Oct 23, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean (8) of France drives during the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When Haas F1 became a Formula 1 constructor, many American F1 fans had dreams that they could finally see an American have a chance to compete in modern F1. Sure, Michael Andretti was Ayrton Senna’s teammate for one season and Scott Speed had a stint with Toro Rosso but it had been decades since the last American F1 winner (Mario Andretti, 1978).

Alexander Rossi was the last American to race in Formula 1 and he never really got a chance, filling in for a few races for Marussia, one of the slowest cars on the grid. It wasn’t his fault the car was slow and did his best to put up a career best 12th place in his five F1 starts. Rossi then went to IndyCar and won the 100th Indianapolis 500 as a rookie.

When talking to the press, Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner poured cold water on the possibility of an American racing for the team in the future saying the following:

“It’s not on top of our list. It’s on top of our list if there’s a good one. Obviously, we want one.”

“But then maybe, if there is a really good one, would they come to us? Just having an American driver who maybe cannot compete at a certain level is maybe not good for the sport.”

“[Signing an American driver] would be an ambition, but at the moment there is nobody ready for F1 in the United States in my opinion.”

Many fans and drivers took offense to those comments, even meriting a response from Mario Andretti himself.

While Formula 1 is clearly the series meant for the best of the best in auto racing, Steiner is completely wrong in saying no American is ready for F1. He is right that it wouldn’t be right to have an American in the car for the sake they are American racing for an American team, but there are a few capable American drivers in the United States who would be able to hold their own in F1.

Two drivers who come to mind is Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. Rossi was already in F1 and has only honed his craft since moving to IndyCar, winning Indy as well as at Watkins Glen last year. Newgarden is always fast regardless of what kind of track he races on and showed that by winning four races last year and the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

But there are underlying issues that everyone has seemingly ignored that explain why Americans aren’t gravitating toward Formula 1.

F1’s Superlicense system eliminates almost all Americans anyway. In order to race in Formula 1, you must obtain at least 40 or more points over the previous three years racing in other series before being eligible for a Superlicense and being able to race in Formula 1. The point system for various worldwide series is based on series similarity to F1 and prestige.

For Americans, IndyCar is the easiest way to get the necessary points to be eligible for a Superlicense. You can also be eligible via NASCAR but the only way to be eligible is to win two championships and finish top three within three years. But amid all the discussion of Americans not being ready for F1, even under F1’s own rules there are only two American drivers currently eligible to race in Formula 1 in 2018, Rossi and Newgarden.

And speaking of NASCAR, IndyCar has their own problem of drivers leaving open-wheel to go to NASCAR because drivers make more money in a much popular series. So if they’re leaving for any series, it’s not F1 but NASCAR. And while it’s still tough to make it in NASCAR or in IndyCar, it’s much much easier to make it there than in Formula 1.

So while guys like Graham Rahal or Conor Daly are rightly upset that they or other F1 drivers haven’t been given a chance yet, why would Haas F1 waste their time and money putting someone in a car for a test when they aren’t even close to being eligible for a Superlicense?

And it’s not like Rossi or Newgarden haven’t tried to get to Formula 1. Rossi was in F1 for a few races and Newgarden was in GP3 in hopes of a future in F1 before moving back to the United States and trying out an IndyCar career.

Keeping this topic focused on Rossi and Newgarden, imagine yourself in their situation. If there was an opportunity to leave IndyCar and go to Formula 1, chances are it won’t be with a top team. Haas may be the best team they could get and even they are mid-pack and scrape by with single digit points on an inconsistent basis.

Rossi had it worse when he was at Marussia and it has to be taxing to know that you’re at least a second or two slower than the top teams and your entire day is filled with being passed by everyone every race. One of the first things multiple World Champion Fernando Alonso said when he came over to race last year’s Indianapolis 500 was that he was having fun at Indy. And that was something he probably hasn’t said in a Formula 1 paddock for the past three years at McLaren. Who would want to walk away from winning the Indianapolis 500 (Rossi) or winning the IndyCar championship (Newgarden) to go fight for 15th place in Formula 1 because they aren’t in a top car.

This isn’t to say that guys like Alexander Rossi or Josef Newgarden isn’t worth a test. While Rossi seems satisfied to leave his previous F1 dreams behind in favor of a career in IndyCar, Newgarden has said he was interested in testing a car. That was something that caught criticism from Steiner, saying Newgarden would struggle if he went from IndyCar to Formula 1 instead of going to a lower series like Formula 2 and that would damage the popularity of F1 in the United States if he did that.

I don’t think that it would damage Formula 1’s popularity in the United States. I mean, if Formula 1 could survive the disastrous 2005 United States Grand Prix, it could survive a struggling American. But it might help Newgarden to go to Formula 2 before jumping to Formula 1. And I’m not sure Newgarden would leave a top team in IndyCar to start over in a support series for a dream that’s not likely to happen anyway.

The sad reality is that for an American to be successful in Formula 1, they must have it in their minds at an early age that Formula 1 is the goal and that must mean going to Europe and racing in FIA series over there. Jeff Gordon said something similar and while that might be unfair because it plays on a belief that American auto racing is automatically worse than European racing, it’s the current truth.

One person who tried to do that was Rossi himself. Rossi’s goal from a young age was to race in Formula 1 and after racing as a kid in the United States, moved to Europe at 18 to try and move up the ranks of Formula 1. And even after doing that, he only got five races and he likely would’ve had none if the driver he replaced was still bringing in sponsor money for him to race so Marussia could keep the team running.

Maybe Guenther Steiner is off-base with his comments and is just going off of stereotypes that Americans and their oval racing and their stock cars aren’t worthy of a chance in Formula 1 no matter how talented they are. Maybe he’s also right in that his team could get two drivers who aren’t American and would be more experienced than if they had hired an American for a seat. Both things could be accurate but having said that, there are plenty of Americans racing in America who can compete on the F1 grid. And if they become eligible for their Superlicense, hopefully someone is paying attention and gives them a chance.


About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @phillipbupp

1 thought on “Haas F1 is wrong to claim no American drivers are ready for F1 but everyone is looking past the deeper issue

  1. F1 likes to think of themselves as a pinnacle of racing, but it’s pure arrogance, not based on any factual basis. I watch all three series (F1, Indy, and NASCAR) and F1 is very interesting, but it’s not real racing for the most part. It’s corporate manufacturers with huge money, versus smaller competitors with much less….it’s lopsided to the point that in Baku for example, only a couple of the cars had any shot at all, of winning the race, and that was at the start of the race…once a few laps are done, it’s game over for the field. That’s not good competition, and doesn’t create better drivers. The best drivers in the world, and most well-rounded, are here in the USA in INDY and NASCAR…period. They have to actually race, and on a much greater variety of circuits than does F1. I drive F1 in simulator…it’s actually much easier than Indy and NASCAR, to do well.

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