Left to right: USF1 chief Peter Windsor, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Jose Maria "Pechito" Lopez

The USF1 team has ended months of speculation by announcing the first of two drivers for its debut in the upcoming 2010 Formula One season. Actually, it was the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who announced the contract between the team and one Jose Maria "Pechito" Lopez, hinting at just how much support the Argentine driver received from his home country.

Although the start-up – the first F1 team based in the U.S. in some 40 years – initially said it wanted to field American drivers, in the end it comes down to financial backing for USF1 and the other three teams slated to join the grid this year. That's not to say that Lopez is undeserving; although a rookie in technical terms, Pechito has three years of testing with the Renault F1 team under his belt, along with several years in karting, Formula 3000, GP2 and other racing series.

When he makes his race debut, Lopez will be the 24th Argentine driver to make the grid, following such greats as De Tomaso, Fangio and Reutemann. And the announcement brings the 2010 line-up one step closer to completion, with only a seat each at Renault, Campos and USF1 remaining unconfirmed.

In a related development, the Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso teams announced the promotion of reigning British F3 champion Daniel Ricciardo and former Formula Renault 2.0 champion Brendon Hartley – of Australia and New Zealand respectively – as their shared reserve drivers for this year. Details on the Lopez announcement in the press release after the jump.

[Source: USF1]
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PRESS RELEASE

US F1 Team announces Jose Maria Lopez as driver for 2010 season
Argentine star to race in US F1's Debut Campaign

Charlotte, N.C. (Jan. 25, 2010) – US F1 Team announced today that they have signed the former Renault F1 Team test driver, Jose Maria "Pechito" Lopez (26), to race with them in the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship. Lopez will be the 24th Argentine* to race in Formula One, sustaining a heritage that began sixty years ago when Juan Manuel Fangio and Froilan "Pepe" Gonzalez took the F1 world by storm.

"Securing 'Pechito' Lopez for our debut season has been a goal of ours for a long time," said US F1 Team Executive Vice President Peter 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 One. 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. 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 got behind him." As proof of that, Lopez's US F1 contract was officially announced by the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, in the Casa Rosada (Government House) in Buenos Aires on the afternoon of January 25.

After meeting Jose Maria and Windsor, the President commented: "The Argentine government is very happy to get behind this exciting new project and we wish Jose Maria and the team all the best for the 2010 season."

"This is a truly memorable day for me, my family and the people of Argentina," said Lopez, who has more than 6,000 kilometers of F1 test experience. "I have been working towards 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 race cars 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 shake-downs and starts but also completing simulated race distances with compromised set-ups.

Disappointed not be given the opportunity to race in F1, Jose returned to Argentina in 2007. His positive, super-professional approach resulted in three championships, 38 wins and 36 pole positions. As a result, Jose became a hero in his own country and regained the momentum he needed to focus once again on F1.

US F1 Team, which is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, the motorsports capital of the United States, will be the only American-based team on the grid in 2010 and the first in more than 40 years. Team Principal, President and CEO Ken Anderson said finding the right drivers was a major part of forming US F1 Team.

"So many things go into starting a Formula One 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."

* Argentina's F1 Heritage – Argentines who have raced in the FIA Formula One World Championship

1) Pablo Birger
2) Roberto Bonomi
3) Clemar Bucci
4) Antonio Creus
5) Jorge Daponte
6) Alejandro De Tomaso
7) Nasif Estefano
8) Juan Manuel Fangio
9) Norberto Fontana
10) Oscar Galvez
11) Jose Froilan Gonzalez
12) Miguel Angel Guerra
13) Jesus Iglesias
14) Oscar Larrauri
15) Onofre Marimon
16) Gaston Mazzacane
17) Carlos Menditeguy
18) Roberto Mieres
19) Carlos Reutemann
20) A. Rodriguez Larreta
21) Adolfo Schwelm Cruz
22) Esteban Tuero
23) Ricardo Zunino

Note: Antonio Creus raced under dual Spanish/Argentine nationality.