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American Rossi To Make F1 Debut

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 19 2015
Alexander Rossi is set to make his first F1 start this weekend. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Grand Prix)

Alexander Rossi is set to make his first F1 start this weekend. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Grand Prix)

Alexander Rossi’s overdue Formula One debut was of the baby-step variety Friday, as the American logged a combined 27 laps during two practices for the Singapore Airlines Grand Prix after crashing-out of the first session.

Manor Marussia F1 Team announced Wednesday from its headquarters in Banbury, U.K., that it had signed the native of Auburn, Calif., to drive in five of the final seven events of the 2015 FIA F1 World Championship season in place of Roberto Merhi. Rossi will join Will Stevens at Singapore, Japan, the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, and the Mexican and Brazilian rounds.

Rossi, who will turn 24 on Friday, is the first American to compete in F1 since fellow-Californian Scott Speed drove for Scuderia Toro Rosso in the 2007 European Grand Prix.

Rossi is second in GP2 Series points with three races remaining in a season highlighted by victories at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Italy’s Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Racing Engineering’s No. 8 car. Merhi, of Spain, reportedly will stay with the team for the two races that conflict with Rossi’s GP2 schedule. Merhi will join Fabio Leimer as an official reserve driver, although Merhi will drive in Sochi and at Yas Marina.

NBCSN will air qualifying from Singapore live at 1:30 a.m. (EDT) Sunday, with a repeat at 6 a.m. Sunday’s 61-lap race, also televised live by NBCSN at 7:30 a.m. (EDT), is Round 13 of the 19-event schedule that will visit COTA for the fourth time Oct. 23-25.

“I’m very thankful to race for the Manor Marussia F1 Team and for their continued belief in me,” Rossi said when his promotion was confirmed.”I’ve been prepared for this opportunity for quite a while now. Many will know from 2014 that the team and I already have a strong relationship and there’s a bit of unfinished business for me here.”

A former reserve driver for Caterham, Rossi served in a reserve driver role for Manor last summer and was scheduled to make his F1 debut at Spa in late August in place of Max Chilton. But when the Englishman’s contractual differences with the team were resolved, he returned to the seat after Rossi had driven in the opening Friday practice.

“This is a small F1 team that has been through so much,” said Rossi, referring to Marussia’s struggle to retain sponsorship since entering F1 in 2010. “They exemplify passion and true strength of character, and their comeback this season is extraordinary. I’m honored to be part of this legacy and their continued growth and success.”

That said, Rossi and Stevens occupied the bottom of the time sheet during Friday’s opening free practice before Rossi crashed into the Turn 18 barrier near the end of the 90-minute session. His No. 53 Ferrari-powered MR03B sustained extensive right-side damage. Rossi logged 18 laps around the 5.065-kilometer/23-turn Marina Bay Circuit with a best of 1-minute, 53.918-seconds, placing him 20th on the grid and 5.923-seconds behind Nico Rosberg (1:47.995-seconds) of Mercedes.

Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull Racing paced the second practice Friday evening _ the first time this season that a session was led by a car other than a Mercedes or a Ferrari. Kvyat’s best time of 1:46.142-seconds placed him 0.039-seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in third.

Rossi entered the session in his repaired car with 20 minutes remaining and managed to better teammate Stevens’ best lap at 1:56.739-seconds, placing the American 19th on the grid. Ironically, the session was barely six minutes old when Stevens crashed in Turn 11, briefly bringing out the red flag and ending the Englishman’s day in 20th and last at 1:59.932-seconds. Rossi’s time was a staggering 10.597-seconds behind Kvyat’s.

Prior to Friday’s results, Manor team principal John Booth voiced his support for Rossi.

“We are delighted to sign Alexander as race driver,” said Booth, whose team has logged a single best finish of ninth during its F1 tenure. “He is widely regarded as a driver who is on the cusp of an exciting F1 career and his current form in the GP2 Series has done much to reinforce his clear potential. With that in mind, we are pleased to support his current GP2 commitments while he continues to battle for the championship win; therefore he will race in five of the seven remaining Grands Prix this season, with Roberto contesting Russia and Abu Dhabi for us.

“Signing Alexander is a continuation of our proud record of providing young drivers with the opportunity to showcase their talents. We believe he will do a great job and look forward to seeing him race for the first time this weekend in Singapore. It is also fantastic news for the sport that it will have an American driver again, particularly with the United States Grand Prix on our horizon and now races in Mexico and Brazil. I know Alexander is very excited about that and we look forward to providing him with the opportunity to show the American public what he can do.”

The only American to currently hold an FIA Super License, Rossi reportedly was on the short list of driver candidates for American-based Haas F1 Team’s series debut in 2016. However, team owner Gene Haas _ whose North Carolina-based organization has a technical partnership with Scuderia Ferrari _ ruled out the signing of any American driver earlier this month.

American drivers largely remain a curiosity in Formula One. Speed’s appearance as test driver for Red Bull Racing at the 2005 Canadian Grand Prix marked him as the first American to participate in an F1 event since Michael Andretti’s ill-fated fulltime stint with Team McLaren in 1993. Speed, who made his F1 race debut with Toro Rosso at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix, logged 28 F1 starts without scoring a point.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 19 2015
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