America’s last F1 competitor, Scott Speed, turns 27 today.
A protégé of the Red Bull Driving Academy, Speed’s path to F1 was fast-tracked by the drinks giant’s desire to field an American in F1 to bolster its Stateside market. Having battled colitis during his childhood, Speed took the German and European Formula Renault titles in 2004, and finished a distant third in the 2005 GP2 championship with four podium finishes.
Having acted as Red Bull’s test driver in the 2005 Canadian and US GPs, Speed’s 28-race F1 career was spent with Toro Rosso, debuting in the 2006 season. He looked to have scored his, and the team’s first point at the third round in Australia, but was penalised 25 seconds for overtaking under yellow flags, and hit with a $5000 fine for abusive language to David Coulthard at the post-race stewards hearing.
He qualified a (then) career-high 13th at his home race in Indianapolis, only to be taken out at the first corner by the accident triggered by Juan Pablo Montoya – his disappointment was tempered further when his team-mate, Vitantonio Liuzzi, scored the team’s first point with a drive to 8th.
Speed was the last driver to be confirmed on the 2007 grid, and was (many felt, reluctantly) re-signed by Toro Rosso alongside Liuzzi. Aside from a fighting drive to 9th at the Monaco GP, the early half of Speed’s 2007 season was blighted by retirements and accidents – most notably two separate and very clumsy collisions with Williams’ Alexander Wurz.
Speed’s career came to a crashing halt at the wet European GP where, after aquaplaning off at Turn 1, he was allegedly involved in a physical altercation with Team Principal Franz Tost. After telling anyone who would listen in the press corps that the team was out to sack him, Toro Rosso promptly did, and replaced him with Sebastian Vettel. The rest, as they say, is history.
Speed ventured back over the Atlantic to the wonderful world of NASCAR, and has since earned 5 wins (combined) in the 2008 ARCA RE/MAX and Craftsman Truck championships of 2008. His brash personality has fitted in well with that market, although his reputation for irritating others in the paddock and the media remains to this day. F1 certainly did not miss him.