Having had his dream of finally making his grand prix debut in F1 2010 shattered by the débâcle
that became of USF1, José María López has reflected that the whole situation was 'embarrassing' and hugely 'disappointing' – but insists he has not yet given up hope of finding a spot in the field for 2011.
More than three years on from his last involvement in the top flight as Renault F1 test driver, back in January López was announced as the first of the North Carolina-based operation's two drivers for its maiden campaign of competition at the highest level – and what would ordinarily have come as quite a surprise given that the 27-year-old had spent the preceding three seasons racing with a roof over his head in touring cars in his homeland after the money had run out to continue his European adventure, in fact raised few eyebrows given the utterly shambolic nature of the rest of the USF1 project.
When it became apparent not long afterwards that there was not nearly enough financial wherewithal to enable USF1 to fulfil its promise of joining the grid this year, however, López was left high-and-dry – and he admits he is unsure whether he will ever again see the $8 million in sponsorship money that he had taken with him to help secure the seat.
“At the time I felt terrible,” the Argentine told SPEED.com
. “I was lucky to have the opportunity, but the way that everything went put me and the people working with me in an embarrassing situation. They met the [Argentine] president, they promised us everything. All the time we were asking if they will make it. All the time they would say, 'no problem – we're going to make it'.
“They said we were going to be at the first race, and they didn't make it [at] all. It was disappointing, because while I didn't spend too much time with the team, I built a little bit of a relationship with everybody there. I think at the end of the day they could have told us the truth before. They knew that they were not going to make it, but they kept saying to us they could do it, and we trusted them. They didn't tell us the truth.”
After subsequent eleventh-hour talks with Campos – now Hispania – ultimately came to nought, López returned to Argentina and the TC2000 touring car series, but together with his manager Victor Rosso he travelled to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix just over a week ago to have meetings with Renault, Williams, Sauber, Lotus, Virgin and HRT as he endeavours to find a berth for 2011.
“We still have some support,” stressed the former GP2 Series race-winner. “There are still a lot of people who want me to race in F1. Today we don't have too many [possibilities], but we keep trying because it helped us last year. Even if we didn't make it we managed to have a lot of contact with people, with a lot of teams. Some teams know we are around, so we'll see. There's nothing today that we can say it's 50 or 80 or 90 per cent [likely].”
Meanwhile, it is reported that fellow GP2 Series race-winner Sergio Pérez is being courted by Virgin, attracted by the 20-year-old Mexican's backing from telecommunications giant Telmex, whose ultra-wealthy CEO and chairman Carlos Slim was spotted at Silverstone where the Barwa Addax ace triumphed in the sprint outing, his second victory of the campaign to-date and one that consolidated his fourth spot in the drivers' standings.
With Timo Glock understood to be looking elsewhere for 2011 as Virgin's performance and reliability woes continue, it seems Pérez could be in-line to take his place, having previously been linked to the newcomers late last year and benefitting from the support of countryman and highly-respected long-time former McLaren co-ordinator Jo Ramirez.