USF1's first signing José María López has revealed that his heroes in F1 are the men who have been some of its greatest champions – Michael Schumacher and the late Ayrton Senna and Juan-Manuel Fangio – and as he prepares to make his own bow in the top flight this year, the Argentine has admitted that he hopes he has 'picked up' a little bit from each of them.
Opinion is divided as to whether López is more likely to sink or swim in F1 2010, and indeed much will depend upon the health of his team, arguably the most precarious of the four newcomers regarding the chances of it actually making the starting grid for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in exactly six weeks' time.
His recruitment might have been ridiculed in some quarters given that the 26-year-old has spent the past three seasons – albeit highly successfully – plying his trade in tin-tops in his homeland after the funding ran out, but López does have single-seater pedigree from a brace of campaigns spent in the feeder GP2 Series in 2005 and 2006, tasting victory champagne for DAMS and ascending the podium on three occasions for Super Nova. Now, he is aiming to convert that form into similarly achieving respectability at the highest level of all.
“As a kid, I always tried to imitate people who have stood out,” the 24th Argentine to make it to F1 – and the first since the hapless Gaston Mazzacane was ejected from Prost Grand Prix in early 2001 – told Reuters
. “Fangio was one of the best. I was always impressed by the way he talked and expressed himself; you could see he was different, someone who marked an epoch in F1.
“Then came the era of Senna, who was very close to us [Argentines] as a Brazilian, a South American, with a very similar way of being to ours here. Schumacher marked the last era, and you pick up a bit of everything you see in those drivers.”
López was close to F1 before when he spent three years as a member of the Renault Driver Development (RDD) programme and a season as test driver for the French outfit, but ultimately nothing materialised of that opportunity. Now that a second, entirely unexpected chance has come his way, he makes it clear indeed that he has no intention whatsoever of squandering it.
Having signed a one-year deal with an option for a second, the Cordoba native has his tail up from back-to-back title successes in the Argentine touring car series TC 2000 – and whilst the radically-designed, Cosworth-powered USF1 'Type 1' challenger remains an unknown quantity until it hits the test track for the first time in the States in late February, in the meantime López is keeping himself sharp and preparing for an intense physical training regime in Austria next month.
“Three years ago when I returned from Europe I couldn't imagine getting this opportunity again,” he confessed. “I know how difficult it is to get into F1. Thank God the results and many other things came together. There are five new teams in F1 with more seats available. After a fantastic 2009 for me, which is very hard for anyone to repeat, if it wasn't [going to happen] this year it was going to be very difficult.
“I try to be calm. Although it's something that fills me with satisfaction knowing I'm going to spend a year with these people, I'm also aware of the responsibility of being in a Formula 1 car. The car should be ready between 20 and 25 February, and then we're going to test drive it in Alabama.
“I'm going to enjoy it a lot, but at the same time I'll [need to] be concentrated and at 100 per cent of my abilities to be able to do things well. It's difficult to set objectives because there are many new things – new driver, new team starting from zero. We must be patient and have confidence in the people working [on the car]. Today, the objective is to be ahead of the [other] new teams.”