It’s US Grand Prix time this weekend, with the Circuit of The Americas in Texas all set to host its fourth Formula 1 race. Most eyes will be on Lewis Hamilton, the Brit able to secure his third world title if he can rack up a certain number of points more than Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg.
Some eyes, however, will be on home hero Alexander Rossi, who makes his third start for Manor. The 24-year-old Californian, three times a winner in GP2 so far in 2015, will continue a tradition of American drivers in F1. Which got us thinking… which US racing greats who never took part in a Grand Prix would we have liked to have seen mixing it at the top level?
For the avoidance of confusion, we’ll discount the 11 Indianapolis 500 races that counted towards the Drivers’ World Championship between 1950 and 1960, because, well, they weren’t Grands Prix.
Forgetting, for this exercise, about the scores of Americans who raced at Indy in that period, but nowhere else, there have been 43 American drivers who competed in at least one GP. Some made a decent fist of it – Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill need no introduction – while others notched up one start and disappeared. Who do we think should be on the list, bringing speed, charisma or attitude – or all three – to F1?
5 Kyle Busch
This 30-year-old NASCAR bad-boy from Las Vegas has, to date, racked up 822 starts across the three series of America’s biggest motorsporting spectacle, winning 152 of them, starting on pole 80 times and amassing $96 million along the way. He’d be a great antidote to the often staid and sterile paddock environment in F1 – if he could stomach the salary drop. He wouldn’t take any nonsense on track and would certainly get up to plenty off it. Bernie would love that, but the corporate cheque writers probably wouldn’t.
4 Jeff Gordon
Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, who will quit full-time stock-car racing at the end of 2015 after almost a quarter of a century at the top, would’ve been a great addition to the roster of American F1 drivers. He’s 44 now but the Indiana racer, who’s third on the all-time premier-class wins list, tried a Williams-BMW back in 2003 and flew. Gordon got a go in Juan Pablo Montoya’s race-winning FW24 at Indianapolis, with seasoned onlookers (harsh critics) impressed at his pace and feedback.
3 Dale Earnhardt Sr
Hailing from real NASCAR country North Carolina and dubbed ‘Ironhead’ for his early-career stubbornness, later ‘The Intimidator’ thanks to his ruthless thirst for winning, Dale Earnhardt played the game perfectly: a hard-charger who could turn on the charm, wit and warmth when it required. He won seven top-class NASCAR titles during the 1980s and early-’90s, and his death, on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, was a huge shock to both his peers and his protégés.
2 Rick Mears
One of only three drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, Rick Ravon Mears was the archetypal 1980s US racer – super-cool and super-quick. The Californian legend, now 63, won 29 USAC/CART (IndyCar by any other name) races between 1978 and ’91 and took three drivers’ titles. He came close to making the switch to F1 in 1980 after testing a Brabham BT49 at Riverside, one-time home of the US GP, but declined Bernie Ecclestone’s offer of a race seat alongside Nelson Piquet. F1’s loss was US racing’s gain.
1 AJ Foyt
Surely one of America’s greatest all-rounders, Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr won the Indy 500 four times, the Daytona 500, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hours. It seems inconceivable that this gruff, hard-nosed Texan didn’t race in a World Championship Grand Prix (remember, those 11 Indy 500s, of which he tackled the final three, don’t count). Huge versatility, with talent and self-belief to match, meant he would’ve mastered F1 – and made entertaining contributions to all the politicking.
Al Unser Jr
Al Unser Sr
Photography courtesy of LAT and Sarah Stierch, Darryl Moran, Stuart Sceger and Ted van Pelt licensed under Creative Commons.