Sunday’s United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, was a big week for not only the American driver of Alexander Rossi, but also for the Manor Marussia F1 Team.
Finishing twelfth following a high-attrition rate on Sunday, the result equalled the team’s best finish of the season by Roberto Merhi at the British Grand Prix. The result also brought Rossi and the team their first lead-lap finish of the struggling team’s season.
In one of the biggest weekends of the season for Formula 1, 24-year-old Rossi approached the weekend with a boost in morale and charge of determination to make his third F1 start a memorable one at home.
“To be here at home means a big deal,” Rossi said during Thursday’s FIA press conference. “But at the same time, we have a job to do and clear objectives to meet.
“I’m looking forward to it. There’s a lot of friends and family that will be coming this weekend but, I think, once you get in the car and on track, you appreciate the fact that there’s a bigger picture.”
During the conference, when asked about a way to open American excitement into F1, Rossi believed accessibility is what the sport is missing most.
“From an American perspective,” Rossi said, “I think that the excitement level needs to be there. But beyond that I think the accessibility. Obviously in motorsports, it is something that’s quite difficult to get into. I think the biggest thing is kind of a clear direction of where to go, I think that’s the thing that’s missing the most.
“I think once that happens, it will appeal to a much broader mass.”
Manor Marussia team fashioned the rear wing of his #53 machine with the Stars & Stripes in preparation for the weekend’s action. Unfortunately, the vivid livery would prove to be the only bright spot on Friday and Saturday at COTA as torrential rain devastated both days’ practice and qualifying sessions.
Despite the weather, Rossi turned his opening laps on the circuit, delivering a best time of 2:01:154. The result finished him in 18th spot and 0.753 second ahead of teammate Will Stevens. Similarly, final practice ended 18th for Rossi and ahead of Stevens; this time by 0.229 seconds.
Qualifying was under unusual circumstances as a postponement due to weather moved it from Saturday to Sunday morning of the race. The track conditions showed in Rossi’s times as he finished 18th in the session with just a 2:04:176.
Starting alongside Stevens, the two made contact in the first turn as Williams driver Felipe Massa spun sideways across the corner.
“There was a Williams car that had a bit of an issue,” Rossi said. “[Stevens] was on the outside of it and I was on the inside, so he cut back to the inside and there was two cars in the same spot. We both had damage and that was it.”
An early pit stop followed for Rossi as Stevens dropped out of the race at the end of the opening lap.
The attrition rate at COTA ran high and wild as one by one, mechanical issues or on-track accidents took out some of the strongest contenders of 2015.
Valtteri Bottas, Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa, Kimi Räikkönen and Daniil Kvyat were among the retirees, elevating Rossi up the running order.
He even found himself running in the points for a short moment.
“When you see P10 on the pit board and you know we’re getting toward the end of the race,” Rossi said. “You want it really bad.”
A highlight for Rossi during the 56-lap event was battling Sauber’s Felipe Nasr for position – a team that has scored 11 times for 36 total points in 2015.
“I was fighting with Felipe Nasr for about three or four laps,” Rossi reflected. “We were overtaking each other back and fourth. So it’s nice to actually race a car.”
Although losing the battle to Nasr, Rossi officially came home in twelfth place, ending a special weekend on a strong and healthy note.
“I thought we could maybe pull something off,” Rossi said, referring to a points finish, “but in the end we were missing some significant pace. It matters, for sure [laughs]. But nonetheless, good result for the team. It’s a shame about Will, but it’s a very positive end to a great weekend.”
The American fans came out mighty and tough this weekend. Rossi did the local crowd proud by staying out of trouble and gaining precious on-track experience toward two more races in 2015 and a hopeful full-time seat for 2016 and beyond.
“It’s been an amazing weekend,” he concluded. “I’m just so proud to be here and thankful to be here. In the end, it was a great show for the fans on the Sunday. It was a difficult weekend because of the weather but I think the reception was positive all around. Hopefully we can carry this momentum forward.”
Images via XPB Images