Why aren’t there any American drivers in Formula One?
It’s an understandable question, especially given the increased exposure of the motorsport in the United States. The latest wave of interest started with the popular Netflix series “Drive to Survive,” which contributed to two new tracks and three annual American races — more than any other country on F1’s five-continent, 21-country schedule. When the streaming series was renewed for a fifth and sixth season in May, Netflix and Formula 1 said the show ranked Top 10 in 56 countries.
Additionally, F1 is also owned by Liberty Media, an American-based company.
Yet there is just one American-owned team and no American-born drivers on the grid, which pulls up to Austin, Texas, for the 2022 United States Grand Prix on Oct. 23 at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA).
Among the 57 drivers in the long history of F1, dating back to 1950, only a few were more than a blip on the radar. Legendary racing driver Mario Andretti is the most successful American F1 contestant — he won the world championship in 1978. His contributions to the sport will be acknowledged this weekend with the last turn of the track named “The Andretti,” COTA announced Monday.
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But what makes it so difficult for Americans to break into the sport, and which young drivers could be the next American in F1?
Logan Sargeant has perhaps the best chance of becoming the next American Formula 1 driver. He was introduced at last year’s USGP as a member of Williams F1 team’s Driver Academy and will take his turn driving an F1 car this month during a free practice session in Austin.
“I think obviously first FP1 on home soil is immediately something special,” Sargeant, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told USA TODAY Sports. “I think the goal is just to enjoy it and learn as much as possible. So I’ve set no expectations. COTA is an amazing track, driving a Formula 1 car, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Sargeant is making a splash this year in Formula 2, racing for British team Carlin. He is currently third in the series standings as a rookie. He became the first American driver to win an F2 race at the 2022 British Grand Prix from pole position at Silverstone. He followed that up with a victory at the Austrian Grand Prix the subsequent week after two drivers received penalties.
“It was just a matter of time in my mind to keep learning and building as much as I could,” he said of the win. “It was definitely a special day to, I guess, tick that box and look for more.”
The last American to achieve the equivalent was Alexander Rossi. He won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2013 when the series was called GP2.
Sargeant entered the Formula ladder in 2016 when he came in second in the Formula 4 championship. He and his family made the decision to move to Europe when he was 12 years old to maximize his opportunity to race in Formula One, he said.
The sacrifice seems to be paying off as the 21-year-old’s prospects for a 2023 F1 race seat look promising.
Williams currently has a vacant position after the announced departure of Canadian Nicholas Latifi. Other current F1 drivers without a 2023 contract are Daniel Ricciardo and Mick Schumacher — both could be in the mix at Williams.
“I’m just sort of enjoying the moment, to be honest,” Sargeant said. “I think I put more personal pressure on myself to perform than sort of what anyone on the outside can put on me. So from that standpoint, I just sort of keep working as hard as I can, enjoy it and do my best to help the results come in.”
Until very recently, it seemed as though Colton Herta, 22, was destined to drive in F1 next season. But that dream came to an abrupt end.
Herta, who currently drives in IndyCar, was the preferred choice of the Alpha Tauri F1 team for a 2023 seat, according to RACER. However, Herta doesn’t qualify for a Super License and is therefore ineligible to drive in F1 despite having previously tested an F1 car for McLaren.
So what does that mean?
Each driver in F1 needs enough points to qualify for a Super License, which is required for F1 participation. The licenses are given out by the FIA, the global governing body of motorsports. Drivers can earn points based on their championship standings in various other racing series, including F2 and IndyCar. However, the points yielded from F2 is far higher than IndyCar, which leaves Herta short of the 40 points needed for qualification.
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Herta, the youngest IndyCar race-winner in history, has won seven IndyCar events in his young career but still fell short of the Super License threshold due to the points disparity between IndyCar and Europe-based junior Formula series.
Contrast this to the situation of Sargeant, who only needs to finish in the top five in the 2022 F2 championship to be eligible for a Super License. Sargeant is currently third in the standings with one race left.
“I think obviously certain series such as IndyCar should be awarded more points than they currently are,” Sargeant said. “However, I think the Super License is a good thing and it’s a good system that maybe just needs to be slightly tweaked. It does require a driver to perform at the highest level throughout their career before reaching Formula 1 and I think that’s a benefit to everyone to be honest.”
The FIA announced in September it turned down a special request for Herta to obtain a Super License.
The failed process prompted calls from many for the FIA to change its Super License points system. Still, it appears Herta, who just signed a multi-year extension with the Andretti IndyCar team, is locked out of F1 for now.
“It seems like the F1 thing has run its course, and seems as if there won’t be an opportunity, which I’m fine with,” Herta recently told RACER. “It was something that I was honestly looking forward to trying, and I still might be able to try in the future.
“But, you know, IndyCar was never like a fallback plan or anything like that. I’m always really happy to be in IndyCar and drive an Indy car.”
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Alexander Rossi was the last American to drive in F1, last racing in 2015. He appeared in five races for the Manor F1 team, including racing in front of a hometown crowd at the 2015 United States Grand Prix.
“It was an amazing experience to be able to be an American in Formula 1,” he said on Formula 1’s “Beyond the Grid” podcast, noting how the race in Austin was extra special. “I think for any sports person whether it’s in motorsports or football or whatever, to be able to compete in front of your home crowd, your home audience is an amazing thing and an amazing feeling.”
Rossi, 31, left F1 after the 2015 season when Manor opted to seek another driver and an opportunity with American-owned Haas F1 team didn’t materialize.
He is currently under contract in IndyCar for McLaren, which also owns a Formula 1 team. Rossi was Fernando Alonso’s teammate when the two-time World Champion tried his hand at the American series and also raced with Herta. Rossi won the Indy500 with Andretti Autosport in 2016, his rookie year in IndyCar.
Even though his sights might not be on Formula 1 anymore, calling his chances of return “highly unlikely,” Rossi remains supportive of the series and excited about American involvement.
“Ultimately, I’m a Formula 1 fan, I grew up a Formula 1 fan,” he said. “I stand by the fact that I think there needs to be American representation in the sport. … It is building and it is exciting to see and it’s only a matter of time before there’s an American driver.”
If none of the above candidates take an F1 job in the next few years, one American making his way through the lower ranks with an eye on the prize is Jak Crawford.
The 17-year-old from North Carolina currently races in Formula 3 and finished seventh in the championship in his second F3 campaign. His lone win came at the Red Bull Ring, a track owned and operated by Red Bull Racing, at the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix.
Crawford is a member of the Red Bull Junior Team, a young-driver program that has produced F1 talents such as Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz.
Crawford dominated the stateside karting scene before relocating to Europe in 2018. Backed by Red Bull, Crawford should be able to secure the means for a jump to F2 in 2023 or 2024 if an opportunity presents itself. If Sargeant moves on, he could replace him as the lone American driver on the F2 grid. Among those on the European Formula ladder, Crawford would seem to be the closest American driver behind Sargeant to reaching F1.