What About the Drivers?
In keeping with the general notion that IndyCar is a North American endeavor while F1 is a global citizen, traditionally most Indy series drivers have hailed from the United States or Canada – all but four of the 107 drivers who competed in IndyCar in 1980 were from North America.
This has changed over the intervening decades, and last season 21 American and two Canadian drivers competed against 15 Europeans, three Brazilians, two drivers each from Australia and New Zealand, and one each from Japan, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates.
Of the 20 regular F1 drivers for the 2021 season, 15 hailed from European nations, with two Canadians (Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi), one Australian (Daniel Riccardo), one Mexican (Sergio Perez), and one driver from Japan (Yuki Tsunoda).
The history of American drivers in Formula 1 could be written on a hot dog wrapper. Phil Hill was the only US-based driver to win a championship, and that was 60 years ago. Mario Andretti is the most successful American, with 12 F1 wins on his incredible resume.
The last American to compete in Formula 1 was Alexander Rossi, who drove for Marussia until the team folded in 2015. Rossi will return for his seventh season for IndyCar’s Andretti team next year, and in recent seasons was joined on the grid by former F1 drivers Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.
The Frenchman and the Swede are representative of a new international interest in IndyCar and the series has proven to be a welcome home for both drivers, who struggled for back-of-the-pack F1 teams.
But Americans hoping to see a countryman compete in Formula 1 may not have to wait much longer; while Andretti Autosport’s recent talks to acquire Alfa Romeo fell through, Colton Herta could still be poised to be the next US-based driver to crack the F1 lineup.
It would be a delight to see more American fans enjoying the multi-billion dollar spectacle that is Formula 1. DVR has made the early morning start times less of an issue, and the hit Netflix series Drive to Survive introduced content-starved viewers to the series.
But it’s the more home-grown and accessible IndyCar series that seems to offer closer racing and more compelling off-track stories – like Romain Grosjean’s comeback from a terrifying F1 crash last year in Bahrain to log four top-5 finishes in this year’s IndyCar season.
And if the Indy series can continue to retain its top domestic drivers like Herta while continuing to attract top international talent like Grosjean, Pato O’Ward, and 2021 champion Alex Palou, we may soon see Serena Williams and Megan Thee Stallion walking the grid at an Indy event soon.