Who Will Carry the Flag?

Given the spirit of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ that has taken the world by storm, and factoring in the United States’ involvement in such, much talk has recently centered-in on who will next carry the Stars and Stripes in world’s second-most popular sport, Formula 1. This discussion has recently seen a bit of a boost in relevance considering the fact that lauded-NASCAR team owner, Gene Haas, is currently scheduled to compete with his own Formula 1 operation in the 2016 campaign. Following this news, Haas has noted that he wants an experienced driver in his first car, and hopefully, a talented American in the second, according to Autoweek’s Mike Larson. So taking all of this into account, who could be some of the “top prospects” if Gene Haas were to have his way? Who could be the next to carry the American flag into Formula 1? Let’s take a look…

Alexander Rossi in the Caterham Renault – Courtesy of LAT Photography

To begin, let’s discuss the obvious choice to fill Haas’ second seat: Alexander Rossi. Aged twenty-two years old from Auburn, California, Alexander did not waste much time on his way to currently serving as the reserve driver for the Caterham Formula 1 Team. Winning the Formula BMW World Championship at the age of sixteen, he was then awarded a test with the BMW Sauber Formula 1 Team. He then made the move across the Atlantic in 2009, and has not looked back since. Moving up the ranks of Formula 1’s minor leagues, he scored two GP3 Series victories in 2010 (Circuit de Catalunya & the Hungaroring) and one GP2 Series victory, occurring just last season at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Another choice that does not appear to be all that far off could be the likeness of Conor Daly. Also at the age of twenty-two, and the son of former Formula One and Champ Car competitor, Derek Daly, Conor has been competing on both sides of the pond since winning seven races en-route to his 2010 Star Mazda driver’s championship victory. Getting his start in the GP3 Series with Carlin Motorsport in 2011, Conor then continued in the GP3 Series in 2012 with the Lotus GP3 team, capturing his first victory at the Circuit de Catalunya. Conor then made the jump to compete in two GP2 Series races in 2013, while winning at the Valencia Street Circuit with the ART Grand Prix team in the GP3 Series, en-route to a 3rd-place driver’s championship finish. Conor also competed with A.J. Foyt Enterprises at the 2013 Indianapolis 500, and is currently running a full-time schedule in the GP2 Series with the Venezuela GP Lazarus team.

So now let’s move to a few of the wild cards. First-off, Danica Patrick’s name has been mentioned in some circles to fill Haas’ second Formula 1 seat, and she does in-fact currently compete full-time for Haas’ NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. Most people are counting her out of this equation for the sake of competitiveness. However, she does come from an open-wheel racing background, having moved to Milton Keynes, England at the young age of sixteen to compete against the likes of current Formula 1 driver, Jenson Button. Danica then finished third in the Toyota Atlantic Championship stateside in 2004, and made the jump to race full-time in the Indy Racing League with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2005. Danica nabbed her first pole position that same season at Kansas Speedway, not too long after finishing the Indianapolis 500 in 4th-place, the highest-ever finish for a female driver in the event at the time. In 2008, Danica became the first female driver to win an IndyCar Series race, winning the Indy Japan 300 with Andretti Green Racing, before joining forces with GoDaddy.com to serve as her primary sponsor, in 2010. And this is the one thing that Danica does bring to the table: sponsorship dollars from the hungry, global technology player of GoDaddy.com.

Ryan Hunter-Reay after winning the 2014 Indianapolis 500 – Courtesy of Getty Images
Ryan Hunter-Reay after winning the 2014 Indianapolis 500 –
Courtesy of Getty Images

The next driver is a wild card because of his abilities – Verizon IndyCar Series star, Ryan Hunter-Reay. He has been involved on the American open-wheel racing scene since 2000, first competing in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in 2000 and 2001. After a string of interesting seasons on the Champ Car World Series front, Ryan first joined the Indy Racing League with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2007. In just six races with the team that season, he recorded three top-10 finishes, while capturing his first Indy Racing League victory at the Camping World Watkins Glen Grand Prix the following season. Since then, Ryan has re-written American open-wheel racing history, driving for Andretti Autosport and capturing ten victories, including the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and the 2012 IndyCar Series driver’s championship. Why is he a wild card to fill Haas’ second Formula 1 seat you ask? As he stated following his 2014 Indianapolis 500 victory, he is “a proud American boy, that’s for sure,” and he seems quite content in his current state.

For the last of the wild cards, look no further than Marco Andretti. Need I say more to validate his racing credentials based upon his last name? Well I must say just a bit more in an attempt to validate his racing credentials from a results perspective. At age twenty-seven, Marco has been competing in the IndyCar Series since 2006, and on most weekends where the IndyCar Series finds themselves on an oval, there are none faster than Marco. He’s finished second at the Indianapolis 500 and has two IndyCar Series victories under his belt. Now in-search of the consistency factor, he isn’t all that far off, as he posted a career-best 5th-place finish in the 2013 IndyCar Series driver’s championship standings. So why must we mention him in this conversation? Both his grandfather (who was very successful in Formula 1) and his father have tried their hand at Formula 1, and he has participated in two separate Honda Racing F1 testing sessions at Jerez, Spain, in 2006 & 2007 respectively. And finally, with Andretti Autosport jumping into the all-electric Formula E series, could this be the perfect segue?

Finally, I’ve teed-up two “ultra” wild cards. But then again, in the world of Gene Haas, is anything ever ruled-out of question until he has the final say? How about considering either Kurt Busch or Tony Stewart for the second seat at the Haas Formula operation? Both currently race for Haas’ NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team, of which Tony Stewart co-owns. Both drivers have at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver’s championship to their name, and both have competed in an IndyCar Series-sanctioned event. Kurt, as recently as the 2014 Indianapolis 500 (his only IndyCar Series start, of which he finished sixth), and Tony, as recently as the 2001 Indianapolis 500, in addition to having won three career IndyCar Series races along with having captured the 1997 IndyCar Series driver’s championship. Finally, Tony also had himself quite a blast tooling Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 machine around the Watkins Glen International circuit in 2011.

Well there you have it: two individuals I consider to be top candidates for Haas’ second seat at his new Formula 1 team. Three individuals I consider wild cards because of various circumstances. And two more individuals that it would just be all too fun considering either making the transition to Formula 1’s global scene. Will any of the seven discussed actually receive a call or knock on the door from Mr. Haas? One can only speculate, as it cannot yet be determined what the new team boss is actually thinking, no matter what us media-folk report. But at the very least, any of the above highly-successful racing drivers would carry the American flag quite well, while filling Haas Formula’s second Formula 1 seat.