F1's only American driver insists that he is setting his sights on a return to the grid in 2016, despite his position with the Manor team being in doubt as it sorts out its own future.
Alexander Rossi has enjoyed five comparatively strong showings with the back-of-the-grid outfit, narrowly missing out on taking a 100 per cent record of finishing ahead of team-mate Will Stevens as the Briton got the upper hand in Brazil. However, Rossi left Sao Paulo extremely positive about his performance within the team since his debut in Singapore and equally optimistic about the future and 2016.
“I feel my chances of being in an F1 seat are the best they've ever been, so there's zero kind of focus going in any other direction,” he claimed, despite doubts over Manor's direction next season and other seats gradually having been snapped up, “We have a good opportunity to carry on from where we've left off in 2015 and really push that forward into 2016. I think, if I don't end up in a racesuit next year, I don't really know if I will, so that's what all our focus needs to be on.
“[Being in the cockpit] changes what you're trying to sell, I guess. In terms of [talking] to teams and sponsors, it's easier to say 'I am an F1 driver looking to stay for the following year' instead of 'this is the hope and I could be an F1 driver if this happens' so it definitely changes a lot. As I said, it's our best opportunity to put something together for next year.”
With previous ties to Caterham and Marussia having foundered along with the teams' involvement in the top flight, Rossi admitted that he had finally turned his attention to potentially returning to his homeland, even though he had thrown his entire career trajectory firmly towards completing the ladder to F1. With few competitive options to continue in GP2 and no sign of an F1 deal of any kind on the horizon, there was a spell of a couple of months where it appeared that the US would once again become home before Rossi landed an unexpected opportunity to remain in Europe.
“There was once [where the US beckoned], which I never thought would be the case, but it was at the end of last year, after a very, very challenging 2014 where, especially, the last four months were very difficult,” he explained, “My options in GP2, in my mind, weren't good enough, although there were teams that wanted me to drive for them, and I had zero F1 contact or any kind of future with any F1 in any kind of capacity. At that point, the late November and December months, I very much pursued an IndyCar ride and was very, very close in the early weeks of January to an agreement with [the Dale Coyne] team. I would say we were probably less than a week out when the Racing Engineering deal came to the table and we came back to Europe.”
Admitting that he has 'not put any contact or effort into speaking to anyone in IndyCar since January' and with no idea what that driver market looks like, Rossi is firmly focused on remaining an F1 driver next season and, although his intention is to remain a race driver, he concedes that he will not rule out reverting to a reserve role provided the options are in his favour.
“I guess all those [future options] depend on the situation and circumstance,” he stressed, “Of course, you'd never say 'no', so you'd have to consider it and see what the option was and see what you could couple that with, because I'd obviously need to be driving....
“I don't know. You'd need to see what Fridays were attached and everything but, obviously the goal is F1 and it has remained F1. Even when I was looking at doing IndyCar, it was with the focus of coming back with the potential Haas option. F1 was still the end goal and I think that any decision I take in the future will still have that in mind.”
Although there remain few unclaimed seats for 2016, Rossi's best option may yet come with Manor, particularly of Circuit of the Americas instigator Tavo Hellmund is involved with a rumoured US takeover of the British operation. Hellmund has already hinted that Rossi would be a serious consideration for one of the two race seats, but the American refuses to take anything for granted.
“It's obviously a positive thing to be considered, in different people's opinions, to be the first American driver of choice, if you will,” he said, “I think we've paid a lot of our dues in Europe for quite some time, but I can't say what the future holds for anyone, myself and him included. It's kind of an unknown at the moment, but it's a good thing to have.”