Alexander Rossi of Maruissa F-1. Courtesy of @alexanderossi

Max Chilton’s loss is Alexander Rossi’s gain

 

After nearly dropping out of Formula One in July Alexander Rossi will get his first start in the big show this Sunday at the storied Spa-Francorchamps.

Rossi, a long-term development driver for the Caterham F-1 Team, was quietly kicked from his program in August. Now it appears that, “Contractual issues,” – read Max Chilton’s check had issues – will see Rossi subbing for Chilton. It will be the first start for an American in Formula One since Scott Speed retired from the European Grand Prix in the summer of 2007.

Marussia Team Principal John Booth said in a press release they never intended to let Rossi run this year.

“Although it was not our intention to offer Alexander the possibility to race this season, in light of the circumstances we are pleased to be providing him with the opportunity to make his Grand Prix debut at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Franchorchamps. Naturally we hope to resume normal service with respect to our established race driver line-up as soon as possible, but for now we wish Alexander well for the weekend ahead and we look forward to seeing him in action.”

Rossi lost his GP2 ride in July when a group of still undisclosed investors bought Caterham and brought in several new young drivers, young drivers I would think probably carried a check with them. Rossi then signed with Marussia as a test driver and GP2 squad Campos Racing in July.

This situation was probably brewing for a while, and back in July Rossi posted a cryptic tweet that hinted of changes at Maurissa.

Drivers being dropped for “Contractual issues,” is nothing new in open wheel racing. Most drivers in Formula One, and open wheel in general, bring at least some money to their teams. I don’t follow the European ladder series that much, but I remember in 2007 when Oriol Servia subbed for Tristan Gommendy at Surfer’s Paradise because of “unresolved business issues.”

I would think that Rossi is bringing some cash to the deal, but it’s probably less than Chilton was paying on a per-race basis.

The deal comes at a good time for Rossi, Spa is actually one of his best tracks. Rossi finished second in the GP3 sprint race in 2010 and third in GP2 last year. Marussia hasn’t been horrid this year either. Ferrari development driver Jules Bianchi scored points at Monaco and they’ve been reliably faster than Caterham. While it will be Rossi’s first race in an F-1 machine he tested for Caterham twice at Montreal and once in Valencia. Rossi also participated in young driver tests at Jerez, Silverstone, and Abu Dhabi, He is the only American to hold the FIA Superlicense that is a requirement to compete in Formula One.

How long Rossi remains in the seat will probably depend on how stable his financial backing turns out, in my opinion. Obviously there is some pressure to have an American driver in United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, but that’s five races and three months away. Only time will tell if Rossi will get a longer shot, but if he impresses in his first start, or earns a point or two, it could be the first of many to come.

The Belgian Grand Prix is Sunday, Aug. 24 at  7:30 a.m. Eastern time, and will be broadcast on NBCSports

Tags: Alexander Rossi Belgian Grand Prix Formula One Spa-Francorchamps

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