For all of Argentina’s outstanding historical past in Formula 1, it has now been 20 years for the reason that nation was final represented on the grid courtesy of unremarkable ex-Minardi and Prost driver Gaston Mazzacane. But had the formidable USF1 crew received off the bottom in 2010, the baton would have been taken up by Toyota’s newly-minted Le Mans 24 Hours winner Jose Maria Lopez.
A driver touted by Autosport in 2004 as a darkish horse to grow to be the primary rookie Formula 3000 champion since Jorg Muller in 1996, Renault-backed Lopez had risen rapidly by way of the junior ranks and had already examined for the Renault and Minardi F1 groups earlier than his twenty first birthday.
Signing for Coloni off-shoot CMS, he set the quickest lap on his F3000 debut at Imola earlier than crashing out of third place and ended the yr with two podiums to his identify. But the change from F3000 Lola on Avon slicks to GP2 Dallara on grooved Bridgestones for 2005 damage his momentum and whereas fellow Renault junior Heikki Kovalainen jumped to the pinnacle of the queue for an F1 seat, Lopez was dropped.
Facing obvious profession oblivion in Argentina, Lopez rapidly discovered the abilities to outlive within the tough and tumble of touring automotive racing and received back-to-back titles within the nationwide TC 2000 collection in 2008-09 – opening an unlikely path to F1.
The addition of three new groups to the grid for 2010 created alternatives for drivers on the fringes to get a foot within the door, and the formidable USF1 crew co-founded by Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor confirmed an curiosity.
With the assistance of late Argentine F1 legend Carlos Reutemann, a well-connected senior politician, Lopez succeeded in elevating the price range for a seat and all seemed rosy.
Lopez, pictured with Giancarlo Minardi in 2004, had shut ties with Renault till he was lower free on the finish of 2006
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“Sometimes a call was much more important than having a budget because he has such a great reputation everywhere,” says Lopez of Reutemann. “He called Bernie [Ecclestone] I remember, he helped us also with Peter Windsor so it was very important. We met the President, everything was set.”
But Lopez was saved at the hours of darkness over the quite a few points that will preclude the crew from becoming a member of the grid till February, and admits he “missed a few things” whereas he centered on the “quite complicated” enterprise of holding native sponsors joyful.
“It would have been a very hard year for me. I’m sure that there would have been many races that we would not be able to even be out of the garage probably, so I think at the end, it was better that way” Jose Maria Lopez
Although he did attempt to take the sponsorship elsewhere, funds had already been dedicated to USF1 that it obstinately held onto past the purpose that he might have moderately approached one other outfit.
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“We realised very late, they knew before for sure,” says Lopez. “Somehow they kept us until the end. We tried with other teams that were joining the series but it was already too late.”
Lopez maintains that his profession wasn’t damage by affiliation with the failed crew, however explains the most important price was in his lack of profession momentum – having to exit contracts with essentially the most skilled squads in Argentina to take up the choice with USF1, solely to search out himself with nothing in March 2010.
“I had to tell all the teams I was involved in I couldn’t continue, so I had to break all my contracts in Argentina and then had to start from zero again,” he says. “All the teams that I was in, they were the best teams, so all of them didn’t have a seat anymore and I had to start from scratch. I wasn’t in the same cars and it took a bit for me to try to get back again the nice things I had in Argentina.”
USF1’s Peter Windsor and Lopez meet former Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
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After toiling to get again right into a title-winning automotive and claiming a 3rd TC2000 crown in 2012, a profitable one-off look within the World Touring Car Championship yielded a seat with Citroen for 2014, and three titles on the spin.
Once once more he was a person in demand, scoring two podiums in 33 Formula E begins for Virgin and Dragon, and becoming a member of Toyota’s LMP1 WEC squad for 2017 – claiming his fourth world drivers title within the 2019-20 World Endurance Championship.
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Le Mans success had famously eluded Lopez and his team-mates Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, however after a number of agonising near-misses the trio put it proper in 2021. In doing so, Lopez grow to be solely his nation’s second-ever Le Mans winner, and the primary since Jose Froilan Gonzalez in 1954.
His subsequent success means Lopez takes a philosophical strategy when contemplating what may need been had USF1 by some means made it onto the F1 grid. Having been accustomed to profitable most weeks in Argentina, he believes folks “would have expected me to do the same in F1”.
“People sometimes they don’t really understand the potential of the cars,” he says, “and after I take a look at what the brand new groups did that yr, it will have been a really exhausting yr for me. I’m positive that there would have been many races that we might not have the ability to even be out of the storage in all probability, so I feel on the finish, it was higher that manner.
“I wish to suppose that issues occur for a cause. Even if I didn’t get to Formula 1, I can’t actually complain about my profession. I’ve achieved way more than I’ve dreamed of.
“It was a little bit of a disappointment it didn’t occur and in the best way it occurred, there have been many issues we didn’t know on the time. But for me it will be a lot worse to know that I had the chance and I didn’t attempt.
“In the end, I did everything I could to be in F1 and it didn’t happen, but I still achieved four world titles out of F1. The only thing we missed was the seat at the end, but I don’t regret it, honestly.”
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 – Hybrid Hypercar, Jose Maria Lopez
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