May 9, 2023
Richard Foegele

Americans in Formula One

A Rich Heritage

With the first of three F1 races on US soil this season done and dusted, we take a look at new Grand Prix recruit American Logan Sargeant.

Despite the support of the sell-out crowd, Sargeant’s Miami Grand Prix performance was lackluster, with the Florida native failing to lift himself off the back of the grid.

Why is it so difficult for American drivers to crack F1? Has there ever been an American F1 Champion? The answer is yes. Actually, the US has a rich history in Grand Prix Racing. Here is a brief look.

The 1961 Formula One World Championship was won by American Phil Hill in a distinct “shark nose Ferrari 156”. Hill clinched the Championship at the original 10 km Monza circuit, which hosted the Italian GP and, that year, still used the two daunting banked Parabolica corners. Hill was also an accomplished long distance driver, securing wins at the coveted LeMans 24-hour race on 3 occasions.

Phil Hill hailed from the Magic City, the site of this past weekend’s F1 race

Not to be outdone, fellow Californian Dan Gurney also made an impact during 60s Grand Prix races. Gurney scored regular points and wins during his GP career, and had the distinction of winning a Formula One race in a car of his own design: the All American Eagle. Like Hill, Gurney had many wins in other forms of racing, including Indy car, NASCAR, Can-Am and the 24 Hours of Lemans. Gurney is credited with being the first driver to spray Champagne on the victory podium, and developed the aptly named “Gurney Flap”, a device that is still prominent on any winged race car today.  

Dan Gurney was an American racing driver, race car constructor and team owner

Honda’s first Formula One win came at the hands of Californian, Richie Ginther, in 1968, at the Mexican GP. Like Hill and Gurney, Ginther drove for all the big teams during that era, including Ferrari, BRM, Eagle and, of course, Honda.

Richie Ginther worked for Douglas Aircraft and, during the Korean War, he furthered his experience in aircraft and engine mechanics – all of which were put to good use throughout his racing career

The 1970s gave US fans even more to cheer about, with names like Revson, Donohue and Andretti. Sadly the 1970s were also a cruel time, with the talented Revson losing his life in a pre-race testing crash in South Africa. Can-Am Champion and Indy 500 pole sitter, Revson’s talent was immense and he was marked as a potential Formula One Champion. Partnered with the eclectic Roger Penske, Mark Donohue was a winner in every domestic series he raced in, including a coveted Indy 500 win. Unfortunately for Donohue, a crash in practice for the Austria GP would be fatal and America would lose another great talent. Having been given a drive by Lotus’ Colin Chapman in late 1968 at the US GP in Watkins Glen, NY, Mario Andretti was on every F1 team’s radar. On and off stints with Ferrari and Team Lotus were the norm, as Andretti was also focused on domestic racing, in particular, the Indy 500.  A focused effort in 1978 gave the American the Formula One World Championship to accompany his many US-based championships.

Peter Revson was heir to the Revlon cosmetics fortune. Mark Donohue was a mechanical engineer whose technical knowledge translated into formidable race car set up. Both died prematurely while doing what they loved

Mario Andretti was born in a part of Italy that is now Croatia. He spent time in a refugee camp before emigrating to the United States with just $125 in the family’s coffers. The rest is history

For the Rome-based American Eddie Cheever, getting the right break in F1 was elusive. Cheever’s early career was very much a precursor to what young driving talent is using as a stepping stone today. Italian karting, then graduating to junior open wheel cars (not unlike Logan Sergeant) is the formula that brought Cheever’s name to team owners like Enzo Ferrari. Despite having a testing role at Ferrari, Cheever broke his contract with the Scuderia for a guaranteed drive with a lesser F1 team - perhaps the biggest mistake of his career. Despite this set back, Cheever managed to drive for no less than 10 F1 teams, and had more GP starts than any other American Driver. World Sports Car Championships for TWR Jaguar and an Indy 500 win are perhaps a truer reflection of Cheever’s great talent.

Eddie Cheever was born in Phoenix but spent his childhood in Italy, where he won the European Karting Championships at age 15

Known for his “spin and win” style, like Cheever, Indy 500 Champion Danny Sullivan’s career began in Europe, where he learned his craft in the Junior formula.  Working as a gopher for the Tyrell Grand Prix team, it seems ironic that Sullivan would eventually drive for the same team in F1.

Danny Sullivan hails from Louisville, Kentucky. He had only 1 year in F1, but a strong career in Indy cars

The 1990s saw the emergence of Michael Andretti in F1 with Team McLaren and the great Ayrton Senna as his teammate. For many onlookers, it would seem that Andretti’s commitment to F1 was, perhaps, half hearted; he didn’t complete the 1993 season and was replaced by eventual two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen.

Michael Andretti had a short-lived career in F1

The first winner of the US Red Bull Driver Search, Californian Scott Speed competed in almost 2 seasons of F1. Poor results and crashes resulted in a release from Speed’s F1 contract and he was replaced by Sebastian Vettel. Like Hakkinen, Vettel went on to become a multiple F1 Champion.

Yet another Californian, Scott Speed was the first ever winner of the US Red Bull Driver Search

So is Logan Sargeant the real deal? We have to give Sargeant a bit of time, but when F1 hits the strip in Vegas at end of the season, he must deliver results.

American Logan Sargeant has a lot to prove

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About the Author

Richard is a life-long motor-racer with experience in photography, filmmaking and engineering. His friends sometimes affectionately call him "Foegepedia" for his knowledge of the sport.

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