INSIGHT: Why is the U.S. about to lose its leading F1 hopeful?

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INSIGHT: Why is the U.S. about to lose its leading F1 hopeful?

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Why is the U.S. about to lose its leading F1 hopeful?

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There are a huge number of talented American drivers in high levels of motorsport, but in terms of ones appearing close to racing in Formula 1, the conveyor belt still isn’t delivering.

All of the drivers currently on the F1 grid came through a European finishing school, with those from across the northern and southern borders — Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi and Sergio Perez — all graduating from either Formula 3 or Formula 2/GP2.

So for most Americans dreaming of becoming an F1 driver, a move to Europe is crucial. And that’s what Floridian Logan Sargeant did; finishing third in British Formula 4 before progressing through Formula Renault to F3, where last year he missed out on the title by just four points.

But instead of following six of last year’s F3 field — four of whom he finished ahead of — in graduating to F2, Sargeant is back in the U.S. and looking at sports cars or Indy Lights to keep his career moving, even though it likely means the end of his F1 hopes.

“The whole Indy thing, I think, is actually growing,” he tells RACER. “I’ve heard rumors of an American going from IndyCar to F1 — I don’t know how true that is or if it’s just rumors — but realistically once you’re out of the whole F2 scene it becomes a lot, lot more difficult.”

Lack of the necessary budget has forced Logan Sargeant to rethink his career path, and the same issue is becoming ever more problematic up and down the European single-seater ladder. Joe Portlock/Motorsport Images

And this isn’t just a simple case of it being disappointing that an American driver isn’t moving closer to F1. Sargeant’s 2020 teammate and eventual F3 champion Oscar Piastri endorses his potential.

“He definitely deserves a seat in F2 this year,” Piastri says. “He almost copped a bit of unnecessary flak last season — he only came third by four points in the end, and had that last race gone a little bit differently, he could have very easily been champion.

“So it’s pretty sad. It makes me aware of how lucky I am, how privileged I am to be in the position I am and it does spur me on a little bit to go forwards. But I think regardless of whether or not Logan had announced that, I would have been spurred on to try and get to F1 anyway.”

And it’s not just Piastri who was impressed. As team principal of Prema, Rene Rosin has seen numerous exciting talents come through his ranks — most recently the likes of Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Mick Schumacher — and the Italian doesn’t think Sargeant’s path should be changing at this point.

“We tried to convince him to stay with us in Formula 3 for another season,” Rosin reveals. “Of course, after last season I understood his point of view as well that another season in Formula 3 was perhaps a bit too much, because he missed out on the championship at the last race.

“I think either him or Oscar would have been a great champion because both of them had done a fantastic season. It’s a pity for Logan to finish third, because between the penalties and accidents in Monza and Mugello, it cost him at least P2. I was a bit aware of the situation of some budget issues; on the other hand, from Logan’s side, I think if he had the chance to be in a top team he would have taken it.

“Honestly, he maybe wasn’t the best driver in terms of race pace, but over a single lap he has done an amazing job. It’s a real pity because he’s a great guy to work with, he’s a very good driver and I hope these financial problems can be solved as soon as possible and then he can get back to racing in Europe, America or whatever he can. Because he really deserves a chance.”

The problem is, a seat in a top team in Formula 2 this year costs in the region of $2.5-3 million. With those all taken, it’s a big ask to find only slightly less for a drive that’s unlikely to give you a regular chance of winning, even in a spec series. And Sargeant says spending a further $1.5-2 million to stay in F3 didn’t offer any realistic improvement to his prospects.

“That was always going to be a tough one for me because obviously it was a fair fight all the way to the end but I definitely felt like I had the potential to have won it (the F3 title),” the 20-year-old admits. “So that was always going to be a tough one to swallow for me and I wasn’t really feeling doing it for another year.

“F3 is crazy hectic, 30 cars on the grid and it just wasn’t really what I was looking to do again. I was looking to move forward and get a little bit further in my career.

“I also looked at the fact that even F3’s an expensive ride, it’s not cheap at all. I was thinking, ‘Say I went and won in 2021, where’s that going to leave me?’ If I’d won in 2020 I feel like I’d be pretty much in the same position right now, not having the budget to stay in the top teams in F2.”

The rapidly escalating price structure makes gambling on success in “crazy hectic” European F3 that much riskier for up-and-comers like Sargeant (here leading at Barcelona). Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Sargeant isn’t alone in being unable to afford the expense of F2, with famous surnames such as Pedro Piquet and Giuliano Alesi similarly looking elsewhere in recent months. Racing will always be an expensive sport, but Rosin concedes the money needed by junior drivers trying to prove themselves is unsustainable, even after F2 CEO Bruno Michel oversaw a calendar overhaul that will include more races taking place on fewer weekends in an attempt to cut costs.

“Honestly the cost of the championship now is quite high, so we need to figure out a way to get the price reduced,” Rosin says. “Because when you’re starting off speaking of €2-2.1 million ($2.4-2.6m) for Formula 2, and then €1.2 million ($1.5m) for Formula 3, it’s quite a huge amount of money. So the cost reduction is a valid point to be addressed.

“The promoter tried to make some efforts at cost reduction but at the moment I don’t see any reduction, apart from some small amounts that Bruno has cut out. We need to wait a bit more until we get all the final checks and see what is really the advantage of doing seven or eight rounds. But cost reduction is a valid problem that needs to be addressed. We must remember, up until three years ago the season was costing €1.5m, €1.6m ($1.8-1.9m). If you had €1.7m ($2m) then you really had a good budget.”

While Rosin is unsure whether the recent calendar changes will really have an impact on F2 and F3 costs, he says the issue runs even further down the ladder and the FIA needs to work on improving it before all drivers are priced out and the whole system collapses.

“I think it needs to be a joint work between promoter and the federation to make sure we keep the price low. But it’s not just a problem of Formula 2 and Formula 3 — so it’s not just a problem for Bruno — it’s also a problem for Formula 4. If you consider that the Formula 4 season you are looking at €500,000-700,000 ($600,000-$850,000) for a 15-year-old kid…

“I have my costs and for my company I have to make a profit, but when you see a certain amount of costs, it’s quite a lot. On the other hand, I’m doing my job, and I need to try and do the best for my company both on the results side and also on the economic side, because I’m not a charity entity — I’m here to make a profit.

“The problem needs to be addressed in a certain way, otherwise — while now we can have drivers that are a good package, there could be years where it is not possible to find 22 drivers in Formula 2, 30 drivers in Formula 3, up to 30 drivers in Formula Regional, and then we’ll have a problem.

“The best teams will always be able to find the drivers, but we need to also consider the midfield teams. Because if I start off doing a season of Formula 2 at €1.2m-1.3m ($1.5m-1.6m) because I don’t have any other choice, it’s better that I keep the car on stands. Guaranteed.”

Perhaps F1 will also need to get involved if it wants to keep the pool of potential drivers as large as possible, and especially if it wants to increase its appeal in the U.S. An American driver would play a big part in achieving that, but Sargeant appreciates it’s tough to get the additional funding he needs from the States in the current climate.

“I think once you go halfway across the world it becomes difficult,” Sargeant admits. “You’re not really part of the American scene anymore, let’s say. It’s definitely tough, you don’t get a whole lot of backing — I would have liked more but it is what it is, that’s life and move on.”

Sargeant’s older brother Dalton has raced stock cars and a roof might still be part of Logan’s future, but he’s not quite ready to give up on single-seater racing just yet, even if it’s not the F1 dream he originally had.

“I’d say in an ideal world I would like to either go the LMP2 way to hopefully get in with a manufacturer and build a relationship — the LMDh is coming out in 2023, so that’s a really good opportunity to set yourself up for a good career — or on the other side, living in America, Indy Lights and that path trying to get to IndyCar,” he says. “I’m definitely looking at both, and hopefully one of those will come off.”

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