We've been promised an American-born F1 driver in 2016 - but who will get the nod at Haas Formula?
When Gene Haas’ new Formula 1 squad debuts in 2016 it will do so with an overtly American theme. This is intended to be a U.S F1 squad - though hopefully with rather more success than the disastrous USF1 effort of 2010.
Haas has already made it clear how he sees his driver lineup for year one: an experienced F1 peddler paired with an American rookie. After all, having a U.S-born racer in the car will ensure maximum exposure back home, which will be crucial if Haas is to make his bold venture successful.
So who's in the running? We’re taking a look at four drivers with a realistic shot at the Haas seat.
Perhaps the strongest candidate, Alexander Rossi has extensive European racing experience, F1 practice outings with Caterham and, crucially, a U.S passport.
His form has been patchy: he was a fantastic third in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2011, then plummeted to 11th the following year. In 2013 he switched to GP2 and was impressive late in the season, but 2014 became a nightmare and he split with the Caterham junior squad last month.
But there’s clearly talent there - and some other benefits, too. With Haas almost certain to run Ferrari engines, Rossi makes all the more sense given his Italian heritage. Ferrari would surely enjoy the PR potential of an Italian-American driving for one of their customer teams, and it’s this sort of detail that can cement a deal in the financially challenging world of F1.
Rossi has already made his intentions clear, sending a fair bit of praise in Haas’ direction while also talking up his credentials.
"I am thrilled for Haas," he said recently. "His passion and commitment to enter F1 and bring Americans closer to the sport deserves serious respect.”
Flattery will get you everywhere...
"We've obviously spoken with Haas and the final step is to have an American driver in F1 that fans can support. If the opportunity comes my way and timing is right, I know I'll be prepared and could do a good job for them."
He’s recently signed as reserve driver at Marussia and could yet land a race seat there, but competing for his fellow Americans in 2016 would surely be the youngster’s best long-term bet.
Conor Daly has grand prix racing in his genes - his father Derek spent five years in Formula 1 before relocating to the States to compete in IndyCar. Dublin-born Daly Sr has since made his home there, hence Conor’s U.S passport.
Young Daly shone in the American junior series, then relocated to Europe in the hope of emulating his old man on the grand prix scene.
But three seasons in GP3 - two of them with the crack ART Grand Prix - yielded only two wins; you’d really have been hoping for a title in his final campaign, but he was beaten by Daniil Kvyat and his little-known ART team-mate Facu Regalia. He’s now in GP2 and having a quiet rookie season with backmarkers Lazarus.
Daly has all the European experience required, but hasn't yet achieved the results. The Indianapolis native may elect to return home to race in IndyCar, but the possibility of a Haas seat could keep him in Europe for one final roll of the dice. A second season in GP2 could be the making of him.
The only driver to be named by Haas in the connection with the seat, Patrick is probably the most famous female racer on the planet. A winner in IndyCar, she is now a full-time NASCAR driver competing for the team Haas co-owns with Tony Stewart. Coincidence?
Chances are Patrick won't be offered, or indeed want, a seat at the rear of the F1 grid. By 2016 she'll be 34 and, you would hope, moving closer to the front of the NASCAR field. Why throw all that in to struggle through the growing pains of a new grand prix squad?
However, if the deal did come off, the financial potential would be huge even by F1 standards. Patrick is a marketing machine and her arrival in the sport would no doubt draw even greater attention. While the team may struggle for results early on, they'd not be short of sponsors with Danica behind the wheel.
A rank outsider, but there's no doubt that 23-year-old Newgarden has the talent. Having won the Indy Lights title in his rookie year, he graduated to IndyCar in 2012 and has since impressed on numerous occasions, bagging podiums on both street circuits and ovals. Those results are made all the more impressive by the fact he drives for a small one-car team, meaning he's had to find his own way from the start.
He has European experience, too. Newgarden finished as runner-up in the British Formula Ford championship in 2009, then contested a season of GP3 the following year. He's also extremely personable, a true sponsor's dream, and a great representative for his employers.
Newgarden's future is far more likely to lie at the front of the IndyCar grid. But, if Haas were willing to take a risk, the team would land a real gem.
Of the four candidates named, Rossi probably represents the most sensible choice. He has experience of GP2 and a few F1 tests under his belt, so the role would not be completely new to him. Compare that with Danica, who would be an almost complete novice to racing outside the States, while Newgarden and Daly lack top-draw results in F1’s European heartland.
So Rossi's F1 dreams could be set to come true. Let's hope he's adept at handling pressure - the Californian would be representing a nation of more than 300 million people on the grand prix stage.
Conor Daly image courtesy of Sam Bloxham/GP2 Media Service