US F1 Team announced late Monday that the Charlotte-based team has signed former Renault F1 test driver, Jose Maria Lopez, to race for the team in its first World Championship. season. Lopez, 26, who goes by the nickname of "Pechito," is the first driver to be confirmed by the start-up team run by Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson. The deal was officially announced by the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, in the Casa Rosada (Government House) in Buenos Aires.
"Securing 'Pechito' Lopez for our debut season has been a goal of ours for a long time," said Windsor. "We've been following his career since he dominated the Renault V6 Championship in 2003 and we're thrilled to have him on board as we return America to Formula 1.
"Lopez is a consummate professional and born leader. The most revealing thing about his character was how he handled the disappointment of not racing for Renault after three years of testing with them in F1," Windsor added. "Instead of moping around and feeling sorry for himself, he returned to Argentina and totally dominated the local scene, winning 38 races and three championships. He became a major star as a result and, in turn, the Argentine nation – a country where F1 is second only to soccer – has gotten behind him."
"This is a truly memorable day for me, my family and the people of Argentina," said Lopez. "I have been working toward this day for much of my life and I can't thank Peter and Ken [Anderson] enough for this opportunity. Of course, a new F1 team faces many challenges but our goal is to improve with each race and build a foundation that will eventually see this team competing for wins and championships."
After winning in karts all over the world from the age of seven – Lopez was leading Lewis Hamilton in the world final in Japan when his chain broke – he switched to racecars in Europe in 2001. He won the 2002 Italian Formula Renault Championship with four wins, five poles and three podiums, and in European Formula Renault he scored two wins, two poles and a podium. He dominated the European Formula Renault V6 Championship in 2003 (five wins, eight poles, seven podiums) and in one season of F3000 and two in GP2 he scored a win (Barcelona), seven podiums and a pole. As a contracted Renault driver, he also completed thousands of miles in the F1 car, focusing mainly on shakedowns and starts but also completing simulated race distances with compromised setups.
"So many things go into starting a Formula 1 team from scratch," Anderson said. "You can nail every step along the way but if you don't have the right guys in the seats, everything else is for naught. With Jose Maria Lopez, we have further positioned ourselves for a successful 2010 debut campaign."