Why Andretti hold the key to unlocking further F1 growth in America

Elizabeth Blackstock
Michael Andretti in front of the FIA logo at the United States Grand Prix.

Michael Andretti in front of the FIA logo.

Logan Sargeant, Andretti, and Haas Formula 1 all have one thing in common: they all share ties to America. But the American fanbase doesn’t respond to them all the same way. Understanding why could be key to F1’s continued growth in the United States.

Ask American fans to tell you about the Americans in the paddock, and they’ll surely point to both Sargeant and the Haas team — but the loyalties don’t run deep. American fans enjoyed the prospect of an American team when Haas first joined, but the sentiment has dulled. Meanwhile, very few people would call themselves Sargeant fans.

On the other hand, the arrival of Andretti Global and its prospective ties with General Motors has stirred the passions of even the most casual American fans. And that all comes down to the American ties to the Andretti name.

The Logan Sargeant conundrum

To put it quite simply, Logan Sargeant hasn’t given American fans much to root for — and that’s as much down to his career path as it is his contemporary performance.

Sargeant’s racing career has primarily been confined to the European ladder program that includes Formula Renault, F3, and F2; having bypassed the American open-wheel ladder system, his name remained unfamiliar to American motorsport fans. Even Alexander Rossi, who primarily competed internationally, had some American series competition under his belt by the time he arrived in F1 — and he was marketed as an American when he signed with Caterham as a test driver in 2012.

Sargeant’s pre-F1 career wasn’t easily apparent to Americans, and his F1 career has proven less than inspiring. Aside from scoring a single point due to penalties at the U.S. Grand Prix, Sargeant has done little to set imaginations alight. To do so, he’ll need to become a more formidable on-track competitor.

Haas hardly counts as American

When Haas announced its intention to enter Formula 1, American fans had likely heard of Gene Haas from one of two venues: either his CNC machining tool company, or his involvement in NASCAR.

Very quickly, however, Haas F1 largely proved to be an American team in name only due to an international team base and a lack of American drivers. The stars and stripes appeared on the car for American events, and that was the extent of activation with American F1 fans.

Further, motorsport fans familiar with Gene Haas likely also knew that he pleaded guilty to criminal tax evasion and spent 16 months in jail while also brandishing his name on the side of a NASCAR machine. With very little other personality to go on, motorsport fans have never really gotten to know Gene Haas — and knowing more about the people running our racing programs has always been critical in American motorsport.

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Where does that leave Andretti?

In America, you don’t have to be an avid motorsport fan to have heard the Andretti name. Mario Andretti may have immigrated to the U.S. from Italy, but his dedication to representing the country on Formula 1’s international stage has earned him respect.

Further, his family’s consistent presence in all forms of American motorsport has ensured Andretti’s fame, and Mario’s regular involvement has endeared him to several generations of petrolheads.

But the family represents so much of what Americans value. We love an underdog, and the story of a young Mario Andretti moving to Pennsylvania without the ability to speak a lick of English, only to go on to become one of the most respected names in the racing scene.

He wasn’t a dominant force that consistently crushed the competition in American open-wheel racing or F1; rather, his career was defined by moments of sheer brilliance as a result of dedication during the hardest times.

Americans also love a dynasty, especially in sports. Ask a New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox fan to talk about their love of the team in question, and many will call back to bygone eras and the development of the team myth back in the early 1900s.

Detroit Lions fans still speak fondly of the team’s success in the 1950s, and even non-sports fans can identify Tom Brady’s face. We hold deep respect for names that have found success — even if that success is confined to the past.

What makes the prospect of Andretti Global so unique when compared to Haas is Andretti’s dedication to its home country. Whether in Formula E, Extreme E, IndyCar, or Supercars, the Andretti team is proud to fly the American flag and consider the best American drivers for its roles. Haas, meanwhile, appears to adopt the stars and stripes when it’s most convenient — such as during races in the United States.

“It’s like Haas realizes it can make money off all us suckers, like, three times a year, but those are the only three times I ever feel like it’s an American team,” a fan named Manny told me after the Las Vegas Grand Prix. “Like, they can say they’re American, but it also kind of feels like they’re trying to pretend they aren’t. Like they’re embarrassed to actually just be American.”

As for Logan Sargeant, many American publications have attempted to use his nationality as an access point to create compelling storylines and give the public something to root for. The calls for fans to support the lone American have failed; Sargeant himself hasn’t capitalized on his nationality, nor has he presented an otherwise compelling personality that could overcome his middling performances.

Perhaps a flattering Drive to Survive episode could bolster his perception in the States, but so far, fans haven’t seen anything to get excited about.

But Andretti, with its long-established dedication to authentically preserving its Americanness in the face of the international motorsport scene, strikes a much different chord with local fans.

F1 and the FIA would be remiss to discount just how important that dedication is.

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