Simona de Silvestro would be a solid Formula One driver if she could only get a race seat.
Earlier this year, when it was announced that Simona de SIlvestro would forego another season in Indycar in order to take her dream shot at Formula 1 with Sauber, some may have questioned the young racer’s move as ill-timed and given her little to no chance of making the F1 grid. Fast forward to August, with the F1 silly season in full swing, and the “Iron Maiden” has two impressive and error-free F1 test sessions with Sauber behind her, with speculation she will get a FP1 drive when the F1 paddock makes its way to Austin and the Circuit of the Americas in October.
If you could gauge the chances of getting an F1 seat by media buzz alone, de Silvestro would be considered a shoe-in. You can be sure that a coterie of sponsors and management is making a big push to get her on the grid when the lights go out to start the 2015 season. And deservedly so.
The unassuming Swiss racer left Europe for the United States in 2006, searching for better opportunities to showcase her talent. She quickly made a name for herself in the Atlantic Championship, dominating and almost winning the series in 2009. Heads turned and it earned her a seat in Indycar. She cut her teeth with lower-tier teams, survived a fiery wreck at Indy, and endured 2012 with the horrible Lotus engines to secure a seat with KV Racing Technology in 2013.
There she proved her mettle, mixing it up with the frontrunners at St. Pete, and scoring her first podium at Houston towards the end of the season. She finished just 35 points behind her veteran teammate and Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan in the final season standings.
Politics and Money
De Silvestro has a great many positives on her side, but with F1 being the corporate beast it is today, it may very well come down to money. As of now, it looks as if it will take more than one hand to count the number of drivers vying for a seat at Sauber next year, and it is obvious the budget strapped team has a big decision to make in order to best position themselves for the future.
Sauber has a myriad of seemingly conflicting contracts with different drivers, de Silvestro included. Their reserve driver, Giedo van der Garde has the substantial backing of his father-in-law, billionaire Marcel Boekhoorn, who has a considerable investment in fashion giant
What's in her way
McGregor, which van der Garde has brought with him as a sponsor to Sauber. For van der Garde, who had an unimpressive stint with Caterham last year, this is more than likely his last chance to secure a decent F1 seat. However, a shunt earlier in the year at the Silverstone in-season test was not much appreciated by the team.
In addition to van der Garde, Sauber last year signed a deal with Russian Sergey Sirotkin, then a 17 year old with the support of deep-pocketed Russian investors connected to state-backe daviation and development organizations. Sirotkin will more than likely need a few more years to develop, as evidenced by him remaining in a lower formula this year.
Then there are the other contingencies. Will Ferrari, who provides Sauber with its power units, want to move Jules Bianchi to a Sauber seat to continue his development? Will current GP2 standout Felipe Nasr try to woo Sauber with the millions from his personal sponsor Banco do Brasil? Will current drivers Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez remain? Both are confident they will. With only two race seats open, one wonders how Sauber will keep everyone happy in the cutthroat world of F1.
Is the marketability of a fast female racer enough to overcome the the millions others will bring to the table? De Silvestro’s main sponsor, Areva, a French energy multinational, which has been connected to her as far back as her Atlantic Championship days, is no financial pushover, and they seem very committed to her push for F1 glory. The combination of the speed, money and marketability of de Silvestro, who is a great ambassador for her sponsor and her sport, (often speaking to youth groups and university engineering departments about racing and renewable energy) may be too much to pass up for Sauber.
It would be in the best interests of Bernie
Finally, let us not forget about Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. With F1 struggling with low attendance on race weekends and dwindling television audiences, Ecclestone would revel in the opportunity to bring renewed interest in the sport. Another dimension of this is the fact that Ecclestone and the FIA have been working to create a bigger dent in the North American market in the last few years, with the addition of the United States Grand Prix, as well as the newly minted deal to hold a Grand Prix in Mexico City beginning next year. With the popular Canadian Grand Prix and the potential for a New York race in the coming years, not to mention the creation of Haas Formula, headquartered in Charlotte, North America is looking to become the second hub of F1. What better way to accomplish both these objectives than to push for a seat for de Silvestro, a name American open wheel fans are familiar with?
Whatever happens next year, de Silvestro should be applauded for making the attempt. Either way, she has a bright future ahead of her. Here’s hoping her dream comes true.