US F1's new signing Jose Maria Lopez has admitted that he never expected to get another chance to break into Formula 1 after dropping out of the European racing scene three years ago.
The Argentinean's move into F1 with the Charlotte-based outfit was announced by the president of his native country, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (left, with Lopez and team principal Peter Windsor), in Buenos Aires late on Monday evening.
Lopez was a champion in the Formula Renault V6 series – a forerunner to the current Formula Renault 3.5 championship – and raced in Formula 3000 and GP2 alongside a test and reserve role with the Renault F1 team. But he lost his Renault position at the end of 2006 and returned to his native Argentina to race touring cars, becoming a multiple champion.
"Three years ago when I returned from Europe I couldn't imagine getting this opportunity again," Lopez told Reuters. "I know how difficult it is to get into F1.
"Thank God the results and many other things came together. There are five new teams in F1 with more seats available. After a fantastic 2009 for me – which is very hard for anyone to repeat – if it wasn't [going to happen] this year, it was going to be very difficult."
The 26-year-old admitted that after several years away from single-seater racing and with his team starting from scratch, the 2010 season could be tough. But Lopez is optimistic that US F1 is capable of beating fellow newcomers Lotus, Virgin and Campos.
"It's difficult to set objectives because there are many new things – new driver, new team starting from zero," he said. "We must be patient and have confidence in the people working [for the team]. Today, the objective is to be ahead of the new teams."