|Scott Speed - one of many ex-F1 drivers it is sometimes easy |
to forget, but not always right to do so. Photo: F1Fanatic
Born in January 1983, Speed's father was an enthusiastic karter and he himself took up the sport at a young age. However, the American was slightly unusual from the outset in that, growing up as a passionate karter in California, he set his sights on reaching Formula 1, rather than IndyCar or NASCAR, the two principal series of the US racing scene. After showing aptitude for the sport in karts, Speed's big breakthrough came in 2002, when he was invited by drinks company Red Bull to the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France for a shoot-out against other American drivers. The reward up for grabs was four places on the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, which was then in relative infancy. Speed impressed by beating all-comers to win one of the places on the programme. The shoot-out explicitly aimed to find drivers who could tap into the American market for Red Bull drinks were he to become successful; thus the selection process appeared to have a whiff of the marketing ploy about it - particularly given the ramshackle organisation of the event and some of the selection criteria used. Speed was placed in the high-profile British Formula 3 Championship for 2003 but, far from following in the footsteps of other famous F1 drivers who raced in the series (Jenson Button, Mika Hakkinen, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet to name but four), Speed struggled to get into the points throughout the season and finished well down in the standings.
A marketing ploy found out? Well, there was more to it than that. Speed had been affected by illness throughout the season and, as 2003 turned to 2004, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a debilitating inflammatory bowel condition caused by problems in the large intestine. Speed and Red Bull spent the first few months of the year trying to get to the bottom of the condition and, by May, Speed was sent for surgery to help alleviate the problem. This was serious make-or-break stuff; the surgery was an experimental one and, if unsuccessful, the only treatment left for Speed might have been removal of (part of) the large intestine. This would have meant a colostomy bag was required, and would have signalled an abrupt end to his fledgling racing career. Mercifully, surgery was successful, and kick-started a dramatically rapid rise through the ranks for the American. Even before his surgery he somehow had taken the lead in the European and German Formula Renault categories, and when he returned he duly finished the job off, winning both championships. His successes saw him promoted to the new-for-2005 GP2 Series, which was replacing the International Formula 3000 Championship as the series immediately below F1. It was a pretty big jump from Formula Renault, featuring faster cars and longer races, but the dream of Grand Prix racing was getting closer.
|Speed (no 1, foreground) was one of the stars of GP2's|
successful inaugural year. Photo: Cahier Images Archive
After years of toil, and after overcoming a pretty serious illness, Scott Speed had made it to Formula 1; while the Paul Ricard test of 2002 may have had elements of farce about it, Speed had fully justified his selection by being the only winning driver to fully take the opportunities Red Bull had given him over the past few years. However, Speed's time in F1 was not a happy one. The Toro Rosso was not a tremendously competitive car and he and Liuzzi often struggled in the lower echelons of the midfield; although the drivers were quite closely matched, Liuzzi generally had the (narrow) upper hand around 65-70% of the time. Speed thought he had scored his first point in Australia, only to be given a time penalty for overtaking David Coulthard (in the sister Red Bull car) under yellow flags; Speed was not happy and apparently delivered a somewhat colourful attack on DC and the stewards in the aftermath. This was a recurring theme in his F1 career and even, to an extent, in GP2; Speed could be a spiky character and hence had difficult relations with the press and some parts of the paddock. All this, one suspects, would have been tolerated had things been different inside the team. However, even here relations were difficult. The general feeling appeared to be that he should have been more self-critical and focused; that the spiky attitude was symptomatic of a wider attitude problem of his regarding F1. After only modest improvement over 2006, and despite an eye-catching performance at the 2007 Monaco GP (where he just missed out on the points again in 9th), he was sacked after a nadir was reached at the 2007 European GP at the Nurburgring (where he retired early and was then allegedly involved in a physical altercation with team boss Franz Tost, supposedly initiated by Tost himself!). Reflecting a couple of years later, former part-owner of the team Gerhard Berger pulled no punches: "Scott Speed should never have been in F1! To be fair, he can be quick - but he doesn't have the commitment, doesn't have the skills. Franz and I saw it quite soon," he said in 2009. During a Q&A of questions sent in from F1 Racing readers last year, Tost was in a more diplomatic mood, stating simply: "he didn't do the job that we expected of him."
Although the team were unimpressed, and F1 was now a no-go area, the wider Red Bull racing unit kept Speed on side, placing him in American stock cars - firstly dovetailing a season in the ARCA ReMax series with one in the NASCAR Trucks series. This categories were completely different to GP2 or F1, and many single-seater racers have found the going hard in stock cars. Yet Speed belied the trend in 2008 by winning several races (four in ARCA ReMax, one in NASCAR Trucks) and battling for the ARCA championship. Again, his initial progress was remarkably quick, despite him ultimately losing the title in a controversial season finale. However, this was again as good as it got for Scott; although he was promoted to Red Bull's main team in the main NASCAR series (the Sprint Cup), he and the team struggled for results. Apparently unimpressed with his performances, Red Bull dropped Speed unceremoniously (he felt) at the end of 2010. This came at a difficult time for Speed personally and he initially sought legal action against the company with which he had almost grown up with in motorsport.
|Speed's debut win in Global Rallycross at the X Games event|
in Brazil. Photo: ESPN Images