Be a Gil

I just finished watching the 1996 CART Season for the first time. I know many of the highlights and outcomes of the season, but it is still great to watch a race and catch all the details. A friend of mine told me watching races right as you crawl into bed helps you sleep, so I've been trying that out lately (PS: it helps, try it some time! There are infinite amount of races to watch for free on Youtube). Between that and some other free time, I have just finished watching the 1996 CART season just last week. It was a doozy. 1997 is turning out to be epic too.

One thing Paul Page talks about on a weekly basis in the '96 season is talks about second year stud Gil de Ferran and how he has a foot in the door for the next Formula 1 season. de Ferran, who was impressing everyone while driving for Jim Hall Racing, seemed like a perfect candidate for F1. Before de Ferran arrived to CART in 1995, he drove in International Formula 3000 series for Paul Stewart Racing. Paul Stewart is the son of Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart.

Gil de Ferran in 1996 (Photo credit not given)

In 1996, Jackie and Paul announced they would be forming a team for the 1997 F1 Season under the banner Stewart Grand Prix. One of their drivers on a shortlist was Gil de Ferran. Gil had a choice to make, and by 1997, he had opted instead to join Walker Racing in the Valvoline car formerly occupied by Robby Gordon in the PPG CART Series (Indycar).

Gil de Ferran would continue at Walker Racing until 1999, where he would switch to Team Penske for his final years in racing between 2000-2003. Between 1997-2003, Gil would go on to rack up 10 wins, 18 poles, 44 podiums, 2 championships, an Indianapolis 500 victory, and the fastest lap ever recorded in a closed circuit while qualifying at Fontana (241 MPH AVERAGE!!)

Before making a decision on F1 vs. Indycar, Gil said that he loved CART because of the competitiveness and how most drivers could win any race, including himself. In F1, it mostly comes down to money and/or which team you drive for versus the driver. Many teams don't stand a chance. This isn't to say there aren't weak teams in Indycar, but even some of the non-Goliaths have a chance to be a David.

So what did Gil miss out on in F1? Stewart Grand Prix would initially struggle. Rubens Barrichello did finish P2 at Monaco, but those would be the only points he would score all year. He would not finish in 14 of the 17 races. Jan Magnussen would be one of three full-time drivers in the 1997 season who did not score a point. He would retire in 11 of the 17 races (he did not start one race as well).

Barrichello in 1999 (Photo: Ford)

Barrichello and Magnussen would return in 1998. Barrichello only scored points in two races and again struggled to finish many races. Magnussen would get off to a rough start before scoring a point in an attrition race in Montreal. Despite this, Magnussen was fired in favor of Jos Verstappen, who was worthless in the car. He would leave the team after 1998.

Barrichello would be teamed with Johnny Herbert in the 1999 season, hoping to avoid the struggle of the prior two seasons. It was a much better season for Stewart Grand Prix. Barrichello would pick up three podiums and 21 points, while Herbert scored 15 points and the team's first win at Nurburgring.

In the 1999 offseason, Stewart Grand Prix would be bought out and renamed Jaguar Racing. Jaguar Racing would be bought out in 2005 and be turned into Red Bull Racing.

So what does all that mean? Gil de Ferran could have gone to F1 and been a low-level cog in the "pinnacle of motor racing," or he could be abcompetitive driver in America's premier open-wheel racing series.

Gil de Ferran also had 'The Split' between IRL and CART to worry about, and yet he stayed. It was a great career move and one that he probably looks back on fondly.

Gil did what many Indycar drivers didn't do which is choosing Indycar over F1.

Michael Andretti took a year off in the prime of his career to race for McLaren. Yes, McLaren is a legendary team and yes driving alongside Ayrton Senna is a huge lure, but Andretti lasted 13 rounds before being fired. He gave up the best seat in Indycar to pursue an F1 career and it did not work out. Fortunately, he regained his footing and became a winner again in Indycar. F1 just proved to be a different beast for the Indycar legend.

Michael Andretti in 1993 (Photo: McLaren)

Juan Pablo Montoya left Chip Ganassi Racing after 2000 to drive for Williams, another great team. Despite winning some races (including the Monaco GP), Montoya's time in F1 was ultimately unfulfilling compared to his Indycar career. He would eventually make his way back to Indycar, where he would resume his chances at contending for a championship.

Alex Zanardi won back-to-back championships for Chip Ganassi Racing, but he left in 1999 to head back to F1 with Williams. Zanardi would be embarrassed by teammate Ralf Schumacher. Zanardi scored no points, while Schumacher scored 35 points, earning him a sixth place finish in the championship. Alex  would come back to Indycar in 2001 for his final season before suffering his Indycar-career ending crash in Germany.

Simona de Silvestro left Indycar after the 2013 season to attempt to work her way into Sauber so she could earn a ride for 2014 or 2015. Considering they're a lower-tier team, cash is always needed to earn a ride. Simona did not bring a big enough check, and a ride was never obtained and thus she never started a race. She would come back to race three races in Indycar during the 2015 season for Andretti Autosport, but her Indycar career has taken a serious hit.

Sebastien Bourdais was a dominant Champ Car driver for Newman-Haas Racing. It's hard to talk about Champ Car without mentioning Bourdais. Four straight championships and complete dominance, Bourdais left after 2007 to drive for Red Bull B-Team Toro Rosso. Bourdais struggled in 2008, but he returned in 2009. His second season was full of struggles, and it led to his firing halfway through the season. Bourdais would return to Indycar in 2011, but wouldn't drive full-time again until 2013.

Bourdais in 2008 (Photo: Toro Rosso)

I'm sure there are more cases out there that I am missing, but these are five highlighted cases of drivers leaving Indycar and not doing so hot once they get to F1 There are some success stories, like Mario Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve, but most situations end badly.

Why did I write all that above? We are rapidly seeing another scenario blooming. Alexander Rossi was demoted from Manor Racing race driver to a test-driver role in favor of Rio Haryanto, who has some massive backing from sponsors. Rio has been on the hot-seat, and many have speculated Rossi would be tabbed for the seat.

It's no secret that Rossi is a wanted man. He won the 100th Indianapolis 500, and that is something that will stick with him until he is playing cribbage in an old folks home 70 years from now. His 2016 Indycar season has had many ups and downs, but given the circumstances of being a rookie on a struggling team, he's done great, especially on ovals. He currently leads the Rookie of the Year standings in a stacked rookie class.

So, why would he even consider leaving Andretti Autosport and partner Bryan Herta, who are proven winners and will likely rebound in 2017, for a team that is on the struggle bus? While Pascal Wehrlein has had some good performances, Manor Racing won't be consistent winners anytime soon. But why even consider it? Gil de Ferran is a perfect example of how you can build a legacy in American and cement yourself as an all-time legend in racing.

Sorry Rossi, but you won't ever get this feeling in F1 (Photo: Chris Owens / Indycar Media)

Please Alexander Rossi, be a Gil. Stay in Indycar. Further your career in Indycar rather than going to a bottom feeder in F1. If Mercedes AMG or Ferrari came knocking, then by all means, book it. But Manor? Seriously?

Be a Gil.

Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey