US F1 drivers: How successful were the United States’ last 10 Formula 1 drivers?

Henry Valantine
Toro Rosso driver Scott Speed. F1 2006.

Logan Sargeant will become the latest in a long line of Americans to become an F1 driver when he makes his first start for Williams in Bahrain, but how have his most recent countrymen done before him?

The grid used to be awash with American talent in the early days of the sport, heightened in particular in the 1950s when the Indianapolis 500 officially featured as part of the F1 calendar. If accounting for those drivers who competed in Indy alone, 233 Americans can say they were officially entered in a Formula 1 race weekend – with 57 the number accepted to have competed in the World Championship at large.

Two drivers have gone on to become World Champions, Phil Hill and Mario Andretti taking top honours in 1961 and 1978 respectively, with Andretti’s Dutch Grand Prix victory in 1978 being the last time an American driver has won a race.

Formula 1 and America have often had a complicated relationship, with the country not always having taken up the popularity F1 enjoys around the world, but the rise in global exposure of the sport in the past few seasons has made it more popular than ever Stateside.

American fans have not had many home drivers to support in recent seasons, but that will change when Sargeant arrives on the grid in 2023.

You end up having to go back quite some way into F1 history to find the past 10 American drivers to make their Formula 1 debuts, but here is a look at how they all got on.

Sam Posey

Starts: 2
Points: 0
F1 debut: 1971 United States Grand Prix

The United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen used to bring with it a swathe of extra entries for that particular weekend, and the 1971 and ’72 editions of the race saw Sam Posey enter, driving a Surtees.

He was the second-highest of the six American qualifiers in his first run in the race. With the Ferrari of Andretti up in P6, Posey qualified 18th, but he was forced to retire.

His only other F1 start came at the Glen a year later, taking P12 after starting down in 23rd.

Posey’s racing career also saw him take fifth at the 1972 Indy 500 and 10 entries into the Le Mans 24 Hours among a variety of different series, before a successful career in broadcasting after retiring.

George Follmer

Starts: 12
Podiums: 1
Points: 5
F1 debut: 1973 South African Grand Prix

George Follmer arrived in F1 racing for Shadow in 1973 as the previous year’s Can-Am champion, and the then-39-year-old impressed on his debut with a points-scoring sixth place on his debut at Kyalami, rising 15 places from his grid position in the process.

He backed up that promise with his only career podium in the following round in Spain, again making a big rise through the field to do so, after starting 14th.

Follmer combined F1 with Can-Am racing that season, finishing second in that series but the rest of his season in F1 petered out results-wise, with two more top-10 finishes in the rest of the year, ending a respectable P13 in the championship before returning to America to continue in Can-Am and NASCAR.

Brett Lunger

Starts: 34
Points: 0
F1 debut: 1975 Austrian Grand Prix

Brett Lunger was a consistent presence on the Formula 1 grid for four seasons in the 1970s, and while he did not score a point in his nine top-10 finishes, he came close – with points only given to the top six finishers at the time.

He made his debut in a Hesketh in Austria in 1975, driving in the final three races of the season before landing a full-time drive with Surtees for the following year.

Lunger’s career-best result came with a P7 in Belgium in 1978, and he also gained plaudits for helping rescue Niki Lauda from his burning car during his horror crash at the Nurburgring in 1976.

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Danny Ongais

Starts: 4
Points: 0
F1 debut: 1977 United States Grand Prix

Danny Ongais made his first start in Formula 1 at Watkins Glen in 1977, driving for Interscope in a year-old Penske PC4 chassis. An incident forced him to retire at the Glen, but he stayed on to race at the Canadian Grand Prix at the next round, and took what would be his only F1 finish in a credible 7th place, though no points were paid for that position at that time.

His Formula 1 career would extend into the following season with two starts for Ensign in Argentina and Brazil, but he retired from both races before going back to Interscope for a tilt at Long Beach and Zandvoort, but could not pre-qualify for either weekend.

Ongais’ career away from F1 saw him win multiple races in the USAC/IndyCar series, with a best finish of fourth in the 1979 Indy 500.

Ongais passed away in February 2022 at the age of 79.

Eddie Cheever

Starts: 132
Podiums: 9
Points: 70
F1 debut: 1978 South African Grand Prix

We now arrive at America’s most experienced Formula 1 driver in terms of race starts, with Eddie Cheever beginning four more races than Mario Andretti during their careers.

Cheever’s F1 career began in what will have been a somewhat frustrating manner, finally registering a grand prix finish at his 15th attempt through a combination of retirements and failing to qualify for races.

A move to a more competitive, reliable seat at Tyrrell in 1981 saw him score points on his first race with the team, taking P5 at Long Beach – the first of four top-five finishes on his way to P12 in the standings, with a move to Ligier following.

Cheever racked up three podiums and another move in 1983, this time to Renault, where he would take four further podiums on his way to a career-high seventh in the Drivers’ Championship.

He continued in F1 until 1989, taking his final podium in his hometown of Phoenix for Arrows, before a long stint in IndyCar and the Indy Racing League, mostly driving for his own Team Cheever outfit and going on to win the Indy 500 in 1998.

Bobby Rahal

Starts: 2
Points: 0
F1 debut: 1978 United States Grand Prix

Bobby Rahal is known mostly in the modern day for his success as a team owner in IndyCar, but while he only made two starts in Formula 1, those statistics do not match up a phenomenally successful career Stateside.

Rahal took part in the final two rounds of the 1978 F1 season for Walter Wolf Racing, finishing 12th at Watkins Glen before retiring from the season finale in Canada following a fuel issue.

His driving roll of honour includes three IndyCar titles, including victory at the 1986 Indy 500, as well as 24 race wins in the series.

He took on a management role at Jaguar in Formula 1 after retiring from driving, but was relieved of his duties when he did not deliver the results the team were expecting of him after only eight months in the job in 2001.

Rahal’s IndyCar team, now called Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, has been a mainstay in the series for over 20 years.

Danny Sullivan

Starts: 15
Points: 2
F1 debut: 1983 Brazilian Grand Prix

Danny Sullivan took part in one Formula 1 season, his season high being a fifth-place finish at Monaco as he earned his first, and what turned out to be only, points finish in F1 driving for Tyrrell.

He enjoyed a long and successful motorsport career in America however, winning the Indy 500 in 1985 and the CART title in 1988.

Sullivan later became one of the key figures in the Red Bull Driver Search programme in America, which found another driver on this list for Formula 1, and has since served as a driver representative as an FIA steward at multiple F1 races.

Michael Andretti

Starts: 13
Podiums: 1
Points: 7
F1 debut: 1993 South African Grand Prix

Now known as the person breaking down the FIA’s metaphorical door to get a new team onto the Formula 1 grid, Michael Andretti, son of Mario, took in 13 races in Formula 1 alongside Ayrton Senna at McLaren.

His F1 driving story was one where he did not ultimately live up to expectations against one of the sport’s greats, retiring seven times and being replaced by test driver (and future World Champion) Mika Hakkinen with three rounds of the season to go, though he earned a podium at his final F1 start at Monza.

That season in Formula 1 was a break from a very successful CART/IndyCar career in America, arriving in F1 as the series’ 1991 champion – before returning to the series to race full-time until 2002.

Now a prolific team owner with multiple motorsport interests with Andretti Autosports, coming into Formula 1 with Cadillac is a very high priority on his to-do list…

Scott Speed

Starts: 28
Points: 0
F1 debut: 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix

After Andretti left Formula 1, it would be 13 years before the Stars and Stripes would be represented again on the grid, with Scott Speed being scouted through the aforementioned Red Bull Driver Search programme, to find the next generation of Formula 1 talent.

And after Red Bull purchased Minardi in time for 2006 and rebranded them Toro Rosso, it was Speed’s time to step into F1 alongside Vitantonio Liuzzi.

A difficult first year led to speculation surrounding his seat for 2007, and it was only confirmed in February of that year he would be continuing for a second season, but his lack of form overall continued and he would be replaced mid-season by a young upstart named Sebastian Vettel.

Speed has taken on several motorsport disciplines since leaving Formula 1, including NASCAR in its various forms, becoming a three-time Global Rallycross Championship title-winner, interspersed with a brief stint in Formula E.

Alexander Rossi

Starts: 5
Points: 0
F1 debut: 2015 Singapore Grand Prix

Formula 1’s most recent American starter until Sargeant takes to the track in Bahrain, Alexander Rossi, was drafted in at Manor in 2015 to replace Roberto Merhi at the F1 strugglers.

Rossi was still in the midst of the title fight in GP2 at the time, but stepped up to Formula 1 for five races with Manor and subsequently signed an IndyCar deal with Andretti for the following season, eventually finishing runner-up in GP2 that year.

He has since become a mainstay on the IndyCar grid, finishing second and third in the standings in 2018 and ’19 respectively, as well as winning the 2016 Indy 500.

Rossi, 31, will make the move from Andretti to McLaren’s sister IndyCar team for 2023, Arrow McLaren, and has also tasted victory in IMSA through winning the 2021 24 Hours of Daytona.

[NB: Kevin Cogan took part in the 1980 Canadian and 1981 United States West Grands Prix, but failed to qualify.]