Why are there no American F1 drivers?
You won't be surprised to hear that money has a lot to do with it...
Formula One will return to Austin for the US Grand Prix this week, with The Circuit of the Americas hosting the race for the ninth time.
And in 2022, F1 fans will see a second Grand Prix in the United States, as drivers compete at the Miami International Autodrome.
However, one thing you likely won’t see on either circuit is an American F1 driver.
In the history of Formula One, only 19 American drivers have contested in 10 or more events and there have been just two world championship winners - Mario Andretti and Phil Hill.
The last time fans saw an F1 driver from the USA was in 2015, with Alexander Rossi driving for Manor Marussia in five Grand Prix races.
Yet, we have to go back to 2006 and 1993 to find drivers that race full-time in Formula One - and neither were particularly successful.
Scott Speed joined Toro Rosso in 2006, but in the entirety of the season, he failed to score a single point and was outperformed by teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi.
Speed signed to continue driving for the team in the 2007 season, but had a largely disappointing start and was dismissed partway through the year.
Similarly, Michael Andretti, the son of Mario, had a difficult time in Formula One in 1993.
Andretti joined McLaren as Ayrton Senna’s teammate and there were huge expectations for him to perform strongly.
However, Andretti lacked consistency, repeatedly crashing and only finishing in the points on three occasions.
With three races remaining in 1993, Andretti left the team and the championship by mutual consent after Monza and was replaced by Mika Hakkinen.
But why have there only been three American F1 drivers in the past 28 years?
The pathway to Formula One is usually defined by drivers going from karting into junior single-seaters such as F4, F3, and F2 before graduating to F1.
However, the first step of karting automatically poses a problem for American hopefuls.
Whilst there are karting leagues in the US, very few are comparable to European and Asian championships.
But let’s say you excel in the American karting SKUSA and IKF series and decide it’s time to make the move to the junior single-seaters of F4 and F3.
This is where you’ll hit the next stumbling block as you will need a huge amount of money and very supportive parents as you’ll have to move to Europe.
Both Alexander Rossi and Scott Speed have stated this as the major reason why American drivers aren’t represented in Formula One.
On the MotorMouth podcast, Rossi said: “It's very difficult to convince parents to move their lives while their kid is 12 to 15 years old, drop out of school, for the most part, be homeschooled, and go live and race in Europe.
"That's the number one reason in my mind why you don't see more American guys give it a go, just because of the commitment, your entire family's life has to change, and I was very fortunate to have the parental support to go do that."
And Speed added: “It is financially impossible for almost all kids growing up racing karts to move to Europe.
“Finding the funding to do it is almost impossible and without doing that, F1 may as well be happening on Mars."
Even Aston Martin’s Otmar Szafnauer, the American with the most experience as an F1 team principal said young Americans looking to break into F1 would need to move to Europe to have a realistic shot.
He said: “I think you have to spend time in the junior formulae in Europe.
“I don’t know what he’s doing now but there was an American last year, a kid from Florida.
“He did all of his junior racing in Europe, but I don’t know what he’s doing now.”
The ‘kid from Florida’ that Szafnauer is referencing is 20-year-old Logan Sargeant.
Sargeant made the jump to European racing, competing in the F4 British Championship and Formula Renault Eurocup, before joining the Formula 3 Championship in 2019.
Whilst he finished 19th in the standings that year, he did finish ahead of teammate Teppei Natori. For the 2020 season, Sargeant switched to Prema Racing and finished third in the championship.
But whilst his closest rivals graduated to F2, where a seat costs over $1million, Sargeant wasn’t able to, citing financial reasons.
It’s no surprise therefore that American talent would find other racing series more appealing, especially given their country has a very rich and diverse racing culture.
For example, one of their most popular racing championships, NASCAR, was born from the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, which banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in a period known as Prohibition. Stock cars were modified during the 1920s to help alcohol producers outrun the police. These modified cars could reach incredible speeds and were later used to race on weekends as a source of entertainment. Soon stock car racing proved popular amongst the masses and in 1948 the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was created.
However, this doesn’t mean that we won’t ever see a full-time Formula 1 driver from America again.
In recent weeks, IndyCar driver Colton Herta has been linked with Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo seat and at just 14-years-old Ugo Ugochukwu signed a long-term deal with McLaren earlier this year.
Are there any American drivers you’d like to see compete in F1, perhaps Jak Crawford or Cameron Das? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.