With the news that the Cypher Group has officially submitted a tender for F1 2011, and with it have confirmed that they will be bringing US racer Jonathan Summerton with them should they be granted the 13th grid slot, there have been a few questions asking who this Summerton chap is…
So here’s an interview I ran with Jonathan last season when he was hoping to be picked up by USF1. He’s a lovely guy, and in EuroF3 compared well with a lot of boys who have subsequently made it to F1.
While the USF1 references in the following article, which originally appeared in GPWeek, are dated, I hope the rest of the article will give you some insight into the guy… enjoy!
It’s been one of the biggest questions of 2009 – just which American driver will USF1 pick to drive for the honour of their nation in the team’s debut F1 season in 2010? It’s not like Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor are short of choices, but one driver makes more sense than all the others… and the chances are he’s not the one you’re thinking of.
By Will Buxton
It’s a list of names that seems to grow longer every week. Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal… hell, even Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya have entered the mix and they’re not even American. Just which driver will USF1 pick as their posterboy? While few seem to be in any doubt that Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor will try to find an experienced F1 driver to head up their team, the duo have stated from the off that one of the primary purposes of their team is to give young American racers a crack at Formula 1.
There is one driver, however, who makes more sense than all the other American hopefuls put together. What’s most astounding is that you may not have even heard of him. But, with each passing week, there seems to be an increasing chance that you will do. He’s competed against, and beaten, a large number of current F1 race and test drivers. He’s young, hungry, talented and, unlike many of his American counterparts, has always said that his long term goal and ultimate racing ambition was to race in Formula 1. Meet Jonathan Summerton.
Jonathan’s racing career began comparatively late in life, when at the age of 13 he began racing in karts in the Rotax junior championship in the States back in 2002. With just one full year of karting behind him in 2003, he graduated to Formula BMW USA for 2004, winning a scholarship to the class after impressing the championship’s talent spotters at their annual tryouts in Valencia.
“Racing in Formula BMW USA was great,” he says, looking back. “BMW did a great job with all their training and everything they did with the Formula BMW series. It was a good introduction to the motorsport world. Getting to race on two F1 venues in my first year was a great thing to have happen because racing in F1 has always been my dream and my goal. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot that year.”
He stayed for just one year in Formula BMW USA finishing third in the championship, before taking the bold decision to quit racing in the States and head for Europe for a season of Formula BMW Germany with Team Rosberg.
“It was a big risk coming over to Europe,” he agrees. “There haven’t been a lot of Americans to take that path or step out of the US area. The reason behind it all though was because I wanted to make it to Formula 1 and I knew that to do that you had to be in Europe. You have to show well wherever you go. Coming from the States, Formula BMW in Germany was a very steep learning curve.”
A steep learning curve it may have been, but Summerton took his second season of single-seaters in his stride and impressed so much that he landed a plum drive with Mücke Motorsport in the Formula 3 EuroSeries for 2006, teamed up with future F1 driver Sebastien Buemi.
“In Formula 3 Euro Series we had a great season. Of course I made the rookie mistakes of putting pressure on myself, but overall we ended up coming good together and in the last five races we were always in the points and we were always competitive in qualifying. It was a really good time.
“Sebastien and I pushed each other and he was a great team-mate to have. Both of us were very competitive and we were always close in times. We constantly pushed each other to improve and I think that’s why we made such big leaps over the season. Our competition and teamwork really moved the team forward. Of course then we were able to compete with ART/ASM towards the end of the season, and all in a season where we had, I think, six current F1 race or test drivers, so it was a very competitive year. Definitely it was a lot of fun racing with guys like Vettel, Buemi, Nakajima, and it was a great time.”
By season’s end, Summerton had truly announced himself onto the European stage, winning at the final round at Hockenheim and beating his more fancied team-mate Buemi in the championship. He also finished above Romain Grosjean and took second in the rookie championship behind Kamui Kobayashi. Not bad for an American kid few had heard of, and who was, including karting, in only his fourth season of racing anything on wheels.
Jonathan Summerton had arrived, and was relishing the opportunities that lay ahead of a second season in F3 EuroSeries, and graduating to GP2 along with his F3 rivals. It was a dream that was to go unrealised, however.
“Not finding a full-time drive in 2007 was disappointing, definitely, but you know with the sponsorship and economy the way it was, it was very hard to find the backing but I got an opportunity to develop the F3 car for Volkswagen. Basically from there at least it was something that I was able to do and keep driving, and I thought that being in Europe it was a way to keep racing over there and be at the front of developing a new engine for a manufacturer. Going into GP2 I would have loved to have done, but there was just no financial backing that I could find and so I took the next best route which was development work.”
Summerton had taken an enormous gamble coming to Europe in the first place. Only a few American drivers had risked the same path over that period, and those were guys with big backing. The likes of Scott Speed and Colin Fleming were sponsored to the hilt by Red Bull, but Jonathan was having to make his own way. With the world in the early throws of financial meltdown he could have been excused for simply giving up on his F1 dream, but that simply wasn’t in his make-up.
An opportunity arose to represent his country with a drive in the A1GP Series. He grabbed it with both hands, and took the teams first and thus far only win in the category, and the success helped boost his profile not only in Europe, but back at home in the States too.
“Driving in A1GP and the Formula 3 EuroSeries and the respect that I built from a number of the teams over there was very good for me,” he says. “With A1GP, getting to know a lot of the people in that series, some of them who are F1 guys doing some work in the off-season, was important. The win set a lot off as people realised that I had to be pretty good to be competing with guys like Neel Jani and Adam Carroll and strong names like theirs. It was a great feeling to be on top and to represent my country. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
That chance to represent his country is one now represented by the launch of the new-for-2010 USF1 team. After a season and a half racing back in the States (he came an impressive third in Formula Atlantics last season on his return to full-time racing) Summerton says that the very existence of the team is something which he believes will benefit American motorsport as a whole.
“I think it will really raise awareness over here in the States. I know that from everybody I’ve spoken to in the motorsport world over here in America. They all know of it but there’s a lot of scepticism out there. But I think that Ken and Peter are doing a hard job and working their butts off to get this thing going and to succeed at it.”
The fact that Jonathan is on first name terms with USF1’s top brass suggests he’s no stranger to the two of them. With their modus operandi already laid out as being to give young American hopefuls a shot at Formula 1, Jonathan Summerton is a driver who surely must rank high on their list.
“I definitely feel that if they start picking drivers from America and helping them out for Europe then it’ll be a great opportunity for a lot of Americans,” Summerton explains. “Hopefully a lot of the young up and comers will see that opportunity, take advantage of it and really work hard to get there because if they’re good enough and can see an opportunity in F1 without rushing to Europe then that would allow them to focus on honing their skills in karting, racing over here in the States for a few years and then if USF1 picked them up and developed them they could send them to Europe and develop their skills there.”
OK Jonathan, enough with the PR answer about other drivers’ careers. What about yours? Has he been in touch with Ken and Peter? Is that USF1 drive a realistic shot for 2010?
“I have been in touch with Peter and Ken quite a lot and it’s definitely somewhere I’d love to be,” he beams. “Hopefully everything comes together with the team and the driver. It would be a dream come true making it to Formula 1 and being able to show that it can be done without a budget, to say the least. The last four years have been a hard push at times to even find a ride and luckily each year I’ve been able to find something. To be able to make it to the pinnacle of motorsport, to be able to race against all those guys I raced against in Formula 3 EuroSeries, and to do it with an American team, too, would be great.”
A young American driver with talent, hunger, likeability, and a previous form book in which he’s taken on and beaten some of the very best of F1’s current rising stars, Jonathan Summerton isn’t just the type of driver USF1 should be signing, he is the driver they should be signing. Go on Ken, Peter… you know it makes sense.