Speed: The American Hope
March 15, 2007 | 7:17 P.M. EST
Last season, the Manteca, California native was surrounded by more than his share of controversies – both on and off the track – as he became the first American since Michael Andretti in 1993 to take part in Formula One competition.
After two disappointing finishes to start his career – a 13th at Bahrain and 16th at Malaysia – Speed picked up his first points paying finish when he crossed the line eighth at Australia in 2006…or at least, so it seemed. Following a heated discussion between Speed and Red Bull Racing’s David Coulthard, whom he passed en route to picking up the eighth position, Race Stewards decided to penalize the American 25 seconds for a pass they deemed to have taken place under yellow flag conditions, dropping him to 11th place and outside the points.
"This post-race incident will only increase our drive and focus to be serious point contenders during the remainder of the season," said a defiant Speed following the announcement of the penalty.
Unfortunately for Speed and Toro Rosso, that never happened, as he failed to pick up any points throughout the season and was consistently beaten by teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi.
The disappointing year led to a tumultuous off season, one which saw several media outlets reporting rumors of his ouster at the organization.
Things did not look any better following the team’s unveiling ceremony, where only Liuzzi was presented. While contract points were given as the official reason for the delay in announcing Speed, who was always in “pole position” for the ride, things did not appear any better when co-owner Gerhard Berger questioned the Californian’s commitment.
Finally though, Speed was confirmed as the second driver for the Italian outfit.
"At the end of the day, I think we maybe had to sort out some issues with Gerhard (Berger) with our contract. For us, everything sorted out now and it’s no longer an issue," the American said on SPEED TV’s Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain.
With contract issues squared way, Speed is now focused strictly on the task at hand, succeeding in 2007. And while that may be difficult early in the season, he remains optimistic that results will come sooner rather than later.
"Right away, we’re not going into the beginning of the season expecting much. I’ve had three real test days at the track, and we’re quite a bit behind the other teams. But we go into this year knowing we have a car that has potential to be developed throughout the year. We knew last year, with what we had, if we were going to make any points or have any good results, it was going to be at the beginning of the year. It is a bit more motivational for myself, and my teammate, to keep pushing myself and understanding this car because it has a lot of potential."
One reason for the optimism is that Speed understands areas of improvement he needs to work on.
"I think the biggest thing I learned in Formula One is how to maximize qualifying. I think that was the toughest and biggest short coming for me. Towards the end of the year, it was something I definitely improved upon the most. I think next year, going in with the amount of experience I have – I think the biggest thing I have going for me is the experience."
Along with work inside the car, this off-season Speed worked out heavily in Arizona to better prepare for the challenges he will face.
"Over the whole winter off-season I had I spent just one week with my family in California. I hadn't seen them all year so went there for Christmas," Speed told Autosport "And the rest of the time I spent in Arizona training, because that is where I had the best training opportunities.
"I think that should answer everyone's commitment questions."
Hopefully for Speed, he can skip past his past controversies and focus on something much easier in 2007 – being the “only American in Formula One.”