Formula One has been a struggling sport in the United States but remains one of the most heart-pounding motorsports. Although the sport literally traversed many circuits across the US, its popularity does not go too well compared to other host countries.
The survivability and continuation of a sport do not only rely on how good that sport is. Popularity obviously brings in the purse. Although Americans can be reluctant to welcome F1 racing wholeheartedly, some notable American F1 racers like Hill, Gurney, and Andretti still emerged and proved to be the sport’s saving grace in the US. Here are the Top 10 Greatest Formula 1 Race Drivers in the US History. Let’s go meet them.
Born: New Jersey, California | Notable race: 1972 Indy 500
Mark Donohue, nicknamed ‘Captain Nice,’ finished seventh in the 1969 Indy 500, winning the rookie of the year award. In 1968, Donohue missed the first race of the year at Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico due to engine issues but still dominated the series despite suffering three DNF’s through the season because of the issue. Going back to his homeland in 1972, he ruled the Indy 500, setting a record of over 162 mph (261 km/h) which went unchallenged for 12 years – the first Indy 500 victory for Penske. His journey as an F1 driver may not have been that significant, but throughout his career, the man showed growth and improvement evident in his important races. Donohue lost his life not long after an accident that internally injured his head put him in a coma while preparing for the Australian Grand Prix.
Born: Alhambra, California | Notable race: 1960 Indy 500
1950 through 1960, the Indy 500 was part of the FIA World Championship of Drivers, and drivers competing in these years were given World Championship points and participation. Rathman accumulated a total of 29 championship points after participating in 10 World Championship races, winning 1 race, setting 2 fastest lead laps, and finishing on the podium 4 times. This gave him the record of having the largest number of World Championship points earned by a driver in the Indy 500′. The Californian stock car and F1 racer were also distinguished as the dominator of the last Indy 500 classified as an F1 world championship event.
Born: Phoenix, Arizona | Notable race: 1998 Indy 500
Eddie was an American race driver who had made more appearances in F1 racing than any American driver did. Racing for a whopping 30 years in Formula One, sports cars, CART, and the Indy Racing League, and competing for 9 different teams 1978 to 1989, the racer who hailed from Arizona felt seemingly dissatisfied for his lack of prowess to qualify – securing only nine podium finishes and 70 career points, two-second place-finishes at Detriot and Canada in 1982 and 1983 respectively. The man may be short of achievements to brag, but his perseverance and determination, having competed longer than other American drivers, proves his worthiness to be on this list.
Born: Fresno, California | Notable race: 1953 and 1954 Indy 500
Another Californian F1 driver, Bill Vukovich, deserves to be on this list, referred to by his generation as the ‘greatest ever in American motorsports’ for his win rates in the sport. In 1953 and 1954, Vukovich ruled the Indy 500 by adding two more American Automobile Association National Championship races gracing his record. Unfortunately, the American racer of Yugoslavian descent, nicknamed the ‘Mad Russian,’ died in a chain-reaction crash during his third Indy 500 in 1955 while defending his title.
Born: Kansas City, Missouri | Notable race: 1957 Monaco Grand Prix
The Kansas City Flash, Masten Gregory, proved that he’s not only the typical rich guy who races cars just for a hobby. His impressive podium finish in his first Formula One World Championship Grand Prix start was a first by an American. This alluded to a bright year ahead for the Kansas legend, finishing 8th during the German Grand Prix and 4th in both the Pescara and Italian Grands Prix. Gregory was notably known for wearing ‘thick glasses’ even during the race due to nearsightedness, and this might explain how he was also known for his habit of crashing. His poor vision could have impeded one or two of his races, and one can only speculate how much more he could have been with perfect eyesight.
Born: New York City, New York | Notable race: 1973 British Grand Prix; 1973 Canadian Grand Prix
Known as the ‘American Racing Hero,’ Peter Revson, or ‘Revvie’ as his F1 folks call him, was remembered as an ‘easy-going’ and good-natured driver who fitted well the circle by his colleagues. His Formula One career was an easy-going one too. In 1971, he became the first American to bag the championship of the Can-Am Series and finish a career-best second in the Indy 500. In the 1972 season, at the age of 33, Revson landed 5th in the championship standing, driving for McLaren. Competing in 9 out of the 12 races, he secured the podium four times: three third and a second-place finish. The young bachelor tragically died in a South African Grand Prix track during a test session in 1974 when his vehicle crashed and caught fire.
Born: Hollywood, California | Notable race: 1965 Mexican Grand Prix
Ginther debuted his F1 career during the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix under Ferrari. He raced against Hill in the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, where he only finished second after the latter passed and outraced him during the 25th lap. The Californian racer also ended up second to Stirling Moss during the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix on May 14, 1961, only 3.6 seconds short. Ginther has always raced behind Hill and Gurney, yet his frequent top-three finishes prove his talent as an F1 racer. His 1965 Mexican Grand Prix victory (which was also his only F1 win) gave Honda its first Grand Prix championship.
Born: Miami, Florida | Notable race: 1960 Italian Grand Prix
The Miami-born legend was the first and only American-born F1 racer to win the Formula One World Championship of Drivers. Describing himself as a ‘peace-loving man’ who doesn’t want to beat anybody, Hill ironically secured three podium finishes and a fourth-place during the Drivers’ Championship in 1959 when he began driving full-time under Ferrari. The following year, he broke the forty-year Grand Prix championship drought in American history when he finished first during the 1960 Italian Grand Prix. His winning the Italian Grand Prix, although glorious, was a bittersweet one when his Ferrari teammate, Wolfgang von Trips, and fourteen spectators died in a crash during the event.
Born: Port Jefferson, New York | Notable race: 1967 Belgian Grand Prix
The top 2 on our list were the most underrated F1 driver. According to Jim Clark’s father’s account during the former’s funeral, Gurney was the only driver whom his two-time world champion son ‘feared the most. He may not have won a single championship race, but the New Yorker cemented its place as one of the finest, uncrowned F1 drivers frequently appearing on lists alongside Moss and Villeneuve. Gurney’s career debuted in 1959, running four races under Ferrari. He also secured podiums for Porsche and Brabham. It is hard to miss Gurney in race events during these years, winning in NASCAR, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Indy 500 like it’s an ordinary day. He also inspired the trend of champagne-spraying atop the podium, which later became a culture.
Born: Montona, Kingdom of Italy | Notable race: 1978 Formula One World Championship
Mario Andretti was the most successful F1 racer in American history with his 12 Grand Prix wins and one world championship. The Italian-born racer is one of the only three drivers to hold titles in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR, sharing Gurney and Montoya’s crown. In 1965, Andretti bagged his first-ever championship race at the Hoosier Grand Prix and the Rookie of the Year award after finishing third place in the 1965 Indy 500, subsequently becoming the youngest national champion in series history at the young age of 25 at that time. This was followed by a string of winnings and top-three finishes losing only to opponents by a small margin of points. Four years later, Andretti went on to win nine races, including the 1969 Indy 500 and the season championship. Mario Andretti has a staggering 109 career wins on primary circuits. Throughout his career, his name became synonymous with ‘speed’ in the F1 racing community.