Liberty’s promised land: in search of an American F1 star

Copyright: Formula Motorsport Ltd

America remains the most polarised market for F1. It’s provided two champions, hosted more than forty Grand Prix that were part of the Formula One World Championship and has an ever growing fanbase despite more motorsport competition than any other country. So what’s missing? An American driver.

By Adam Dickinson

It’s produced one of the most revered racers of all time in Mario Andretti, and Phil Hill who beat a legend-packed field including Jim Clark, Sterling Moss, Dan Gurney, Jack Brabham and John Surtees to the title in 1961.

Since then Andretti’s son Michael had a crack at McLaren with less success than his father, while more recently there was high hopes for Scott Speed when he was at Toro Rosso.

Despite having one of the best racing driver names imaginable, he didn’t score a point across a year and a half in Faenza and left in the summer break of the 2007 season.

In his Beyond the Grid appearance last year, boss Franz Tost labelled the Californian as the most disappointing driver that passed through his care. The last American in the sport was Alexander Rossi, who spent five pointless races with Manor Marussia in 2015, with a highest finish of twelfth at his home GP.

Andretti is the last American to win a race in F1 – the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix – and in that time eight tracks have hosted a US Grand Prix with various degrees of success.

Therein lies the other long-term problem with F1 in America – its nomadic existence.

Even though Grand Prix racing seems to have found a long-term home at the COTA, an uproot always appears to be around the corner.

If a Lance Armstrong-type figure came through to dominate F1 (before he was taken down as a drugs cheat, anyway) the sport would launch off the scales in the world’s biggest market, F1 would’ve finally cracked modern-day America.

With that in mind, we take a look at the free and brave souls flying the star-spangled banner across the world of junior series racing, and which one of those could be the next driver to make it to F1.

Logan Sargeant (19, FIA F3)

Copyright: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Currently the standout in this crop of American racers, Sargeant is the only American who could feasibly be in F1 within the next few years. Bearing possibly the most American name imaginable, he was the surprise package in FIA F3 this year.

In a Prema outfit with teammates Oscar Piastri and Frederik Vesti – both champions in 2019 – he quickly established himself and was in position to win the championship after the first corner of the final race of the season at Mugello.

But going three-wide into turn two he made contact with Lirim Zendeli which took them both out of the race, and Sargeant out of contention for the title.

Despite the disappointment. He’s probably the highest-profile driver in feeder series who’s not affiliated to a team’s junior programme (aside from maybe Felipe Drugovich in F2). 

Compared to some of the mediocrity that could be returning to F2 next year, he definitely deserves a chance in the championship.

He’s been consistently strong over his career bar the tough debut year in F3, but even that just makes his performance this year even more impressive.

Jak Crawford (15, ADAC F4 & Italian F4)

Copyright: ADAC F4

Crawford missed out on the ADAC F4 championship by just two points this season, but his performances have already won him lots of plaudits on both sides of the pond.

After a successful karting career, Crawford had his first taste of cars when he came second in Formula 4 NACAM in 2018-19.

He matched that position in his F4 exploits this year, and got better as the season progressed too.

Crawford won three of the last seven races while his rival Jonny Edgar went dry over the same spell, but was unable to clinch it on the final weekend.

He’s also taken part in Italian F4 where his other commitments have allowed, and taken two wins over the four rounds he’s contested. He’s finished on the podium more times than he’s been off it, and he’s still got the chance to rank in the top three overall.

The fact he’s done this while only scoring points on three weekends is seriously impressive.

He could look to race in the Toyota Racing series or F3 Asia during the winter to get some more experience and super licence points, while his place in the Red Bull junior team means doors will open to him where they won’t for others.

While Sargeant is way ahead on the ladder to F1, Crawford is definitely on the same path. He already tested for Hitech at Jerez and Barcelona and looks on course for a seat. But even if that doesn’t pan out the new Formula Alpine could be an excellent next step. His age is definitely an advantage.

Hunter Yeany (15, F4 US)

Copyright: Gavin Baker

The driver who dominated US F4 so much this year that he could skip the last round and audition in Formula Regional Americas.

He performed well in that too, and set himself up for a full season in that series with his current team Velocity Racing Development.

In F4 US he only finished off the podium once in the fifteen races he took part in, and won three races in a row across the middle of the season.

If he can get the funding and access, a stint at the Toyota Racing Series could benefit him. So far he’s had limited experience against international fields, and going to New Zealand where the field always has a clutch of drivers from European championships could really give a measure of where he’s at.

His closest challengers this season both raced there in January, and it could also provide him with more of an international audience before the season kicks off in earnest.

Kaylen Frederick (18, British F3)

Copyright: Carlin

The 18-year old has taken the road less travelled in his career, even by American standards, but after winning the BRDC British F3 this year Frederick finally has a springboard to get on the road to F1.

Just the fact that he’s spent two years in Britain is a positive – he spent three years in the F1600 F2000 series Stateside – and could’ve gone down the Road to Indy side.

He dipped his toe into European racing with an appearance at the Euroformula Open Championship, racing four rounds with a standout result of fifth with a fastest lap at Monza – only his second outing in the car.

This season he won a race at every round but one over his romp to the title by fifty points, ahead of Kush Maini who came sixth in a very competitive Formula Renault field last year.

Disregarding any driver comparisons – they can be the ficklest of measurements – he should be looking to get into a regional championship next year.

Wherever Frederick ends up, it’s most likely a step up. “It’ll probably still be another form of F3, whether that’s FIA F3 or Euroformula, we’ll see”, he told British F3 in an interview after winning the title. “We’ll see what series suits us better but this championship will help us out going into whatever we want to do next year.”

Cameron Das (20, FIA F3 & Euroformula Open)

Copyright: Cam Das

A bit of a longer shot, Das has been around the block since winning the inaugural F4 US championship in 2016, and had a tough debut season of FIA F3.

Aged 20, it feels like time is running out for Das but he has shown flashes of potential over his career so far and shouldn’t be ruled out. 

Somehow he’s got himself stuck in Euroformula Open – 2020 was his fourth season there – and his best campaign was his second attempt where he finished fifth.

That was alongside a third place in Spanish F3 that year, and he continued that momentum by taking a win and seventh place overall in Toyota Racing Series at the start of 2019. 

However, he’s found victories hard to come by in his career – since. Given he’s had 56 races in Euroformula, it’s slightly staggering that he’s never tasted victory in the series.

Das would have to hope for another chance in FIA F3, then take that with both hands to get back onto the radar for F1, but out of this list he’s one of the drivers with the most pedigree and shouldn’t be completely written off. 

Spike Kohlbecker (17, Toyota Racing Series & F4 US)

Copyright: Gavin Baker Photography

Kohlbecker was the closest domestic challenger to Yeany in F4 US this year, finishing third and 25 points behind Puerto Rican Jose Blanco.

Unlike Yeany, he could take a second season of F4 US to really establish himself and challenge for a title, before moving on to bigger and better things.

That being said, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise to see him pop up in Formula Regional Americas, which would constitute a step up but not an impossibility.

Like Blanco, the American was also at this year’s TRS where he certainly didn’t embarrass himself – although he’d probably have preferred to have more top ten finishes than just three. Two drivers below him actually won races, but overall a best finish of fifth in a feature race is a good effort.

Verdict

Sargeant seems the real deal, but he really needs a seat in F2 next year to continue his upward trajectory and there’s not been many concrete rumours linking him to a team. If he does get in then he’ll likely have a maximum of two seasons to prove himself as a frontrunner. Out of all the drivers we’ve looked at over this series so far, he could be the one in the best position to make it.

Crawford and Yeany look very promising early in their career, and it will be fascinating watching them progress over the next few years.

His status as a Red Bull Junior and experience on the European circuit, puts Crawford ahead in the pecking order, although if Yeany can continue his Stateside form across the pond then he’s got just as much of a chance at making it.

There’s a bit of a gap after those three, with Frederick leading the secondary group. He needs to challenge himself in a new championship next year, and that will give fans a much clearer steer on whether he’s truly F1 material.

Kohlbecker will need to raise his game if he is to seriously challenge at the top of motor racing, but he’s definitely got talent and there’s definitely more to come.

Meanwhile it feels like the chance has passed by Das, but in motorsport drivers are only one or two good seasons away from relevancy. His career’s not completely on the rocks yet, he has the chance and platform to turn it around and force himself back on an upward trajectory.

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