US driver Rossi says F1 race debut is 'very surreal'
SINGAPORE (AP) American driver Alexander Rossi is having a ''very surreal'' time preparing for his Formula One race debut this weekend after signing a deal with the Manor team, becoming the first American to compete in the series since 2007.
Rossi will make his race debut at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday after having only received confirmation on Tuesday that he will replace Roberto Mehri for five of this season's remaining seven races, including the upcoming U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
''I wasn't expecting 2015 to be a year I was racing in F1,'' said Rossi, who has previously driven in practice sessions on race weekends for Manor and former team Caterham.
''The big thing I've been missing for about three years in my F1 career is actually racing. I've been close quite a few times, and it's very surreal now that it's about to happen. This is a major step in really firmly putting myself on the Formula One map.''
Rossi will race in Singapore, Japan, the U.S., Mexico and Brazil while Mehri will retake the race seat in Russia and Abu Dhabi, because the American has commitments on those weekends in the feeder GP2 series, where he is high in the standings.
The 23-year-old Californian is uncertain about his prospects of getting a full-time deal next season, even with the addition of an American team run by Gene Haas, but aims to use his five upcoming races to showcase his talents.
''My goal is to race full time in Formula One, and whatever situation that is and whatever situation may present itself, I'm going to jump at that with open arms,'' Rossi said. ''What this may lead to I don't know but I am hopeful that doing a good job in these five races will prove to everyone that I belong here and that I'm capable of doing it just as much as anyone else.''
Rossi has held talks about the prospect of a race drive with the Haas team when it enters F1 in 2016, but despite the natural fit of an American driver with an American team, the signals are that those seats have already been assigned.
Rossi said that ''being the only American with a super-license, and now I'm taking a grand prix start, that's stuff I have in my corner for sure, but whether it leads anywhere is yet to be seen.''
Rossi came close to an F1 race drive on several occasions in the past. He was earmarked as a driver for the aborted USF1 project, and Manor considered using him last year to replace Jules Bianchi after his fatal accident but ultimately decided against it.
''There were varying degrees of confidence. I always believed I would race in Formula One but there was a period of time when there was a lot of yes and no, yes and no,'' he said.
With the combination of an American driver, race and team from next year, Rossi said the sport should flourish in the critical U.S. market.
''It's a massive boost and it's going to be really special in Austin in a couple of weeks,'' Rossi said. ''Having Austin come onto the calendar, we've already seen the progress that has given. Having an American team come will take that a bit farther, and having an American driver is the final step to the puzzle.''