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on the eve of a new USGP, where have all the US drivers and teams gone?

Here we are on the eve of a new American Grand Prix which is good to see, even if the circuit design is another bit of a nonsense and there is a dearth of US involvement in F1 these days to drive support for the race. So where have they all gone?

I am a child of the early 1950s, and so my memories are of times when the USA was well represented on the Grand Prix circus; Masten Gregory, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther and Dan Gurney were all regulars at the time that I began to get really interested in the sport and we had Jim Hall over for a season amidst a number of occasional US entries at races.

Whilst Masten developed a reputation for spectacular dismounts as his vehicle was about to attack the scenery in sports car racing he was a steadier competitor in F1 albeit that he never got at GP win, unlike the other three members of that quartet, for the Californian trio all won GPs and Phil was the 1961 World Champion.

As their F1 careers faded out through the mid to late 1960s we had Mario Andretti burst onto the scene with a pole position in his first event; his home GP at the superb Watkins Glen, and fellow USAC start Bobby Unser also tried his hand around that time, albeit with a BRM that was a bit below par, and Mark Donohue had a couple of outings around then.

It was a year or so before Mario became a regular, but he did race with noted success at Ferrari. We’ll gloss over some of what went on then before he returned to Lotus and became America’s second World Champion in the late 70s. By then we had seen George Follmer and Peter Revson also competing well in the early part of the 70s, with the latter being a GP winner with McLaren before his untimely death at Kyalami. We also saw Mark Donohue make a full season challenge, but we lost him too in that practice accident in Austria.

The 70s had been a good decade for US involvement in F1, for not only had we seen some good drivers amongst the grid, but we had also seen significant team involvement with Shadow, Vel’s Parnelli and Penske all making creditable efforts, even if wins were sparse.

With Mario returning across the Atlantic with the title in his pocket we had to wait a while before the next serious attempt by an American driver and that brought us another Andretti, but Michael has a terrible season at McLaren and was gone home too soon. Since then we have seen Scott Speed flash across the F1 radar before heading back to oval racing with NASCAR.

In those early days F1 had a bit of a lure for US drivers and there is a long list of those who have tried their hand besides the ones who regularly competed, but NASCAR and the various forms of IndyCar seem to have provided enough professional home based racing to satisfy demand. Sure there have been a few that have had an F1 test, often as a result of sharing a sponsor, but who might have made the transition?

It’s possible that Michael Andretti’s experience put some people off, but Jeff Gordon apparently went well enough in an F1 car and would probably have been good enough to have made the switch had he done so 15 years or so back. Tony Stewart could also have been a possibility around the time he made his move over to NASCAR as his single seat performances had been good and he had the racer’s attitude.

Of the current crop, and let’s face it I’m no fan of him as a person, but Kyle Busch can certainly drive a car and to see what he could do with an F1 car would be something. Likewise Brad Keslowski   looks the sort of driver who might be able to cope with F1.

Who knows when we will see another US F1 driver, let alone a GP winner? It would be nice to think that we would but, for now, let’s be grateful that we are back with an F1 race in the US, even if there are better places that we could be racing at there.


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