Formula One World Championship racing is the highest class of single-seater auto racing that is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) that has a series of races throughout the world. However, there hasn’t been an American Formula One driver since 2007 and it’s safe to say that the majority of Americans would not be able to name him.
For the record, Scott Speed was the last American Formula One Driver. Scott took part in the Red Bull Driver Search and won. He now had a budget to help him eventually climb to the highest level in the racing world, which started in the lower levels of car racing when he moved to Europe. While this sounds like a great story of a driver chasing his dreams, there were plenty of dark clouds surrounding him.
He was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a rare debilitating disease of the intestine that left him bed-ridden and anemic. When he was able to race, he had to do so while wearing an adult diaper. In true American Hollywood fashion, Scott won the race and beat his disease.
While he did win the Red Bull Driver Search and the budget which propelled him to a whole new level, there were some people that felt the he was simply in the right place at the right time. Formula One needed to win over the U.S. Market as there wasn’t an American Driver in the sport and the sport took a hit as only SIX cars took part in the US Grand Prix in Indianapolis that year.
Mario Andretti is the most successful and well known American Formula One Driver, debuting in 1968 Italian Grand Prix with Lotus and raced for different teams including Ferrari, March, Alfa Romeo, and Parnell until he retired from Formula One in 1981. During that time he had 128 races where he was on the podium 19 times and out of those 19 finishes, 12 of those were on the top step. Andretti was the only American to win the US Grand Prix West and the last American to win ANY Grand Prix.
If it’s a Racing Hall of Fame, he’s in it, having been inducted to the Hoosier Auto Racing HOF in 1970, Motorsports HOF in 1990, United States National Spring Car HOF in 1996, and the International Motorsports HOF in 2001.
Phil Hill has two unique distinctions when it comes to his history with Formula One Racing and they are on both sides of the spectrum. The first one, the positive if you will, is that Phil is the only American Formula One Champion to have been born in the United States. While he secured his championship in 1961 with the win at the Italian Grand Prix, he did not celebrate as he was informed that his close rival had died in an accident during the race, which also killed 15 spectators. His championship win came on the same day as the worst tragedy within Formula One Racing.
The Future of the US Grand Prix
Formula 1 is now seeing somewhat of a resurgence in the USA, with the return of the US Grand Prix in Austin and talk of a second race in New York. It seems that its only a matter of time before we see another F1 US Grand Prix driver join the grid.