USF1, the new American based team who’ll debut in 2010, have finally announced their first driver: Argentine racer Jose Maria Lopez.

Hardly a household name outside his native country, twenty-six year old Lopez is a former GP2 rival of F1 drivers Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Timo Glock, having raced in the series in 2005 and ’06. He took a single race win, whilst also testing for the Renault F1 team, before returning to his homeland in 2007 to race in the TC2000 touring car series.

F1 newbie Lopez (left), with the familiar faces of Glock and Hamilton

He took the title the following year and again last season, and now makes the giant leap to F1. But it’s not those touring car championships that have got him the drive- F1 teams don’t usually sign drivers direct from tin-tops- it’s a budget thought to be in the region of 8 million dollars.

Having impressed on home soil Argentine companies are now keen to see him represent their nation in F1. He’s also been helped out by ex-F1 driver Carlos Reutemaan, a friend of USF1 boss Peter Windsor and now a leading politician in Argentina. In fact Reutemaan was so keen to get his countryman the drive he’s persuaded the government to contribute to his budget. Well, there are worse things to spend taxpayers money on…

Whether it’ll go down quite so well in the probable event that Lopez spends a season at the back of the grid is another matter. USF1 are likely to contest F1’s wooden spoon in 2010, and the fact that they’ve signed a pay-driver doesn’t bode too well for their financial health. Still, Lopez is happy.

“This is a truly memorable day for me, my family and the people of Argentina,” he said said following the announcement, whilst team principal Peter Windsor added that he was “thrilled to have him on board”, no doubt breathing a sigh of the relief at the financial holes Lopez’s cash has plugged.

USF1’s press realease calls the signing a continuation of ‘the heritage that began sixty years ago when Juan Manuel Fangio and Froilan Gonzalez took the F1 world by storm’, before listing all 23 Argentines to race in the sport. Lopez will no doubt hope he doesn’t emulate the most recent two of his countrymen to race in F1- Gaston Mazzacane and Esteban Tuero- both of whom had less than impressive spells in F1.

So, with a driver on board can we now be certain that USF1 will be on the grid in Bahrain? And what does signing a paying driver say about the team’s ambitions for 2010? Let us know what you think.