Simona de Silvestro Needs Results, Now!
One of the more intriguing signings for the opening race at St. Petersburg this weekend, is that of Simona de Silvestro at Andretti Autosport. This is one of those things where it is currently a one-race deal, but potential for more. How much more? That depends strictly on money and sponsorship; but then everything in racing depends on that.
Simona needs to do well in this race for several reasons. The most obvious reason is to create the momentum needed to secure more sponsorship for more races. But there is more at stake here, than the possibility of a next race. Simona’s reputation and credibility of a driver is on the line.
By now, many of you are fuming that I would question the reputation and skill of one of the most popular drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Simona de Silvestro. She has everything I like in a driver – skill, personality, humility and marketability. But there is no denying her relative lack of success, regardless of how poor her equipment was.
How many times have we speculated on a driver by saying “If only they were ever to be in a good car”? Justin Wilson and Oriol Servia come to mind for current or recent drivers. It was just a few years ago that many were saying that about Ryan Hunter-Reay, when he was with Rahal, Foyt and Vision Racing. How quickly his fortunes changed when he latched on with Andretti Autosport for the 2010 season. Two years later, he was an IndyCar champion. Two years after that, he became an Indianapolis 500 winner and is now considered one of the elite drivers in this sport.
As long as there have been race cars, there have always been examples in racing of drivers who were perceived to be the victims of bad equipment. Sometimes the drivers got their breaks and were vindicated. There were other times that we found out the driver simply wasn’t as good as we thought they were. EJ Viso comes to mind.
Simona de Silvestro has four full IndyCar seasons under her belt. Three of those seasons were with the vastly underfunded HVM Racing. To make matters worse, her third and final year with Keith Wiggins’ low-budget team saw her with the only Lotus-powered car in the field for the final two-thirds of the season. All of the other Lotus teams bailed for either a Honda or Chevy just prior to the Indianapolis 500, but HVM and Simona slugged their way through the season at a very significant horsepower disadvantage.
From watching her come away from a burning car at Texas Motor Speedway with a smile on her face, to climbing from underneath a burning car at Indianapolis and wearing Mickey Mouse gloves to protect her scarred hand as she climbed into a backup car to qualify – Simona de Silvestro has endeared herself to IndyCar fans with her attitude, grittiness and talent.
Fans felt she had finally received the break she had worked so hard for, when she joined Chevy-powered KV Racing Technology as teammate to Tony Kanaan for the 2013 season. She was done with the low-budget HVM Racing and the sluggish Lotus engine. She would have a teammate for the first time, and not just a teammate – a former IndyCar champion. Although KV had never won a race in this series, everyone figured they were on the cusp with Chevy power, Tony Kanaan as a driver and Kevin Kalkhoven’s deep pockets. This was to be Simona’s chance to shine.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. While Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500 that year; KV was way off the mark with their setup at many tracks that season. There were six races that season that Kanaan finished no better than twentieth on his way to an eleventh place finish. Simona finished thirteenth.
But the young talented driver from Switzerland showed her worth in the second half of the season. After turning in abysmal results through June, Simona upped her game and actually outperformed her experienced teammate in seven of the last nine races. In the last nine races of 2013, Simona de Silvestro delivered seven Top-Ten finishes that included a fifth at Baltimore and a second-place finish at Houston.
The future was finally looking very bright. She seemed to be finding her way with her new team and was coming to grips with the much more powerful Chevy engine. But over the offseason, a new and different opportunity knocked on Simona’s door.
It is the ultimate goal of any driver growing up in Europe to become a Formula One driver. IndyCar and the chance to drive in the Indianapolis 500 is nice, but to a native European – Formula One is what you shoot for. Such was the case with Simona. She got an opportunity to join Sauber as an affiliate driver in 2014, and she took it. The plan was for her to train for a year and start driving in 2015. Who can blame anyone for trying to reach their dreams? But as happens many times in Formula One, her dreams were crushed this past October when Sauber announced they were suspending her program. Suddenly, one of IndyCar’s most popular drivers was available again.
Although it had been rumored for some time, Michael Andretti confirmed her for St. Petersburg a couple of weeks ago. There is nothing certain beyond that, but he has hinted that a good showing by Simona in the opener could build momentum for more races in the future.
But a good showing is not automatic. Simona has finished fourth and sixth in four starts at St. Petersburg – one of which was in a DW12. But she has not raced an IndyCar since Fontana of 2013, when she finished eighth. She will be driving a Honda-powered car with the new Honda aero kit at St. Petersburg. Keep in mind that the Andretti cars did not burn up the speed charts at the two-day test at Barber last week – and de Silvestro did not even participate. Reportedly, she impressed in the car at a private test later in the weekend, but no times were released.
But make no mistake, Simona needs to perform well every chance she gets. If Andretti Autosport sorts out the aero kit and the full-time drivers perform well – questions will arise if Simona fails to match them. Her hard-core fans will defend her to the end, but there is no shortage of doubters and naysayers. The Legions of the Miserable have stayed quiet, knowing her popularity among knowledgeable race fans. But given the chance, they will suddenly come out of the woodwork and attack her with both barrels.
They will point at her record over four seasons, choosing to overlook the second half of 2013. They will claim that she has always been overrated. They’ll also chime in with the fact that they always knew it; they just chose to stay silent over the years. They will be armed with the fact that she is finally in good equipment that her teammates are winning in, yet she can’t make a go of it.
So, aside for all the obvious reasons that I’ve pulled for Simona de Silvestro over the years – I want her to succeed this season to squash any doubt that some fans may have that she can deliver, when in good equipment. I’m hoping that Michael Andretti can somehow put together the funding to run her all season, even if it is a race-to-race deal like Ryan Hunter-Reay had in 2010. I’d say that worked out pretty well for him.