Formula One is currently “working with teams” to try to bring an American driver to the grid, The Race reports—but it’s just not going to happen in the near future.
This goal is part of F1's desire to create a broader fanbase in the United States which also includes the addition of a Grand Prix street circuit taking place in Miami. America isn’t necessarily the biggest home base for European racing, but there also tends to be a culture clash; hardcore F1 fans tend to be at odds with NASCAR, and vice versa. Having an American driver and more American races is a very tangible way to get people interested.
Part of that comes down to the growing interest in F1 as a result of Drive to Survive, the Netflix docuseries that chronicles the sport season by season. Greg Maffei, the CEO of Liberty Media, has been pleased with the response, saying, “Many groups that heretofore have not been interested, I have people coming up to me who say ‘I’m obsessed with Formula 1 because of Drive to Survive’, who are not our typical audience: women, teenagers, many different kinds of audiences that are expanding which is great.”
Here’s a little more from Stefano Domenicali, Formula One’s new CEO, in an investor’s meeting, as reported by The Race:
Asked if an American driver was important to help captivate the US audience, Domenicali replied: “It is very clear, yes.
“We are working with teams, trying to understand what is really the possibility for American drivers to come to the attention of F1 teams in the short term.
“This could come. I don’t see that, being very pragmatic and realistic, coming in the next two or three years but maybe after, yes.
“I know that there are teams watching good drivers that if they are ready would be a big boost for the American fans because as we know, drivers create enthusiasm and passion, the people want to see these guys.
“And therefore, the hope we have is that very, very soon we have American drivers competing against the others in F1.”
Thinking two or three years out is probably for the best; there are currently no American driver’s in F1's primary feeder series, Formula 2, but there are four Americans in the next tier down, Formula 3: Jak Crawford, Kaylen Frederick, Logan Sargeant, and Juan-Manuel Correa (who is Ecuadorian-American but races with an American license).
A more immediate choice would be to look to IndyCar, America’s open-wheel series. Many people have pegged Colton Herta, 21, as a great option, but whether or not Herta is interested in mounting an F1 challenge with an uncompetitive team when he’s doing damn well in IndyCar remains to be seen.
There are, of course, benefits to racing in F1, not the least of which are financial. Even the lowest-paid drivers in F1 make an estimated $1 million per year, whereas IndyCar driver pay is far more unpredictable, according to The Drive, with about one third of the grid not making any money at all and the most successful drivers raking in a mediocre six-figure income when compared to other professional athletes.
That same article from The Drive creates a really interesting hypothetical driver, one who wins half the races in an IndyCar season. After taxes, he’d earn under $90,000. And because IndyCar drivers have to pay for their own high-risk life and health insurance (whereas that’s provided by other racing series), that income is a hell of a lot less. If you’re opting to be a professional racing driver, you’d be better served by an F1 salary than an IndyCar one.
Whatever the case, no current American IndyCar driver has expressed a desire to move to F1—which means it could be many more years before we see an American competing in F1.