Who are the top 10 American F1 drivers of all time?

Over the years a handful of US drivers have taken on the big names of F1 – and beaten them. Simon Heptinstall selects the best

Home race Who are the top 10 American F1 drivers of all time?
Who are the top 10 American F1 drivers of all time?
Who are the top 10 American F1 drivers of all time? 01

10. George Follmer
The only driver to win both the Can-Am and Trans-Am sports car series in the same season, Arizona-born Follmer briefly tried his hand at F1. He was already 39 when he joined the Shadow team in 1973, achieving a creditable third place in his second F1 race, but an unreliable car frequently let him down.

9. Mark Donohue
Mechanical engineering graduate Donohue became famous at the wheel of the monstrous 1,500bhp Porsche 917 ‘Can-Am Killer’ sports car in the 1970s. ‘Dark Donohue’ was less dominant, however, when he joined F1 with Penske. A third place in the Canadian Grand Prix was his best finish before he was killed in a crash practising for the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975.

8. Scott Speed
Speed raced for the Italian Toro Rosso F1 team in 2006 and 2007, but numerous crashes, breakdowns and altercations blighted his promising career. When his results didn’t match his surname he was replaced halfway through the season by future multiple world champion Sebastian Vettel. Californian Speed had the last laugh, joining the Andretti Global Rallycross team and becoming rallycross world champion in 2015 and 2016. Scott Speed is one of the best American drivers of modern times. He started his career driving karts and participated in several national league championships in USA, promoted by Red Bull and dedicated to young American drivers, in which collected numerous victories. Therefore, he gained the opportunity to realise and demonstrate his true potential despite his adventure with Toro Rosso.

7. Bill Vukovich
Back in the 1950s, the Indy 500 was part of the Formula One season. California-born Vukovich, known as ‘The Silent Serb’ for his impassive demeanour, emphatically won the race in 1953 and 1954, after suffering a breakdown when well ahead in 1952. He was once more leading the race by 15 seconds in 1955 when he was hit by one of three cars he was about to lap, killing him instantly. 

6. Richie Ginther
At the height of the Swinging Sixties a small freckle-faced Californian appeared on the F1 scene sporting an unfashionable crew-cut hairstyle and distinctive toothy grin. Ginther soon hit the headlines with a thrilling battle against eventual winner Stirling Moss in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix. In his F1 career Ginther raced 54 times, with an impressive 14 podium finishes. He came third overall in the 1962 world championship season and in 1965 won the Mexican Grand Prix for Honda, the team’s first victory. After a minor accident in 1967, Ginther abruptly retired from racing – to tour America in a motorhome instead. In June 1971, during his last race, he organized an American team to drive a Porsche 911 but the other two drivers, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Alain Johnson, didn’t finish the circuit. 

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5. Eddie Cheever
Cheever was brought up in Italy and won the European karting championship, aged just 15. Five years later, the Arizona-born driver joined Formula One and went on to compete in 132 races, more than any other American to date. Uncompetitive cars meant he never had a chance to fulfil the promise shown by impressive performances in US-based Grands Prix. His nine podiums included finishing second in the Detroit Grand Prix in 1982 and third in his hometown of Phoenix in 1989.

4. Peter Revson
The handsome, Morgan-driving New York playboy was heir to a Revlon cosmetics fortune but chose to enter the dangerous world of F1 instead. In 30 starts Revson won twice, at the 1973 British and Canadian Grands Prix. He dated Miss World, raced with Steve McQueen and won the Can-Am sports car series before being fatally injured on a test lap before the 1974 South African Grand Prix. His potential was undisputed and the popular driver, well known for his charm, in 1969 raced the Indianapolis 500 gaining the second place. He won the pole position in the grid just once, in 1971.  

3. Dan Gurney
Driver, constructor and team-owner Gurney was a real pioneer: the first to fit what is now called a ‘Gurney flap’ to his car’s rear wing; the first to use a full-face helmet in F1; and, perhaps most importantly, the first to spray champagne while celebrating on the podium. As an adaptable driver, Gurney won four times in F1 between 1959 and 1970, and also won races in Indy Car, NASCAR, Can-Am, Trans-Am and, in 1967, the Le Mans 24-hour race. In 1968 he dedicated himself to the top category of North American single-seat cars, which was managed by CART/Indycar before becoming Champ Car. 

2. Phil Hill
The only American-born driver to win the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship was this self-proclaimed “thoughtful, gentle man in the wrong business”. Hill scored 16 podium finishes in his Formula One career, winning the title outright in 1961 with Ferrari. He also won the Le Mans 24-hour race three times. Hills’ F1 title was tainted with tragedy, though: his main rival, Ferrari colleague Wolfgang von Trips, died in the last race of the season after a crash that also claimed 15 spectators. 

1. Mario Andretti
Andretti won the Indy 500, Daytona 500, Indy championship (four times) and Sebring 12-hour endurance race (three times). Which makes it all the more remarkable that he also won the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship with Lotus in 1978. After escaping his native Italy – when the Istrian peninsula was ceded to Yugoslavia at the end of the Second World War – the adopted American embarked on a remarkable career that saw him voted Driver of the Year in three separate decades. His F1 record was an impressive 12 wins in 128 starts, but it was Andretti’s versatility that set him apart. He was equally successful whether driving on drag strips, dirt ovals or glamorous F1 circuits.

The American driver started this sport together with his brother when he was very young, when he was only 18 years old. He made his debut as a F1 driver in 1967 and in 1969 won the Indianapolis 500 for the first time with Lotus. His ambition, talent and experience took him along great success in every championships: from the French Grand Prix in Europe, to the United States Grand Prix.

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