Simona de Silvestro – A Lesson In Perseverance
One of the more discussed stories of the 2012 season has been the non-performance of the Lotus engine. Their issues have been well-documented here and other places so much that it has become almost merciful to now leave it alone. After Bryan Herta Autosport, Dragon Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold abandoned the once proud brand in favor of other engines – only HVM Racing remained in their corner. To me, this is one of the most overlooked stories of this season.
One of the more talented drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series remains off of almost everyone’s radar. Simona de Silvestro has now been toiling in anonymity for the past three seasons. Had it not been for her rookie season in 2010, I’m not sure even hard-core fans would be giving her a look. That’s a mistake.
The Swiss driver has the pedigree. Coming through the developmental ranks, she won a race in her only season in Formula BMW USA and finished fourth in the standings in 2006. She raced three seasons in the Atlantics series. Her first season was a forgettable nineteenth, but she progressed to an eighth place finish in her second year and winning at Long Beach. In 2009, her final year in Atlantics – de Silvestro won four times and led the championship for most of the season. A first lap retirement led to an eventual third place finish in the final standings. Obviously, she knows how to drive.
Since joining the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, Simona de Silvestro has been saddled with driving for one of the more underfunded teams on the grid, in HVM Racing. She finished a respectable fourteenth in her first Indianapolis 500 and earned Rookie of the Year honors. She also had a top-ten finish at Toronto en route to finishing nineteenth in the standings for her rookie season.
Though she didn’t set the world afire in her first season, the same cannot be said for her car in Texas that year. To be honest, I think that one single incident is what endeared Simona to IndyCar fans. She had a hard hit in a single-car incident near Turn One at Texas Motor Speedway. What appeared to be a routine oil fire suddenly turned scary as the normally adept Holmatro Safety Team did their best impersonation of the Keystone Cops.
The hose on the front of the truck was inoperable for whatever reason. The safety team seemed confused about what to do next as Simona sat helplessly in the burning car. She was finally able to escape with the help of one of the more alert safety team members. As she was interviewed on television, she would have been well within her rights to blast the safety team on television for their ineptitude. Instead, she laughed off the incident as no big deal – all the while holding a bandaged wrist. The way she handled herself with class after such a frightening incident told viewers everything they needed to know about Simona de Silvestro – she was not one to lay blame at anyone’s feet, even when it might be justified.
Almost one year later, de Silvestro found herself in an even more frightening situation. A couple of days before qualifying for the 2011 Indianapolis 500, Simona crashed hard, went airborne and landed upside-down just as her car caught fire. To have been through the crash and scary ride through the air would have been enough to shake most of us to the core. Add to that the frightening prospect of being trapped underneath a fifteen-hundred pound racecar as it burns out of control, and you have created one terrifying situation.
Although her car was completely destroyed, de Silvestro escaped the inferno, albeit with second-degree burns on both hands. To say she wasn’t shaken would be untrue. She was. That’s what makes what she did two days later even more gratifying. She put her fears and her pain aside and qualified the much heavier and slower backup car for the race. While some drivers had been known to blame their crew or other factors for their misfortune – Simona just put her visor down, dealt with the adversity and put the car in the field.
Fans applauded her gutsy performance and acknowledged what she had been through. For the rest of the season, her underfunded HVM team was saddled with the oldest and heaviest version of that Dallara that existed. It was sometimes an adventure to even hold on at the back of the field, but Simona never whined or complained. In her usual fashion, she gave her famous smile, kept her mouth shut and did her job without ever offering up any excuses on her way to a disappointing twentieth place finish in the points.
Heading into this season, HVM was the first team to commit to the Lotus engine. I can only assume there was some steep financial incentive from Lotus to steer the monetarily strapped team to the Lotus stable, but that is only speculation on my part. After all the other Lotus teams left the fold, HVM remains as the only Lotus powered car on the grid. Due to the lack of power and other miscues that normally befall a low-budget team, it has been a dismal year for HVM and Simona de Silvestro. Except for a couple of hard-earned fourteenth place finishes at Detroit and Iowa, Simona hasn’t finished a race higher than twentieth. She currently finds herself buried in twenty-fourth place in points – last among all full-time drivers.
Unfortunately, unlike previous years – it seems that her driving talents and grittiness have gone unnoticed by most fans. Due to the fact that she is so far off the pace and normally an early out, her Nuclear Clean Air Energy car gets few mentions and no air time. It is one of the most overlooked cars on the grid this year, and that’s a shame. The standard rule in racing is if you want publicity, you need to run at or near the front. Perennial back markers traditionally struggle for recognition.
Most casual fans would look at her performance and assume that Simona de Silvestro was an untalented driver. Those of us that are hard-core fans know better. Still, you know she has to be extremely frustrated. Simona is still young – she will turn twenty-four over Labor Day weekend – but she is entering what should be the prime of her IndyCar career. You have to wonder if she feels like her talents are continually wasted on a low-budget team with a grossly underpowered engine. Yet, she continues to carry herself in the same manner that she did that fiery night in Texas a couple of years ago. She laughs it off as if it is no big deal – publically, at least.
Simona de Silvestro has demonstrated her talent and she deserves a much better situation than she has found herself in. But this is a results-oriented sport. Will any team owner that might have a possible open slot for next season give her a fair look? I’m not so sure. She has an inferior engine on a cash-strapped team and everyone knows it – but with the lack of results, will she ever get a shot on a better team? Let’s hope so.
In the meantime, Simona keeps smiling, looking ahead and doing the best job possible with what she’s got. Let’s at least hope the fans don’t forget about her.