American Formula 1 Drivers

Mario Andretti | American Formula 1 Drivers

Contrary to popular belief, there have been quite a few American Formula 1 drivers who raced in both the US and around the world. The United States ranks second only to the United Kingdom in its contribution of drivers that competed in Formula 1 racing. While 175 Britons have competed in F1, 162 Americans have participated in the prestigious series. In the early years very few Americans raced in F1 in Europe and the participation of Europeans in the Indianapolis 500 wasn’t something to write home about either

A majority of the American drivers drove in the Indianapolis 500 which was included as a part of the World Championship from 1950 to 1960. The Indianapolis Grand Prix was conducted on different rules than those governing F1. If all the American drivers are to be included in the count, it means 233 American drivers have competed in F1 since 1950, most of them in the US Grand Prix only. But only 19 American drivers have competed in 10 or more Grands Prix.  

Only two American drivers, Phil Hill in 1961 and Mario Andretti in 1978, won the World Drivers’ Championship. 15 drivers have won at least one Grand Prix with five having won more than one race. Mario Andretti was the last American to win a Grand Prix, the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix, the year he also won the Drivers’ Championship. The most recent American participant in Formula One is Alexander Rossi who last raced in 2015.

Joie Chitwood was the first American driver to win a point in F1 while Mario Andretti was the last. While Mario Andretti has been the most successful American F1 driver with 12 Grand Prix wins, Phill Hill is the only American born World Championship champion. He won a total of three Grands Prix, two of them in 1961, the year he won the championship. But it is Dan Gurney who is greatly admired for his contribution to F1, both on the track and off it.

Who is the best American F1 driver?

It is a pity that statisticians now discount the competitors who raced only in the United States Grand Prix. If the competitors who contested in only one race per season were considered, the count of Americans that competed in Formula One would go up to 233. There were many Americans that performed well in Formula One. Many of them competed in NASCAR, IndyCar, 24 Hours of Le Mans, World Sportscar Championship and other series.

But no matter how you look at the statistics, the answer is clear: Mario Andretti is the best American F1 driver to date.

Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti, the most successful American driver in Formula One was born in Italy and later became a US citizen. Andretti drove sporadically in Formula One between 1968 and 1974 for Lotus, March and Ferrari. It is with Ferrari that he won the first Grand Prix, the 1971 South African Grand Prix. Three weeks later he won the non-championship Questor Grand Prix in the US. 

In 1975 Andretti drove for the full season for the American team Parnelli. Frustrated with the lack of success with Parnelli, Andretti joined Lotus in 1976 with whom he won the Japanese Grand Prix. He won four Grands Prix in 1977 and was crowned the World Drivers’ Champion in the 1978 F1 season with six race wins. There were no championship celebrations because Andretti’s teammate, Ronnie Peterson, had crashed, was hospitalised and later died.

After 1978, Andretti drove in Formula One for another four years finding little success. Along with Dan Gurney, Andretti is one of the only two drivers to win races in NASCAR, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and Formula One. Andretti started a race 128 times in Formula One, won the race 12 times and earned 7 more other podium finishes. He is the only driver to be named as the United States Driver of the Year over three decades (1967, 1978 and 1984). 

Phil Hill

Phillip Toll Hill Jr. is the only American-born World Drivers’ Champion. Mario Andretti was born in Italy and immigrated to the US at the age of 15 years. Hill started his Formula One career driving a Maserati in the 1958 French Grand Prix. He joined the Ferrari team the same season and stayed with them till the 1962 season. Hill won all his Grands Prix while driving for Ferrari. He won the last Formula One race in Europe in the 1960 season, the Italian Grand Prix. 

That win in Italy was the sign of things to come the following year. Hill won the World Drivers’ Championship crown in 1961 when he won the Italian Grand Prix. He did not race in the United States Grand Prix, because Ferrari declined to travel to the US, but became the first American to win the World Championship. He won two Grands Prix that year and finished on the podium in all but one race in which he started. Hill was regarded as a thoughtful and a gentle man. 

Daniel “Dan” Saxton Gurney

Dan Gurney was a racing driver, car constructor and a team owner who had a highly successful stint at Formula One. He is the only Formula One driver who won the first Grand Prix titles for three constructors: Porsche, Brabham and Eagle. He is also highly regarded for his contribution to Formula One, both on and off the track. He is still considered to have improved the aerodynamics of Formula One cars with the introduction of a projection from the trailing wings of the cars. The flap is still referred to as the “Gurney flap”. 

Gurney first began racing in Formula One for Ferrari in 1959. He had two podium finishes in the four races he competed in, finishing second in the German Grand Prix. He raced with BRM the next year with no success to write home about. In 1961, Gurney joined Porsche and finished on the podium three times finishing the season fourth overall. The next year Dan Gurney was to secure Porsche their first Grand Prix victory in the French Grand Prix at Rouen-Les-Essarts. 

Although Dan Gurney won just four races out of the 84 he started in. But he won three maiden Grand Prix for three different constructors. He won the French Grand Prix in 1962 for Porsche, a maiden win for Porsche and Gurney. He again won a maiden Grand Prix win for Brabham in 1964. Gurney won his fourth Grand Prix, the Belgian Grand Prix, while driving for Eagle. That was Eagle’s Maiden Grand Prix win also. Gurney is also credited to be the first person to spray champagne on the podium setting up a tradition in almost all motorsports.

Paul Richard “Richie” Ginther

Richie Ginther, through his elder brother, knew Phil Hill. It was because of Hill’s influence that young Richie got into racing. With his racing success on the American Pacific Coast, Ferrari signed him for the 1960 season. He made his debut at the Monaco Grand Prix. At the Monza Grand Prix, Italy, he was placed second to Phil Hill. He led the race till the 25th lap when Hill overtook him and won the title. He finished the season in the 9th position.

Ginther improved his standing to 5th in the 1961 season. Ferrari opted out of the Championship because a serious accident at Monza led to the death of Von Tripps and 15 spectators. Ginther joined BRM and drove for them for three seasons through to 1964. He finished 8th, 3rd and 5th during those years. Ginther later raced for Honda in 1965, Honda and Cooper in 1966 and Eagle in 1967. 

In 1965, Ginther won the Mexican Grand Prix, the only title of his Formula One career. He finished on the podium 14 times and accumulated 107 points during his eight years in Formula One. In 1967, when attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, Ginther was sprayed on his back with a mix of hot gasoline and ethanol. The cause was a broken fuel pipe. The event and the fiery death of a friend, Lorenzo Bandini, led to Ginther’s retirement.  

Bill Vukovich

Bill Vukovich, who first started racing at Indianapolis in 1951, is the first American to win a Formula One Grand Prix, the US Grand Prix. The Indianapolis 500 was deemed to be a part of the World Drivers’ Championship the previous year. Vukovich was forced to retire that year after his oil tank started leaking. He came back strongly in 1953 to win the Grand Prix from a pole position. Vucovich led for 195 laps of the race and recorded the fastest lap.

Vukovich’s car was two years old when he competed in the 1954 Indianapolis 500 Grand Prix. He was placed 19th in the starting lineup and in the 7th row. Vukovich succeeded in wresting the lead in lap 61 and lost it a lap later. He again led on lap 92 and fell behind because of pitstops. From lap 150, he led the race to win it, winning his second Grand Prix. Bill Vukovich was killed the following year in a crash while competing in the US Grand Prix. He had participated in 5 Grands Prix and won 2 of them taking his winning at 40 percent.

Peter Revson

Peter Revson’s first venture in Europe, driving for Lotus in four races in the 1964 season was unsuccessful. In 1971 he was invited by Tyrell to put in a guest appearance at the United States Grand Prix. His performance in the race prompted McLaren to sign him for the 1972 Formula One season. Revson finished the season with four podium finishes. 

Revson won his first race, the Great Britain Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1973. He won the Canadian Grand Prix later and finished the season with 3 podium finishes, two of them on the top. In 1974 Revson signed with UOP Shadow Racing Team. While testing for The South African Grand Prix, Revson’s front suspension failed. Revson crashed into the barriers and was killed.

Eddie Cheever

Edward McKay (Eddie) Cheever tried his hand at Formula One racing in 1978 with Theodore and Olympus before he signed with Osella in 1980. In his first year, Cheever finished only the Italian Grand Prix finishing 12th. In 1981, Cheever shifted to Team Tyrell finishing the season in 12th place. Cheever again changed teams to Ligier in 1982 and won three podium finishes, one of them in second place at Detroit.

Renault recruited Cheever in 1983. In his best Formula One season, Cheever won four podium places with a second-place finish in Canada. Cheever competed in Formula One till the end of 1989 but was unable to win a Grand Prix. He started in more Formula One races (132) than any other American driver. Throughout those 132 races, Cheever’s second place finished was his best achievement in Formula One. 

Scott Speed

Scott Andrew Speed was the first American to race in Formula One in 2006 after Micheal Andretti in 1993. In 2005 Speed took part in Formula One as a test driver for Red Bull. In 2006 he raced for Red Bull but failed to score any points in the season. He raced for two more seasons for Scuderia Toro Rosso but still failed to score any points. Speed was released from his contract in July 2007 but maintained good relations with Red Bull. He was rewarded with an invitation for a Red Bull-backed drive in the US in 2008.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Michael Rossi was the last American driver to race in Formula One till 2020. He started in Formula One with Renault in 2012. He was racing after the last American Scott speed left Formula One. Rossi raced for two years with Renault with disappointing results. In 2014 he signed with the Marussia F1 Team as a reserve driver. He finished his stint at Formula One with 12th place as his best finish. He left for America in 2016 to concentrate on IndyCar racing.

Why are there no American drivers in Formula 1?

The FIA has included the US Grand Prix in its calendar year since 2012. Only this time the race is held at the Circuit of the Americas and not Indianapolis. The 2020 United States Grand Prix was cancelled because of the pandemic. The 2021 race will take place. The FIA however has grand plans for the United States in 2022. They expect the United States to host two Grands Prix in the season. 
 
The popularity of Formula One is rising in the US since the Grand Prix at COTA started. It is no easy job to get the attention of Americans with NASCAR and IndyCar keeping them entertained. To the disappointment of the FIA, there is no American star driver on the horizon. No American driver has driven in the FIA since Alexander Rossi did in 2015. There was an encouraging attendance of 268,000 spectators at COTA in 2019. Millions more watched on television.
 
So why are there no Americans racing in Formula One? Alexander Rossi feels that “it’s very difficult to convince parents to move their lives while their kid is 12-15 years old, drop out of school, for the most part, be home-schooled, and go live and race in Europe.” Although Americans like life in the fast lane, Rossi feels that options abound in the form of NFL, NBA, NASCAR, IndyCar for American drivers. And of course, there is no American driver to cheer for in the United States Grand Prix.
 
Mario Andretti, the American F1 legend, thinks that America would go crazy if there is even one American racing with a good team in the F1. He feels Americans’ interest in Formula One is understated and a good number of Americans keep a close eye on Formula One races. Andretti believes that Colton Herta has real talent and is a man to keep your eyes on. At 21, Herta is the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race and he is in Europe trying his luck in Formula One racing.
 
With the advent of Haas, an American constructor, into F1 things look brighter for Formula One in the United States. A good American driver would certainly help the cause of F1 in America. It won’t be easy to compete with NASCAR and IndyCar.

Are there American cars in Formula 1?

American auto manufacturers like Ford, Chevrolet, and General Motors might be global brands, but a vast majority of their market is at home, in America. Formula One does not have the kind of following in America that it has in Europe and other continents of the world. Participating in Formula One, for American car manufacturers, will neither strengthen their brand nor get them the returns on their investment.
 
Entering a series like Formula One needs long-term investment, planning and vision. The companies will have to spend a lot of money on setting up testing and innovation facilities. If a company wants to venture into F1 for ten years, it will have to spend in the region of 3.5 billion dollars. With a budget of 2.8 billion for advertising in 2020, sparing 350 million per year will not be a problem for a company like Ford. The question is how do they recover at least their investment? What will they tell their shareholders?
 
The Ukralki Haas F1 team, a team formed by Gene Haas has been competing in Formula One since 2016. The 2018 Formula One season was the best season for Hass as they finished fifth in the table. The 2021 season is more than two-third over and Haas hasn’t scored a point yet. Haas though has perceived over the years and looks like they are set for the long run. Being a part-owner of NASCAR, Gene Haas understands what racing is all about.

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