Herbie-inspired Rossi catches F1 bug


Alexander Rossi said he was hoping to secure a permanent seat in Formula One after becoming the sport’s first American driver in eight years at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Rossi, who chose racing number 53 for his car in honour of the “Herbie” films, has just five grands prix to make his case after being drafted in by British back-markers Manor.

The 23-year-old debutant escaped a high-speed collision with the barriers in first free practice before outpacing Manor team-mate Will Stevens in the second session late on Friday.

“I’ve got five races to show what I’m capable of,” Rossi told AFP at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, describing a permanent seat as his “ultimate goal”.

“It’s a difficult situation considering we’re a bit off the pace of the other cars, so it’s not about beating the other cars, it’s about showing what I can do against my team.”

Rossi only found out on Tuesday that he would replace Roberto Merhi for five of the year’s last seven races, and was rushed out to Singapore on the next available flight.

He will skip Russia and the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi to return to the GP2 championship, where he is second in the standings.

F1 hasn’t had an American competitor since Toro Rosso’s Scott Speed in 1997, and it was a tough start for Rossi when he knocked both right wheels askew in his first run-out.

But he recovered ably to time quicker than Stevens in the second session, avoiding bottom place by finishing 19th out of the 20 cars.

“At the end of the day it’s just something that happens,” Rossi said of his crash. “But all in all I got in the car and I was quite comfortable, and my pace compared to my team-mate was fine.”

The Californian has already made an impression with his homage to Herbie, the self-driving VW Beetle star of comedy films including “The Love Bug” and “Herbie Goes Bananas”.

“Actually my original (race number) choice, 16, was taken as a Red Bull reserve number so I thought I’d go to an American icon,” he said. “Growing up I watched it a lot.”