Formula One (F1) has experienced massive growth in the past few years thanks to the success of Netflix’s “Drive to Survive,” which has caused an increase in viewership around the world. The major market that Formula One has tried to break into throughout the years has been the United States. There is an argument to be made that they have already made it to the mainstream U.S. market with ESPN broadcasting every race and qualifying session on the ESPN cable networks. Additionally, in the 2023 season, there will be three Formula One races in Austin, Miami and Las Vegas. The Austin Grand Prix in 2021 had an attendance of 400,000 people over the course of the whole weekend, which made it the highest attended Formula One race in history at the time. On top of the races becoming mainstream, Haas F1 team, which joined the grid in 2016, is the first American Formula One team since 1986. Formula One has made a dent into the U.S. market but the question still remains: when will an American driver return to the grid?
The last time an American Formula One driver was on the grid was in 2007 on the Nurburgring with Scott Speed, who was eventually replaced by future four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. For the past 15 years, the possibility of an American Formula One driver was a distant dream thanks to how Eurocentric Formula One is as a sport, as well as the fact that most of the top American drivers stay in the United States with IndyCar or NASCAR. However, the future is looking brighter than ever. Thanks to an American making the early move to Europe for the junior Formulae and another that is taking the IndyCar championship by storm, there might be two Americans on the grid in the not-so-distant future.
The first driver is Logan Sargeant, who is currently competing in Formula 2, one step away from Formula 1. Sargeant started his racing journey in 2008 before moving to Europe the next year at the young age of nine in order to better pursue his Formula One dream. In 2015, Sargeant won the World Karting Championship, becoming the first American since 1978 to do so. In the next few years, Sargeant moved his way up lower Formulae and eventually became a full-time Formula 3 driver in 2020, where he fought for the championship throughout the whole season. However, he only came in third place thanks to a first lap collision in the final race of the year.
After his successful Formula 3 campaign, it was expected for Sargeant to make the step up to Formula 2 the next year, but due to him lacking the necessary $1 million capital to race full-time in 2021, he had to sit out the year out, and he would eventually join the Williams Formula One Team academy. In 2022, Sargeant entered Formula 2, and he has had a successful season so far, winning two races and currently sitting in third place in the championship. After doing well throughout his racing career, it begs the question as to what is next. Sargeant is set to drive one of the practice sessions in Austin this year, but his future is unknown past that. Sargeant would be eligible to race in Formula One next year, if he were to maintain his current position in the F2 championship, but the question still remains whether Williams will give him the seat. However, Sargeant is not America’s only hope, thanks to the rapid Colton Herta.
Like Sargeant, Herta began karting at a young age and also moved to Europe to continue racing. Herta performed well in Europe, finishing in third place in both of his seasons in the lower Formulae. After his two seasons in Europe, Herta returned to the U.S. with the Indy Lights series and won six races and finished third and second in his two seasons there. With two seasons of Indy Lights under his belt, Herta made the step up to IndyCar where he has raced ever since. During his time in IndyCar, Herta has been widely considered to be one of the top drivers, and despite not always having the fastest car, he has still managed to win seven races and have a best finish of third place in the championship. Thanks to Herta’s lightning pace, Formula One teams have been sniffing around him for a while, eventually taking a Test Driver role with McLaren in 2022. Additionally, due to Sebastian Vettel’s retirement during this year’s silly season, Herta has been linked with an AlphaTauri seat, but the super license is the one thing standing in his way.
A super license is necessary to race in Formula One and in order to get one, a driver needs to perform well enough in other racing series. Due to the scoring system valuing European junior Formulae more than IndyCar, Herta currently sits on 32 points, eight short of the necessary 40, but enough for an Formula One team to make an appeal to its governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). There is still some hope for Herta to get an Formula One seat, but due to some comments by those around Formula One, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Herta would win an appeal.
Both Herta and Sargeant are on the edge of Formula One looking in, but there are still obstacles in the way of them. Sargeant has the much clearer path, with the only obstacle being how willing Williams is to give him a full-time race seat. With likely one seat being vacant for 2023, he should be a top contender, but only time will tell. As for Herta, the major issue in his way is the Super License and unless the FIA is slightly lenient, he will either have to do more racing in an FIA series or wait one more year where there may not be any open seats. Overall, Herta and Sargeant are closer to the Formula One grid than any American in the past 10 years, but there are still some obstacles that may get in their way.