Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Hate Alexander Rossi

Actually, I don't, I've never even met the guy!  The title of this post is more of a play on words to the ESPN 30-for-30 called "I Hate Christian Laettner". If you saw it, you might get the correlation: people hated Christian Laettner because they saw him as an elitist snob (and if you rooted for a team other than Duke back in the early 1900s, he probably kicked your team's ass, too) who looked down on everyone else because he was so good.

Turns out, most of the things people thought about him weren't true, they had merely based their perceptions on what they thought was true. Turns out Laettner is (and was) a nice guy who at the time happened to be super competitive and focused on his basketball.

Sound like someone the IndyCar community has been bashing the last couple of days? I'll admit, I don't think Alexander Rossi has done anything lately to win supporters, both in the paddock and out, but I really can't understand the vitriol being thrown his way after his announcement yesterday that he will be a back-up driver for the Manor Formula 1 team.

I've heard lots of negatives directed his way, and I truly don't understand why, other than the fact people are upset that Gabby Chaves lost his ride to Rossi when Bryan Herta and Michael Andretti combined forces.

Other than that, I think it comes down to the fact that people didn't want to like him from the jump, and now they have a real reason why.

To me, it all comes down to this: as long as they guy doesn't miss any testing or other seat time, and as long as he shows up to all of the races, what's the big deal? Yes, it would be super crappy if a seat at Manor came open and he left his team high and dry, and I wouldn't like the guy that much if that eventually goes down, which is a possibility.

But why are we getting upset about what a guy does in his personal time? Because he will lose "focus"? How different is it from Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon training for Ironman tris -- which is a major time commitment -- or Graham Rahal traveling with his wife to support her drag racing?

I think we have to give the benefit of the doubt to Rossi least for now. He's spent the last several years driving in Europe with the dream of driving F1, and he has more than proven with his success there that he should be in consideration for a drive at that level.

He's also gotten a taste of the F1 lifestyle, which I'm sure to a 24-year-old single guy is quite the temptress. They race all over the world in exotic locales, they make a pile of money and they have models chasing after them because they are attracted to their witty personality. If I were 24, I'd have a hard time giving that up too, especially if I had been exposed to that lifestyle for as long as he has.

People wonder why he would want to be a backmarker on a bad F1 team, and the answer is easy -- it's the same reason why AJ Allmendinger drives stock cars, the prestige of the series, and a pile of cash. He could build a much bigger legacy in IndyCars, but he likes the challenge of Cup, and as best as I could find he's making somewhere north of $2-3 million this year.

It's still F1 and the money is really, good. Lewis Hamilton makes more in one race weekend than any IndyCar driver makes in a year, so I bet Rossi's salary with Manor is more than what he will be getting paid to race in the United States, and no matter how much we all hate it (I know I do), the F1 World Championship is still the most coveted and prestigious title in racing, right up there with being an Indy 500 winner.

He wants to drive F1, and I don't begrudge him that. He's invested enough time that he feels like he needs to see how far he can take things, and just because he isn't bowing down in reverence to IndyCar doesn't mean he isn't excited or looking forward to competing. And if he eventually leaves, he does. Then he will find out that no matter what he does, as an American he will never get a fair shake in F1, that's just how it works. His boss can tell him that.

And if he shows up this weekend (or any other) without the necessary "focus", he will get punched in the mouth, figuratively and possibly literally. If that continues, he will probably be sacked. We may not see it this way, but he is taking a big risk, if he can't cut it in IndyCar it will probably be the end of his F1 career. He has to perform, and maybe even overperform, to keep his career going in Europe.

What I'm saying is, let's give this guy some time. I'm not sure Juan Pablo Montoya was thrilled to be coming back to IndyCar two years ago, but he has come to love running the series. He seems happy and is having fun, and he finally "gets it". That was apparent after he won the 500 last May.

Whether it's NASCAR or F1, more than a few drivers have discovered the grass isn't greener -- although the money is -- than in IndyCar, and maybe Rossi will do the same. Maybe right now he is pursuing a dream, and I don't blame him for that, but in the end, let's give him a couple of race weekends to prove what he is made of, and use real facts to pass our judgements instead of just our perceptions.