alex’s first run out in FP1 went quite well for him. We subsequently had a few issues on the car in between the two sessions, which probably hampered him a little bit in terms of his overall performance. But he got right in touch with where the problems were and gave good feedback. From that point, overall it’s been a good day and credit to all three drivers and the team for dealing with what we’ve been thrown at.”

Chilton said he was relieved to return to the cockpit to focus on the remainder of the weekend, which includes a third practice and qualifying on Saturday. “It was a positive afternoon session for me, picking up the program from Alex, who ran this morning and did a good job,” Chilton said. ”The car feels better with the changes we have made and I’m sure we can continue to improve the package into (Saturday) and have a good race on Sunday, hopefully achieving a strong two-car finish for the team.”

Booth classified the session as positive despite confusion created by the last-minute driver switcheroo. “We brought some upgrades that we tested on the seven-post rig before the (summer) break and these represent the first re-optimization of the car without the linked suspension system,” Booth said. “These developments reflect a lot of hard work by our Vehicle Performance Group back at the factory and it is very pleasing to see that effort rewarded by a clear improvement in the car. Both drivers are happy with the balance, particularly Jules, and the time sheets clearly demonstrate our performance step.”

Live TV coverage of qualifying will be carried by NBCSN from 12:30 to 2 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday with race coverage scheduled from 7:30 to 10 a.m. (EDT) Sunday.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 22 2014
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