INSIGHT: Is there a better road to F1 for young Americans?

Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

INSIGHT: Is there a better road to F1 for young Americans?

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Is there a better road to F1 for young Americans?

By

Motorsports is a complicated and expensive business. And what can get lost in the cracks are talented drivers attempting to climb through the ranks. Although talent will always rise to win races and championships, it’s not always a guarantee that they will have an opportunity to be on a grid to show it. At the end of the day, it almost always comes down to financial support.

For aspiring young racers, the road to Formula 1 can be costly and cruel. Take the trio of American-born racers competing in Formula 3: Jak Crawford (pictured above, No. 10), Kaylen Frederick and Logan Sargeant (pictured above, No. 29).

All three have taken different paths up to this point. However, the United States hasn’t been represented in Formula 1 since Alexander Rossi’s five-race campaign in 2015. Although popularity for F1 has grown significantly in America, particularly over the last couple of years, history suggests it will be a challenge to put one, let alone three, American drivers on the grid in the near future.

If it were as simple as vying for wins and championships at the junior formula level, then Sargeant would be in the midst of battling in F2 and potentially, part of the rumor mill as a candidate for a 2022 drive in F1. Unfortunately, that isn’t the scenario. Instead, the driver who scored two wins and finished third in last year’s F3 championship with powerhouse Prema Racing saw his hopes of moving up to the next level dashed due to a lack of funding despite his impressive results. The situation left him stalled, with the best opportunity on the table being a return to F3 courtesy of Charouz, where the emphasis has been more on utilizing Sargeant’s experience to develop the car rather than being a squad ready to consistently fight among the front-runners.

In turn, the 20-year-old Floridian has helped elevate the team with three podiums, and sits ninth in the standings heading into this weekend’s season finale in Russia. After that, another offseason at the crossroads looms, with the decision once again coming down to funding. That’s why he believes that the F1 ladder system could benefit from taking a page out of the IndyCar’s Road to Indy blueprint.

The RTI is organized into three levels — USF2000 (lowest), Indy Pro 2000 (middle) and Indy Lights (highest) — with a financial support structure in place to ensure that the champions progress in an effort to put the best possible talent into IndyCar.

“I think the way the path is set up is right; you can have F4 on the regional (level), then F3, F2, F1,” Sargeant tells RACER. “I don’t have a problem with that, but one thing I do have a problem with is the support structure for the drivers. I don’t think that, as a good driver, you’re given support to move forward, so to say. It’s all up to the driver to pay for the season. Whereas in the Road to Indy, they do support the top three, and that’s important to help the sport keep moving forward and get the best talent to the top. Unfortunately, there’s a lot — a lot — of people out there who do have the talent to be in F1, but they’ll never get to see that day.”

Sargeant (left) would like to see a system in place to support drivers on the path to F1. Mark Sutton/Motorsports Images

There is concern for Sargeant, who also finished third in the 2017 British F3 championship, that he could be among those.

“I’m the only American sitting on over 40 points to get a super license, as far as I’m aware, which I feel like doesn’t get recognized enough,” he says.

“Unfortunately, to get into a solid F2 team (you need) a ridiculously high budget. As of now, I don’t see that happening. But you never know what might happen in racing; it changes by the minute. It would be a dream if that came through, but you never know.”

It costs between of $1-1.5 million to compete for a full season in F3, which becomes anywhere between $1.2-$2 million in F2, with championship caliber seats even exceeding $2 million. For reference, a full-season budget in IndyCar ranges between $5-8 million.

The award package for this year’s RTI champions is valued as follows: USF2000, $406,305; Indy Pro 2000, $723,065; and Indy Lights $1,369,425. Both USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 prizes guarantee a full season seat at the next level for 2022, while winning the Indy Lights title promises a minimum of three IndyCar races the next season. The scholarship program has been a fixture in the RTI since 2011.  

Although the Indy Lights championship has yet to be decided with two races remaining (at Mid-Ohio, Oct. 1-3), Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas and Linus Lundqvist have locked themselves into the top three spots. This means the trio have earned an IndyCar test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Oct. 29, the day prior to RTI’s Chris Griffis Memorial Test (Oct. 30-31). It is understood that Sting Ray Robb is also likely to take part in the IndyCar test, courtesy of the RTI scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Pro 2000 title and gaining a full year of experience in Indy Lights. 

Additionally, the F4 United States championship and Formula Regional Americas — an F3-level championship for North America — have adopted a similar model to the RTI. There is an award package that enables the F4 champion to race the following year in FRA. Meanwhile, Honda Performance Development and Honda Motor Company combined to provide the FRA champion with a scholarship at an estimated value of up to $600,000 to race next season in Japan’s Super Formula championship.

More RACER