American interest in Formula 1 has never been greater, and the sport is enjoying closer ties with its US audience. But who are the greatest American drivers to have raced in F1?
The United States of America has a fantastic motorsport history, including a host of racers, innovators and personalities, so we’ve ranked the 10 greatest American drivers to race in Formula 1.
In this top 10, we have leaned towards the drivers with the greater levels of success. An honourable mention goes to Bill Vukovich, who claimed two Indy 500 wins when the event was part of the F1 schedule in the 1950s. However, he has been omitted from this top 10 due to not having competed in a Grand Prix.
10: Harry Schell
A name not often associated with the early years of Formula 1, but Schell was the first American to race in the sport, doing so at the second-ever race, the 1950 Monaco GP. Although he had limited machinery in the first half of the fifties, he earned opportunities in faster cars later on in the decade.
Driving a Vanwall in 1956, Schell put in impressive performances for a team that was rising in stature, including strong showings against race-winning teammate Maurice Trintignant. However, with Vanwall opting for an all-British lineup for 1957, Schell missed out on the start of the team’s success in 1957 and 1958.
Racing for the Maserati team, Schell took his first podium at the 1957 Pescara GP and, when he moved to the improving BRM team for 1958, took second place at the 1958 Dutch GP behind Stirling Moss. His F1 prospects were diminishing by 1960, but Schell was killed in a crash during a practice session for the Silverstone International Trophy.
9: George Follmer
In the early seventies when Formula 1 drivers were beginning their careers at younger ages, accomplished racer Follmer made his debut at the age of 39. Following championship success in the Canadian-American (‘Can-Am’) Challenge Cup in 1972, Follmer signed for the fledgling Shadow team for 1973 to help bolster their development alongside the experienced Jackie Oliver.
The team didn’t make their debut until round three of the season, and Follmer scored the team’s first point in their very first race with a sixth place finish at the South African GP. He followed this up with an impressive podium at the following Spanish GP, finishing ahead of the likes of Peter Revson and Denny Hulme.
Both he and Oliver were replaced for a younger, punchier driver lineup in 1974, but Follmer had acquitted himself well, and provided an insight into what might have been possible had he started his Formula 1 career much sooner.
8: Mark Donohue
Another relative latecomer to Formula 1, Indy 500 winner and Can-Am champion Donohue only made his debut in what was supposed to be a one-off appearance for the Penske team. The Penske team were running customer McLaren cars for their efforts at the 1971 Canadian and US Grands Prix, with Donohue taking a surprise podium in wet conditions on his debut.
After further racing in America, Donohue had retired a couple of years later, but he was tempted back out of retirement by Roger Penske, who was now focusing on establishing a full Formula 1 outfit by the end of the 1974 season. Renowned for his technical abilities, Donohue helped drag a problematic car to a points finish in 1975 before the team had to run a customer March car towards the end of their first season.
However, a crash during practice for the Austrian GP eventually claimed Donohue’s life. After initially appearing to sustain minor injuries from the crash, he developed a blood clot two days later and died.
7: Masten Gregory
Gregory was another American racer who impressed on his debut, and drew attention with a third place finish on his Formula 1 bow, driving for Maserati. He was the first American driver to claim an F1 podium finish at a Grand Prix (discounting the Indy 500 race that were part of the F1 calendar in the fifties).
He had a stop-start career in a variety of machinery until 1959 when he raced for the Cooper team for most of the year, taking a further two podiums and contributing to their Constructors’ Championship success that season.
He contested in the remainder of his F1 career in a mix of customer and second-hand machinery, and raced on-and-off until 1965. He would achieve greater success outside of F1, and won the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside Jochen Rindt.
6: Eddie Cheever
Impressing with race-winning drives in the European Formula Two championship, Cheever progressed to Formula 1 in 1978, but failed to participate in a race due to the woefully underperforming Theodore team. Another impressive year in F2 with the Osella team in 1979 saw Cheever and the Osella team climb to F1 for 1980.
He slowly climbed the F1 ladder thanks to impressive stints with the Tyrrell and Ligier teams, which brought his first three F1 podiums before earning a shot with the improving Renault team. He was mostly second-best to F1 legend teammate Alain Prost, who was challenging for the championship, but nevertheless took four more podiums that year.
After leaving Renault, he had mostly-unsuccessful seasons at the Benetton-Alfa Romeo and Haas-Lola teams before landing at Arrows in 1987. He claimed further podiums with the team in 1988 & 1989 before leaving F1 as one of the drivers with the highest number of podiums without claiming a victory. He did, however, taste success at the 1998 Indy 500.
5: Richie Ginther
Following success in the US, Ginther was brought in to race alongside World Champion compatriot Phil Hill at Ferrari in 1960, and impressed in his part-time campaign, claiming his first podium at the Italian GP that year. He turned heads by being the closest challenger to Stirling Moss at the 1961 Monaco GP, which was one of three podiums that season.
His time racing for BRM from 1962-1964 yielded a heap of podium finishes as he became one of Formula 1’s established frontrunners. Despite not winning a GP in that time, he claimed third place in the 1963 Drivers’ Championship with his remarkable consistency and forged a reputation for his mechanical sympathy.
It was in 1965 when he secured a place in F1 history by taking victory at the Mexican GP for Honda, who were the first non-European team to win a race. Unfortunately, his career petered out of the next couple of seasons with less-competitive teams, meaning his career ended with just the one GP win to his name.
4: Peter Revson
Revson had two bites of the Formula 1 cherry. Firstly with customer cars and racing under his own Revson Racing entrant (and briefly for Reg Parnell Racing), which brought no success. After these efforts in 1964, he raced Stateside, and rose through the ranks in the Can-Am series. Championship success with McLaren in 1971 brought a full-time return to F1 for 1972.
At a McLaren team that weren’t far away from their first championship successes, Revson raced well alongside 1967 World Champion Denny Hulme, and he claimed three podiums in ‘72. That season’s Canadian GP saw Revson take Pole Position before eventually being defeated by Jackie Stewart.
He beat his more experienced teammate in the 1973 standings, and took two victories en route to fifth place in the Drivers’ Standings. His first success at Silverstone came after fending off the threat from Ronnie Peterson, and his second win came at the confusing 1973 Canadian GP, which became famous for the post-race timing confusion after the first official use of a Safety Car.
3: Phil Hill
The first Formula 1 World Champion from the United States, Hill became one of the most esteemed racers of the fifties and sixties. From taking a podium on his Ferrari debut at Monza in 1958, Hill also took his first F1 win on Ferrari’s home turf just one year later.
Having mostly been deployed in a ‘team player’ role for most of his Ferrari career, the 1961 season became Hill’s big chance for a Formula 1 title. With Ferrari having the fastest car in the field, the season turned into a battle between Hill and Wolfgang von Trips. Tragically, the season was decided at the penultimate race of the season when Von Trips was killed in a crash at the Italian GP, which opened the door for Hill to take the title with a win.
Hill also achieved a stellar sportscar record for Ferrari. He took a hat-trick of victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and replicated the success at the 12 Hours of Sebring. He took only three more F1 podiums after his 1961 title, but also went on to win the 24 Hours of Daytona.
2: Dan Gurney
Widely regarded as a driver who deserved more than his four grand prix victories, Gurney was one of the most gifted all-round drivers in history. Combining raw speed with a fantastic technical mind, Gurney has been one of the most impactful American drivers in Formula 1.
However, his timing of team switches was less than optimal. After starting out with Ferrari in 1959, he moved prior to their championship challenge in 1961. At the BRM team for 1960, he also left them before they started challenging for championships for the first time.
Moving to Porsche for 1961, the iconic brand failed to reach any championship-contesting heights, despite Gurney taking several podiums and his first F1 win in 1962.
Gurney joined the rising Brabham team in 1963 to partner Jack Brabham, and outscored the team boss in all three seasons that they raced together, and registered two victories in 1964. The Brabham team emerged as championship challengers in 1966, but by this time Gurney had left to set up his own team, All American Racers.
Racing his own cars under the Eagle chassis name, Gurney’s final F1 victory came driving his own car at the 1967 Belgian GP, which is the only time an American-built car has won a race.
Aside from racing exploits – which included wins in NASCAR and IndyCar – Gurney is credited with the creation of the aerodynamic device known as the ‘Gurney Flap’, and is also credited with starting the tradition of spraying champagne on the podium!
1: Mario Andretti
An icon of US motorsport, Mario Andretti has to be the first name that comes to mind when considering the greatest American F1 drivers. The Indy 500 winner, Formula 1 champion, and IndyCar champion is one of the few people to have bridged the divide that often existed between F1 and the USA.
Already a two-time winner of the hotly-contested USAC Championship series before reaching Formula 1, Andretti announced himself on the world stage with a Pole Position on his F1 debut at the 1968 US Grand Prix, ahead of icons Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill. He would have likely taken a debut podium without a clutch failure.
From there, Andretti only made sporadic appearances in F1, but was still able to claim his first win in the sport at the 1971 South African GP, driving for Ferrari. It wasn’t until 1975 that he made a full-time switch to F1, but his time with Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing was mostly unrewarded.
A switch to Lotus in 1976 started the upturn in fortunes that Andretti required, and he took his second victory at the infamous rain-soaked season finale in Japan. With Andretti spearheading Lotus’ return to championship contention, further victories in the pioneering ground effect cars came in 1977 before his triumphant title-winning 1978 season.
A sharp drop-off in performance for Lotus, followed by a switch to the Alfa Romeo team meant Andretti never won a race beyond his title-winning season. As his time in F1 was fizzling out – not before a memorable Monza podium with Ferrari in a one-off race in 1982 – Andretti had begun pivoting towards IndyCar, and switched full-time for 1982.
Instantly competitive, Andretti claimed top IndyCar honours in 1984, and continued to race in the series until 1994, and took his final win in 1993. The legacy of the Andretti name continued through his son, Michael, who became a champion in the US racing scene and founded the Andretti Autosport team, who are currently pushing for a place on the Formula 1 grid.