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Speed replaced by Formula One team

August 01, 2007|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

Californian Scott Speed, the only American driver in the international Formula One auto-racing series, was replaced by his team Tuesday after failing to earn a point in his 1 1/2 years on the circuit.

The team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, said Germany's Sebastian Vettel, 20, would replace Speed for the rest of the season starting with Sunday's race in Budapest, Hungary. Vettel had been a test driver for the BMW Sauber Formula One team.

The shuffling underlined the challenge American drivers have faced in succeeding in the European-dominated Formula One series.

Speed had been its first U.S. driver in more than a decade, since Indy car driver Michael Andretti made an attempt in 1993 without much success.

Speed could not be reached for comment. But his manager, Glen Hinshaw, said in an e-mail that Speed "is not released from contract" and that further details "regarding the team and driver ongoing relationship" would be announced after Sunday's race.

A 24-year-old native of Manteca, near Stockton, Speed fulfilled a boyhood dream of racing in Formula One -- and launched an untold number of quips about his name -- when he was chosen last year to drive one of two cars fielded by Toro Rosso.

The team is co-owned by the Red Bull energy drink company based in Austria -- Toro Rosso is Red Bull in Italian -- and Speed had moved to Austria to hone his skills in lower-level European series before reaching Formula One.

But Speed struggled from the outset in Formula One. And after 28 races -- including the first 10 of this year's 17-race schedule -- he had yet to earn any of the championship points that Formula One awards to the top-eight finishers of each race.

Speed's best finish was ninth, which he did twice. At the U.S. Grand Prix in June at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he finished 13th among 22 drivers.

It didn't help that Speed's cars and his team are widely considered inferior to those fielded by the McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari teams that currently dominate the sport.

While it wasn't clear how much of the problem rested with Speed and how much with his equipment, he finished only three of the 10 races this year.

Toro Rosso's other driver, Italy's Vitantonio Liuzzi, also hasn't earned a point this year and has finished four races.

Vettel, meanwhile, raised eyebrows at the U.S. Grand Prix when he finished eighth -- and earned a point -- in his first Formula One start driving for an injured Robert Kubica at BMW Sauber.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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