Formula 1 is a sport that was born in Europe. The pinnacle of motorsport had most of its competitors from the European continent. However, North America has played a major role in F1. Presently, the sport has been fixated on expanding into the United States, with 3 races taking place in the ‘Land of the Free’ in 2023. It is no surprise that some of the most talented drivers in F1 came from the North American continent.
Over the years, there have been a few world champions from this continent in F1. However, it has been decades since, the 2023 F1 grid has three drivers from North America, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, and Logan Sargeant. Many consider Perez capable of becoming the first Mexican driver to win the world title. However, Canada and USA have had world champions in the past.
F1 might be considered the pinnacle of motorsport but North America, especially the USA had its own racing scene. NASCAR and Indycar dominate the career trajectories of the most promising talents on the continent to this day such as the likes of Colton Herta. Despite the difference in the racing pyramids, many North Americans have raced in F1. Let’s delve into finding the most successful North American drivers in the history of Formula 1.
The Top 5 most successful North American F1 Drivers
5. Sergio Perez
Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez joined the Formula 1 grid in 2011 with Sauber while also being part of the Ferrari driver academy. From the get-go, Checo made his mark at the pinnacle of motorsport as a driver skilled at managing tire wear. After an ordinary season in 2011, the Mexican driver scored better results the following year. Perez got his first F1 podium in 2012 at the Canadian GP.
Sergio switched to McLaren in 2013, right as the Woking-based team went into a decline. Subsequently, Checo struggled to match his previous season and moved to Force India for the next season. During his time at Team Silverstone, Sergio Perez proved himself to be a formidable driver in the midfield. The 33-year-old helped Force India to punch way above its weight and bagged multiple podiums for Dr. Vijay Mallya’s team.
After Force India’s assets were purchased by Lawrence Stroll, Perez continued with the team under the Racing Point banner. Checo excelled in 2020 with the ‘Tracing Point’ car and won his maiden GP at Sakhir. Many believe this victory convinced Red Bull to sign the Mexican driver.
At Red Bull Racing, Checo has played the role of Max Verstappen’s teammate perfectly. The 33-year-old has won 4 races with the Austrian team and looks to challenge his teammate for the F1 world title this season. Presently, Perez has 5 race wins and 28 podiums in his career, and these numbers look set to increase.
4. Gilles Villeneuve
The Canadian driver entered F1 in 1977 with McLaren after managing to outpace James Hunt in non-championship races. Gilles Villeneuve impressed the paddock instantly and was considered a future world champion. So much so, that Gilles was signed by Ferrari when McLaren decided not to renew his contract. The Canadian won his first GP at his home race at a track that would later be named after him.
The 1979 season was the peak of Villeneuve’s career as the Ferrari driver won three races and stood as runner-up in the standings. The following year was disastrous for the Canadian as he could only score 6 points despite being called the favorite for the championship. Gilles had a much better 1981 season as Ferrari introduced its first turbocharged engine and won 2 races.
Villeneuve declined an offer from Ron Dennis and remained at Maranello for 1982. However, a tragic crash during the Qualifying session at the Belgian GP took the life of the Canadian driver. Gilles Villeneuve’s career ended far too soon with 6 GP wins and 13 podiums to his name, including 2 pole positions.
3. Phil Hill
Hill was the first American to win the F1 world championship. Phil made his debut in 1958 for Maserati at the French GP and switched to Ferrari full-time for the following year. The American driver got 3 podiums in his first season for Maranello and finally won the Italian GP at Monza in 1960. This was the first GP win for an American in forty years, excluding the Indy 500.
Hill was in contention for the 1961 world title just behind his teammate Wolfgang von Trips. However, Trips passed away after a horrendous crash at the Italian GP, and Phil’s victory at the same race saw him being crowned as the world champion. The American driver left Ferrari and joined the new ATS tea formed by former Ferrari engineers for a disappointing campaign in 1963.
Phil retired at the end of the 1964 season after the American driver raced for the Cooper F1 team. Hill last attempted to race in a Grand Prix at the 1966 Italian GP weekend but failed to qualify with the All-American Racers team. Phil Hill ended his career in Formula 1 with the 1961 world title, 3 race wins, and 16 podiums.
2. Jacques Villeneuve
Jacques is the son of former F1 driver Gilles Villeneuve. The Canadian made his F1 debut in 1996 after spending a few years racing in the CART series. Villeneuve secured a pole position on his first outing at the Australian GP. Over the course of the season, Jacques won four races, with his first win at the Nurburgring. However, the Canadian lost out on the world title to his teammate Damon Hill.
For 1997, Villeneuve went on the offensive and bagged 7 victories, including the Brazilian and German GPs. The amazing showcase by Jacques that year saw him going head-to-head with Michael Schumacher for the championship. The Canadian won the title in the last round at the European GP after a collision with Schumacher. Jacques Villeneuve became the second driver in history to win the F1 championship, the Indy500, and the CART title.
Things went downhill for the Canadian from this point as Villeneuve spent the rest of his career struggling to get decent results with BAR and later Sauber. Jacques’s contract with BMW Sauber was terminated after an incident in the German GP.
This brought the end of a successful career with the 1997 world title, 11 GP wins, 22 podiums, and a whopping 13 pole positions. He continued to race in various endeavors such as NASCAR, Rallycross, and now the Hypercars in the World Endurance Championship in 2023.
Honorable Mention: Dan Gurney
Gurney raced in Formula 1 for over a decade, starting with a season-long stint with Ferrari in 1959 with one podium. Dan then had a disastrous campaign in 1960 with six non-finishes. The American joined Porsche for the team’s full works entry in 1961 and won his first race at the 1962 French GP. Gurney was then signed by Jack Brabham for the Brabham team, where Dan spent 3 seasons, winning 2 races with 8 podium finishes.
Gurnery moved to the All-American Racers team for another three-year stint in 1966 and had a less successful period, albeit winning the 1967 Belgian GP. The American driver last competed in three F1 races for McLaren in 1970. Dan Gurney won 4 GPs with three different constructors and took 19 podiums and 3 pole positions.
1. Mario Andretti
After a successful single-seater stint in America, including winning the Indy500, Mario Andretti decided it was time to give it a shot at Formula 1. The American driver clinched pole position on his debut at the US GP in 1968. Andretti raced periodically in F1 over the next few years as he focused on his career back in the United States. He won his first race at the 1971 Saudi Arabian GP on his first outing for Scuderia Ferrari.
Mario declined a Ferrari full-time offer and waited until 1975 to race full-time in Formula 1, with the new Parnelli team scoring 5 points. The American went back to Lotus after Parnelli quit the sport the following year. Andretti dominated the last round of the season at the Japanese Fuji Speedway. After winning the US GP West at Long Beach in 1977, Mario remained the last American driver to win a United States GP and finished third in the standings that year.
As ground-effect cars took over the grid, Mario cruised to the 1978 F1 world title with 6 race wins. Andretti won the championship at the Italian GP. Unfortunately, Mario’s career was at the pinnacle of motorsport as he struggled with below-par machinery. Subsequently, the American driver decided to leave and made a couple of brief appearances for Williams and Ferrari in 1982. He remains the most successful North American driver in the history of Formula 1. Andretti won the 1978 world championship and bagged a total of 12 race wins, 19 podiums, along with 18 pole positions.
It remains to be seen if this list changes in the future. Sergio Perez is arguably in the best position to challenge the records of some of the greatest drivers. Although Logan Sargeant will be looking to finally end the dry spell for American F1 drivers. One thing is certain North America has a lot more to achieve at the pinnacle of motorsport
Armaan Agarwal is a Formula 1 Subhead and author at Firstsportz. He has been a Motorsports writer for over six years a journey that started in 2017 with his own F1 blog. Armaan has been part of the Firstsportz for over a year and has published more than 1000 articles. His experience, passion for racing, and in-depth knowledge of the sport enable him to give racing fans worldwide a unique perspective of the sport. Armaan has always loved cars and it was Sebastian Vettel that made him a passionate F1 fan. Armaan is presently studying Mass Communication at St Xavier's University Kolkata.
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