What happened to American Formula 1 drivers

08-02-2023 16:54 Last update: 08-02-2023 18:22

The last time we saw a Formula 1 driver from America was all the way back in 2015 when Marussia let Alexander Rossi entered for five races at the end of the season. It’s fair to say he didn’t impress but the truth of it was he added to the trend of American drivers struggling to make a mark in Formula 1

Not only were the States on the track the sport wasn’t exactly booming off it, with Indy Car and Nascar all more popular. Fast forward eight years and the landscape looks somewhat different. The 2023 season is set to have three American races on the calendar, the sport has arguably become more popular than other series in the US and for the first time since 2015, there will be a US driver on the grid in the form of Logan Sergeant.

The early days

With Formula 1 booming in America, we’ve decided to take a look at the history of American drivers in the pinnacle of motorsport and we start by going all the way back to 1950 Monaco Grand Prix and Harry Schell. That race featured legends of the sport like Juan Manuel Fangio and Prince Bira, if you’ve been around here a while you’ll know who that is. If you thought Max was dominant last year Fangio won the race by over a lap back then but we are hear to talk about Americans and Schell ended up retiring.

Their first win came at the Indy 500, yes the that’s right, in 1950, the Indianapolis 500 was on the F1 calendar but it only attracted Americans so unsurprisingly they won with Johnie Parsons winning the race. 

It took until 1961 for an American to win a World Championship when Phil Hill scooped top prize that season. With a grand total of 34 points he won the title by just one from his teammate Wolfgang von Trips who was actually killed at the penultimate race in Italy.

Despite the season finale being in the States, Ferrari chose not to travel with both titles already won, denying Hill the chance to race at Watkins Glen. Several American drivers actually chose to only race at the season finale at Watkins Glen.

The Andretti Era and a potential return

Probably the biggest name in American F1 history and maybe in American motorsport history full stop is Mario Andretti and he won their second and most recent Formula 1 World Championship in 1978. In 131 entries he scored 19 podiums 12 of which were victories which is a very impressive ratio. The year he won, there were actually two races in the United States as the Grand Prix West was held at Long Beach California.

The key to Andretti’s success that year was his qualifying pace and he took pole on 8 occasions, and five of his six wins that year were from the front of the grid. Andretti retired in 1981 and fittingly his last race was the 1981 Ceasars Palace Grand Prix. Mario’s victory at the Dutch Grand Prix remains the last by an American in Formula 1.

The Andretti name is the biggest in American motorsport and Mario’s son Michael has continued to fly the flag. Michael raced in Formula 1 in 1993 for McLaren racing 13 times. Believe it or not he was sacked by McLaren for poor performance despite finished third in his final race! Andretti are looking to write a new chapter in their motorsport history as they attempt to enter their own team into Formula 1, highlighting how much the sport has grown in the US. 

"Almost none existent since"

Since then American drivers have been almost none existent. In fact US participation has been so low Alexander Rossi and Scott Speed who you’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of, are the only two US drivers since Andretti Jr. But now with Logan Sergeant and up and coming stars such as Jak Crawford all of a sudden Formula 1 seems like a much more attractive proposition.

This was a script written by Joe Tyrrell for a video the GP Blog YouTube channel.

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