Formula 1 is growing in the United States.
This month’s United States Grand Prix, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, is sold out. Beginning in May of 2022, there will be a second Formula 1 Grand Prix in the U.S., this one around the Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami.
But, as it has been for the last half decade, it certainly appears that there won't be an American on Formula 1’s grid.
Not since Alexander Rossi’s all-too-brief five-race stint with the ailing (and now defunct) Manor Marussia team in 2015 has America been represented on the grid. The last American racer before Rossi in F1 was Scott Speed, across 2006-07, and before him was Michael Andretti, way back in 1993.
The highest-placed driver on Formula 1’s single-seater ladder system is 20-year-old Floridian Logan Sargeant. But Sargeant still faces challenges if he is to even be the next Rossi.
Formula 1’s feeder championships utilize single-spec machinery, but there are teams flush with better equipment, more finances and all-round stronger potential. Sargeant was on the right side of that equation for the Formula 3 season in 2020, driving for front-runner Prema, and came agonizingly close to winning a championship. He placed third, just four points behind champion Oscar Piastri.
Still, the natural progression to Formula 2 failed to materialize.
The reason? Money.
It’s no sob story, nor is it atypical, it’s just a consequence of the expensive world of motorsport. Formula 2 seats require comfortably in excess of $1 million for a season. For a leading seat that figure can be doubled—or even tripled.
While six of his contemporaries stepped up a division, Sargeant instead remained in Formula 3, joining Charouz Racing System. The Czech Republic-based team was last of 10 teams in F3 in 2020 with only five points. Sargeant utilized his experience and dragged Charouz up the standings to fifth this season, supplying it with its first Formula 3 podiums, and then its maiden win, in the finale in Russia, contributing 102 of its 127 points along the way. That left Sargeant seventh overall in 2021’s Drivers’ standings—four positions down on 2020, but undoubtedly an equally impressive achievement.
“I think 2021 as a whole was honestly a pretty positive season,” Sargeant told Autoweek.
“Obviously coming off my 2020 season, the goal was to get to F2, but budget halted that.
“I think going to Charouz, they needed a lot of help and I think to take them from last in the championship up to fifth, practically single-handedly, I’d say is a pretty solid season and we definitely improved the car, which is what my job was to do this year.
“If I didn’t take that opportunity to go out and help (Charouz) move forward I wouldn’t have probably been racing this year, so you’ve got to look at the positives. I did what I could, I know within myself I was as good, if not better, than last year. It comes down to doing my best, helping them as much as I can, and push them forwards.”
The switch to a lesser team helped Sargeant, he feels, to become a more well-rounded racer.
“I used this year to be extremely self-critical and better myself as well,” he says. “Last year (with Prema) you could make some mistakes and it wouldn’t really cost you as you had a pretty good pace advantage for the most part. But this year every detail counted, every single tenth I could find was critical, so I think picking those things out and trying to minimize those mistakes and push myself as high (up) the grid was something I worked on.”
There is an obvious next step but, as 12 months ago, making it is the hard part.
“The goal is to get to F2,” says Sargeant, stressing that “the budget’s not easy.”
“That’s obviously been my dream—to try to get to F1. To get to F1 we need to get into a top team in F2, and we’re pushing really hard to do that. Hopefully it comes together.”
A top team in F2 is exactly where Sargeant’s 2020 rivals, Piastri and Theo Pourchaire, landed in 2021. They are now first and fifth in the standings, showing what’s possible.
“We were all going toe to toe last year, I narrowly missed out,” said Sargeant, whose title hopes dissolved after being taken out of the final race at the start.
“I was Oscar’s teammate for a whole year, we went head-to-head and it was really close, so to see them do well (in Formula 2) is positive for me, because I know I can be up there with them. Hopefully I just get my chance. I just need that opportunity in a good car and I’ll get it done.”
Sargeant has the required FIA Super Licence points and is striving to get an opportunity to drive in Formula 2’s post-season test. That is due to be held in Abu Dhabi, from December 16 to 18, straight after the 2021 season ends, to enable teams to evaluate candidates for 2022.
Formula 1, particularly under Liberty Media, has prioritized the American market, but without placing much focus on the driver front, an aspect Sargeant admits “is a little frustrating.” Pursuing the dream has already meant making some tough choices, including having a seasonal base in London, away from family and friends. But there is an overall sanguine approach to the situation.
“Living on your own in Europe can get a little boring sometimes, but it is what it is,” he says. “It comes down to the sacrifice: do you want to make it to F1 or not? That means needing to be based in Europe, keep grinding and try and get there in the end. It’s extremely difficult but you make it work.
“It’s a rough world, so you’ve got to try and figure it out and move forwards.”
Beyond Sargeant the US has a few more hopefuls; 16-year-old Red Bull-backed junior Jak Crawford placed 13th in Formula 3 as a rookie, Juan Manuel Correa courageously returned from an injury-enforced year-long layoff (following his horrific 2019 F2 accident) to finish 21st, while British Formula 3 champion Kaylen Frederick was 22nd, despite injury and COVID disrupting his campaign. Sargeant, however, is the driver best-placed to make the get a chance at the next level.
If Formula 1 was really serious about grooming an American for the F1 grid, it could do worse than take a look Sargeant’s way.