Feb 14, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Tough as nails. Resilient beyond belief. Personable beyond comprehension. Respected by her peers.
Although Simona de Silvestro didn’t win a race in her four years in IndyCar, she ticked a lot of boxes to make her a fan and paddock favorite.
What sticks out to me most was her resiliency.
De Silvestro entered IndyCar in 2010 with Keith Wiggins’ HVM Racing operation, a team with slightly-more-than shoestring finances. She entered after a crushing blow in the Formula Atlantic season finale a year earlier at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, when she was taken out by another competitor on the first lap to cost her the title.
No matter. Her management team and support, from what was at the time Team Stargate Worlds, helped her take the next step in her open-wheel career. Meanwhile the others from Atlantic, Americans John Edwards and Jonathan Summerton, weren’t able to.
Her new car just looked ragged watching it either on the ground on TV. But de Silvestro hustled it like nobody’s business. She was Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year, and some of her qualifying and race performances (Edmonton and Mid-Ohio in particular) were just sublime to watch.
The breakout should have happened in 2011, still with HVM but with new support from Nuclear Clean Air Energy and Entergy. Fourth place at St. Petersburg behind eventual KV Racing Technology teammate Tony Kanaan – in a race with its own subplot featuring de Silvestro’s old engineer working with Kanaan in his first race with KV – heralded her as a star in the making. Ninth at Barber and fastest lap in Brazil were further proof.
Then Indianapolis 2011 happened, and quite honestly, it was hard to imagine her being able to recover fully from it. Her practice crash was her second fiery one on an oval (Texas 2010) and also cost her the team’s new, improved chassis.
But the resilience emerged once again even in the unloved, heavier, older backup chassis that she qualified for the field before Bump Day. Working together with her PR rep Monica Hilton at HVM, the legend of Simona and “Pork Chop” was born.
Further results the rest of the year went begging… and the less said about 2012 with the Lotus engine the better. Except that when she had every opportunity to throw her engine manufacturer under the bus, she never did. That was the professional in her.
So, the breakout, part 2, was planned for 2013. And sixth place at St. Pete, with KV, battling Kanaan for what had been a podium position, was the first sign ’13 was the finally year we’d all been waiting for.
To follow the narrative though, even though she finished in the top 10 in three of the first four races and battled through a tough midseason, the resilience returned again. She was one of the series’ top-10 drivers on a consistent basis the last five races (finished top-10 in all five), and her first podium with second at Houston was no less than she or her supporters deserved.
In summation, then, 65 starts, three top-fives, and 14 top-10 finishes, a best start of third at St. Pete this year and a couple fastest race laps. Not great numbers on paper, but toss out the 15 starts from 2012 with the hapless Lotus sled in her car and you see she did overachieve at a rather good level given the equipment at her disposal.
Ultimately though, 13th in the final standings – as she was this year – was probably as good as it was going to get given her career struggles on ovals. She made strides, but with the field as deep as it is, it was the final mountain to hurdle. Even her best oval finish, eighth at the IndyCar season finale in Fontana, came after being caught up in an accident and merely surviving the high attrition rate. Her road and street course prowess, however, was very much evident.
For IndyCar, the loss is its second major driver gut-punch of the offseason, following Dario Franchitti’s medically enforced retirement.
De Silvestro was liked by some because she was the “anti-Danica Patrick,” who built her brand purely on her racing ability rather than her sex appeal. In interviews, de Silvestro often said she didn’t want to be the next Danica, but the first Simona.
But she was also liked because of her down-to-earth nature, effervescent smile, and ability to wring as much as possible out of less than the top machinery.
De Silvestro and her management team deserve credit for sticking it out this long, and for her, F1 has always been the goal. At 25, she’s far from “old,” but when you consider she’s older than almost half the field of 22, she’s got another test of resilience to come.
But I’ve had the chance and privilege to cover her consistently since her first Atlantic season in 2007. Knowing her, she’ll tackle it full on.
Sep 4, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to double up in FP2 after topping first practice on Friday morning.
Sep 4, 2015, 5:31 AM EDT
Hamilton finishes half a second clear of Rosberg to top FP1 on Friday.
Sep 4, 2015, 3:45 AM EDT
The Italian GP weekend kicks off with FP1 at 4am ET on Friday.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Here’s all the information you need to know about this weekend’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis:
Sep 3, 2015, 6:54 PM EDT
The biggest and most important drag race of the season takes place this weekend with the 61st Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.
Sep 3, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT
The GP3/16 breaks cover at Monza ahead of its introduction next year.
Sep 3, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT
Mercedes goes all-in ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, fully upgrading the power units on both of its cars.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
FOM comes out in support of “first class partner” Pirelli.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Silly season has been a let down in 2015. Perhaps it is therefore fitting that McLaren is now the team to watch in the driver market.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT
Hamilton goes blonde for Monza. He’s not alone in F1 annals.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
Perez expects to confirm his plans for 2016 in the next two weeks.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Debris, not structural problems, to blame for tire failures at Spa.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno make their picks ahead of this weekend’s race at Monza.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The European season comes to a close at Monza this weekend. Can Lewis Hamilton enter the final run of flyaways with an even bigger lead?
Sep 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
James Hinchcliffe a few weeks away from his driving return.
Sep 3, 2015, 5:38 AM EDT
Williams confirms an unchanged line-up for 2016, keeping Bottas and Massa together for a third season.
Sep 2, 2015, 6:16 PM EDT
The TV times for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
Sep 2, 2015, 4:33 PM EDT
$2,500 fine levied against No. 22 team for pit road infraction.
Sep 2, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT
Jann Mardenborough steps up from GP3 into GP2 this weekend.
Sep 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Hinchcliffe recalls racing, commentating on Justin Wilson.
- WATCH LIVE: FP2 for the Italian Grand Prix on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET 0
- Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two in Italian GP FP1 0
- NHRA: All you need to know about the 61st U.S. Nationals 0
- NHRA: Year’s biggest race, the U.S. Nationals, ready to roll 2
- F1 2015’s silly season is proving to be a let down, but who could yet spice it up? 3
- 2015 Italian Grand Prix Preview 0
- James Hinchcliffe on the comeback trail for IndyCar driving return 2