Why are there no American drivers in Formula 1?
An understandable question, especially given the increasing presence of motorsport in the United States. The latest surge 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 the F1 schedule with five continents and 21 countries. When the streaming series was renewed for a fifth and sixth season in May, Netflix and Formula 1 canceled the show Ranked in the top 10 in 56 countries.
In addition, F1 is also owned by Liberty Media, an America-based company.
However, there is only one American-owned team and no American-born drivers on the grid heading to the 2022 United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas on October 23.
Among the 57 drivers in F1’s long history, stretching back to 1950, few have been more than a small flash on the radar. The legendary racing driver Mario Andretti is the most successful American F1 competitor – he won the 1978 world championship. His services to the sport will be honored this weekend the last corner of the circuit called “The Andretti”, COTA announced this on Monday.
But what makes the sport so difficult for Americans to get into and which young drivers could be the next Americans in Formula 1?
Logan Sargeant may have the best chance of becoming the next American Formula 1 driver. He was introduced at last year’s USGP as a member of the Williams F1 team’s Driver Academy and will take his turn to drive an F1 car during a free practice session in Austin this month.
“I think the first FP1 on home soil is obviously special right away,” Sargeant, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told USA TODAY Sports. “I think the goal is just to enjoy it and learn as much as possible. So I have no expectations. COTA is an amazing track to drive a Formula 1 car, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Sargeant is causing a stir in Formula 2 this year driving for the British team Carlin. As a rookie, he is currently third in the series standings. He became the first American driver to win an F2 race from pole position at Silverstone at the 2022 British Grand Prix. This was followed by a win at the Austrian Grand Prix the following week after two drivers received penalties.
“It was only a matter of time for me to learn and build up as much as possible,” he said of the win. “It was definitely a special day to tick that box and look for more.”
The last American to reach the equivalent was Alexander Rossi. He won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2013 when the series was still called GP2.
Sargeant broke into the formula rankings in 2016 when he finished second in the Formula 4 championship. He and his family made the decision to move to Europe when he was 12 to maximize his chance of driving in Formula 1, he said.
The sacrifice seems to be paying off as the 21-year-old’s prospects for an F1 racing seat in 2023 look promising.
Williams currently has one vacancy following the announced departure of Canadian Nicholas Latifi. Other current F1 drivers without a contract for 2023 are Daniel Ricciardo and Mick Schumacher – both could be in the mix at Williams.
“To be honest, I’m just enjoying the moment,” Sargeant said. “I think I put more personal pressure on myself to perform than what anyone on the outside can put on me. From that point of view I’m just working as hard as I can, enjoying it and doing my best to help the results come.”
Until recently, it seemed like Colton Herta, 22, was destined to drive in Formula 1 next season. But this dream came to an abrupt end.
Herta, who currently races IndyCar, was the Alpha Tauri F1 Team’s preferred choice for a 2023 seat. according to RACER. However, Herta does not qualify for a super license and is therefore not eligible to drive in F1 despite ownership previously tested an F1 car for McLaren.
What does that mean?
Every driver in F1 needs enough points to qualify for a super license, which is required to compete in F1. The licenses are issued by the FIA, the world motorsport association. Drivers can earn points based on their championship placement in various other racing series, including F2 and IndyCar. However, the points scored by F2 are far higher than IndyCar, leaving Herta short of the 40 points needed to qualify.
The youngest IndyCar race winner in history, Herta has won seven IndyCar events in his young career but still fell short of the super license threshold due to the points difference between IndyCar and the Europe-based junior formula series.
Contrast this with the situation of Sargeant, who only needs to finish in the top five in the 2022 F2 Championship to qualify for a super license. Sargeant is currently third overall with one race remaining.
“I think certain series like IndyCar should obviously get more points than they currently have,” Sargeant said. “However, I think the super license is a good thing and a good system that might just need a little tweaking. It requires a driver to perform at their best throughout their career before they reach Formula 1 and I think that’s an advantage to everyone to be honest.”
The FIA announced this in September declined a special request that Herta gets a super license.
The failed process prompted many to call on the FIA to change its super license points system. Nevertheless, Herta seems who just signed a multi-year extension with the Andretti IndyCar teamis excluded from F1 for the time being.
“It looks like the F1 thing has run its course and it seems like there won’t be an opportunity that I agree with,” Herta recently said RACER. “It was something I was honestly looking forward to and might try again in the future.
“But you know, IndyCar was never like a fallback plan or anything. I’m always very happy to be with IndyCar and to drive an Indy car.”
GO PAGE LEWIS: Five drivers who could be Formula 1’s next global icon
Alexander Rossi was the last American to race in Formula One, most recently in 2015. He competed in five races for the Manor Formula One team, including the 2015 United States Grand Prix in front of a home crowd.
“It was an incredible experience to be an American in Formula 1,” he continued Podcast “Beyond the Grid” of Formula 1, and realized that the Austin race was something very special. “I think for any athlete, whether it’s in motorsport or football or whatever, to be able to compete in front of your home crowd is an amazing thing and an amazing feeling.
Rossi, 31, left F1 after the 2015 season when Manor decided to look for another driver and an opportunity with the American Haas F1 team didn’t materialize.
He is currently under contract with IndyCar at McLaren, which also owns a Formula 1 team. Rossi was teammates with Fernando Alonso 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 at IndyCar.
While he may no longer have his sights set on Formula 1 and describes his chances of a return as “highly unlikely”, Rossi remains supportive of the series and welcomes American involvement.
“Ultimately I’m a Formula 1 fan, I grew up as a Formula 1 fan,” he said. “I stand by the fact that I think there needs to be American representation in sport. … It’s building and it’s exciting to watch and it’s only a matter of time before there’s an American driver.”
If none of the above candidates take up an F1 job in the next few years, Jak Crawford is an American making his way through the lower echelons with one eye on prize.
The 17-year-old from North Carolina currently races in Formula 3 and finished seventh in the championship in his second F3 season. His only win came at the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, a track owned and operated by Red Bull Racing.
Crawford is a member of Red Bull Junior Team, a young driver program that has produced F1 talent such as Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz.
Crawford dominated the karting scene in the US before moving to Europe in 2018. With Red Bull’s backing, Crawford should be able to secure the funds to jump into F2 in 2023 or 2024 should an opportunity arise. 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 appears to be the American driver behind Sargeant who comes closest to reaching Formula One.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is F1’s Next American Driver? Sargeant, Herta, Rossi or Crawford?