America – Why don’t they produce F1 drivers, and who will be their next driver in the sport?
Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Umut Yelbaşı
The USA has a long and rich history in motorsports. Formula One is set to have 2 races in the US in 2022 following the addition of the Miami Grand Prix. They’ve had the most circuits in F1 history, they host one of the 3 motorsport ‘triple crown events’ in the Indianapolis 500, and have some of the most prestigious race tracks in the world. But why don’t we see any American drivers in F1, despite the huge amount of racers they have?
America hasn’t seen an F1 driver since Alexander Rossi in 2015. The last full-time driver was Scott Speed in 2007, and the last one to score a point was Michael Andretti, way back in 1993. However, the structure of the US motorsport system means that very few single-seater drivers will ever make it to F1, or even be close to it, and here is why.
Just like many European countries, the US has an F4 series, held since 2016. The natural step above that is Formula Regional America, similar to its European counterpart, albeit with smaller grids and pedigree. After that the next step would be F3, but America’s “Road to Indy” system prevents that from happening.
The “Road to Indy” is similar to how most drivers get to F1. It has 4 stages: US F2000, Indy Pro 2000, Indy Lights, and IndyCar, similar to the F4, F3, F2, F1 format. However, the Road to Indy is much cheaper than the European Formula system, and additionally provides scholarships for the winning driver of each step, meaning they can progress on with their racing careers, ensuring that talented drivers aren’t affected by any possible lack of money.
And in 2022, a new unofficial step is set to be added to the ladder. USF Juniors will be a step below US F2000, and is set to bridge the gap between karting and USF2000, which will have the same scholarship award for winning the championship. Interestingly, it will use the same machinery as USF4, but with the purpose of low costs and high rewards.
Although the F4 and Formula Regional systems are designed to get drivers into F1, many young American talents will find the Road to Indy much more appealing due to the reduced costs, and therefore will only dab into European racing careers. The best example is Kyle Kirkwood, who won US F4 and US F3 (Formula Regional USA), before progressing onto the Road to Indy and performing unbelievably well, winning almost two thirds of his races during the Road to Indy. Someone with that much talent could easily cut it in the F3 system, but we see so many talented drivers drop out of F3 due to funding issues, contrary to the RTI, which has attracted European drivers.
This means any young American star will always be inclined to prefer the RTI. Although there are some exceptions, the pathway beyond F3 is too expensive and unreasonable, and if they can reach IndyCar, their seat will not be heavily influenced by finance, something everyone in motorsport wants to see. With the relations between F1 and IndyCar increasing, could we see the Road to Indy as a method for joining F1?
Who could be America’s next driver?
Logan Sargeant is the first name that may come to many minds. Sargeant finished a superb 3rd year in F3, and although an F2 promotion was fully deserved, funding eventually prevented him from making the step up to F2. In his third year, with Charouz, Sergeant has worked wonders with usually average machinery, claiming his team 3 podiums, something they have never done before. However, funding will always pull him back, so the only way that Sargeant could make F1 is through a driver academy. With many teams sniffing around he has a reasonable shot, although it would be a stroke of luck, but a fully deserved one.
On paper, Crawford probably has the best chance of anyone. He dipped his feet in the Road to Indy, taking part in US F2000, at only 14 years old. However, since being part of the Red Bull Junior program after his US F2000 campaign, his funded career in Europe has gone successfully, and he is doing respectably well in his first F3 season. As a 16-year-old member of the Red Bull academy, Crawford has a decent chance, if he can prove to be good enough. The only downside for him is that the Red Bull seats are becoming more and more competitive. Liam Lawson and Juri Vips have been sensational in F2, and will be looking at an AlphaTauri seat very soon. Dennis Hauger looks set to win F3, with Jack Doohan currently 2nd in the standings, whilst Jonny Edgar and Ayumu Iwasa are also competing with Crawford in F3. Whilst Crawford has the best chance, both the quality and the quantity of Red Bull talent may hold him back.
Andretti Autosport’s star, Colton Herta, can be debated as the best American driver at this moment, and although his chances of getting to F1 are on the lower side, he would certainly be a star in the sport. Despite being only 21, Herta has won 6 IndyCar races, in a struggling Andretti team, and is regarded as one of the stars of the series. Andretti have been rumoured to take over Sauber in the future, and if Andretti were ever be able to get into F1, Herta would have to be a primary contender. His raw speed is incredible, and has dominated races on numerous occasions. Herta has had a brief stint in Europe, where he challenged Lando Norris for the British F4 crown, and came close to the Euroformula Open Championship. If his IndyCar rise up the ranks continues, an F1 move may be on the cards, especially if Andretti finds a way in.