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Top 10 American F1 drivers ranked: Andretti, Hill, Gurney and more

Formula 1 tried for a long time to crack North America. With the success of the United States Grand Prix in Austin it finally seems to have done so and this year F1 owner Liberty Media has added a new race in Miami, with further US race options being lined up.

Eddie Cheever, Ligier JS19 Matra, battles with Mario Andretti, Ferrari 126C2

The arrival of the Miami International Autodrome means that the 2022 season will be the first F1 campaign to have two races in North America since 1984. Michael Andretti also hopes to enter F1 with his own American team, to join Haas, but the other piece of the jigsaw would surely be an American driver.

Excluding the Indianapolis 500, which counted for the world championship between 1950 and 1960, few American drivers have forged careers in F1. The strong domestic Indycar and NASCAR scenes have meant many aces have stayed at home, but there have been some notable exceptions.

Here’s our list of the top 10 American drivers in F1. For this ranking, we have focused on what the drivers achieved specifically in F1 and not considered what they achieved elsewhere. This means that there are several drivers – such as Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal and Bobby Unser – who would be in the debate about the greatest American racing drivers but do not make this top 10.

All our stats are for world championship F1 GPs and do not count non-championship races.

10. Danny Sullivan

Danny Sullivan, Tyrrell 011

Danny Sullivan, Tyrrell 011

Photo by: Sutton Images

Year: 1983
Starts: 15
Best finish: 5th
Podiums: 0
Poles: 0
Titles: 0

The 1985 Indy 500 winner and 1988 CART champion had raced in Britain during his junior single-seater days and landed a Tyrrell F1 seat alongside Michele Alboreto for 1983.

The Cosworth DFV-engined Tyrrell 011 was outgunned by the turbo opposition and Sullivan scored points just once, finishing fifth in the Monaco GP. He was outperformed by Alboreto, who won the Detroit GP, but did put in a starring performance at the Race of Champions, the last non-championship F1 race at Brands Hatch.

With Alboreto absent and roughly half the usual F1 field present, Sullivan qualified on row three. He quickly moved up to third and became more of a threat as many drivers started suffering with tyre problems, Sullivan having scrubbed in a set prior to the start.

The final stages of the race were dramatic as Sullivan climbed all over the back of – and sometimes got alongside – the Williams of leader Keke Rosberg. Despite a terribly blistered left-rear tyre, Rosberg held on, Sullivan finishing half a second behind and well clear of the Arrows of Alan Jones.

That was as good as it got for Sullivan in F1 and he switched back to Indycar racing for 1984, immediately becoming a frontrunner. He would go on to win 17 CART races and scored his title and Indy 500 success with Team Penske.

9. Mark Donohue

Mark Donohue, Penske PC1 Ford

Mark Donohue, Penske PC1 Ford

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Years: 1971, 1974-75
Starts: 14
Best finish: 3rd
Podiums: 1
Poles: 0
Titles: 0

F1 is probably the weakest part of Donohue’s CV, which includes success in Can-Am, Trans-Am, the Indy 500 and NASCAR. However, he did score a podium first time out in the 1971 Canadian GP.

Driving a Penske-run McLaren, Donohue started eighth and finished third in a wet race dominated by Jackie Stewart and Ronnie Peterson. He wasn’t overawed by the opposition but, aside from racing an F5000 in the combined F1/F5000 non-championship Questor GP, that was it before he retired at the end of 1973 and became president of Penske Racing.

PLUS: F1’s top 10 ‘point-less’ races

Unfortunately, given what was to follow, Donohue was tempted out of retirement by friend Roger Penske’s decision to enter F1. Penske chose to build and run the cars from the UK but did race under a US licence.

The Geoff Ferris-designed PC1 arrived for the final two rounds of 1974, with Penske running a one-car team with Donohue as driver. That continued into 1975 and Donohue finished fifth in the Swedish GP but he was frustrated by a lack of pace and difficulty in getting the car to work as he wanted.

Penske switched to a March 751 chassis for July’s British GP. Donohue preferred the customer car and was classified fifth (he was one of many to crash in the late rain), but had still qualified around his usual position, 15th.

Having beaten the closed-circuit world record in a Porsche 917/30 at Talladega, he then travelled to the Osterreichring for what should have been his 15th world championship F1 start.

PLUS: The Porsche 917’s most outrageous feat

After playing with tyre pressures to try and get the March to work, Donohue qualified a lowly 20th and then suffered a front-left tyre failure in warm-up. Donohue initially seemed fine after the ensuing crash but had received a blow to the head. A blood clot developed and he died two days later, aged 38.

PLUS: Mark Donohue's tragic comeback

8.Harry Schell

Harry Schell, BRM P25

Harry Schell, BRM P25

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1950-60
Starts: 56
Best finish: 2nd
Podiums: 2
Poles: 0
Titles: 0

The first American to start a world championship GP, albeit in an inappropriate and uncompetitive Cooper-JAP, Schell was born in France. Both his parents had links to motorsport and Schell started racing shortly after the Second World War.

He was not quite among the top rank of drivers and rarely had frontrunning machinery but became a respected performer. Perhaps Schell’s most famous drive came for the ever-improving Vanwall team in the 1956 French GP.

Schell qualified as best-of-the-rest at Reims behind the dominate Lancia-Ferraris before early engine failure put him out. But he took over team-mate Mike Hawthorn’s Vanwall and shocked the Italian team by charging back into contention. Despite the defensive tactics of the Ferrari drivers, Schell got as high as second before being forced to stop for a new injection pump and he was eventually classified 10th.

Schell finally scored his first world championship podium with third in the epic 1957 Pescara GP road-race, three and half minutes behind works Maserati team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio but ahead of the privateer version of fellow American Masten Gregory.

Schell’s best world championship result came in the 1958 Dutch GP, driving for BRM. He was second to runaway winner Stirling Moss’s Vanwall and finished ahead of highly rated team-mate Jean Behra. A string of fifth places also made it his best season as Schell finished sixth in the drivers’ table.

Often outpaced by Jo Bonnier at BRM in 1959, Schell then campaigned a Cooper T51 under his family’s Ecurie Bleue banner. There was an opportunity to join the British Racing Partnership team in 1960 but Schell was killed when he lost control of his Cooper during practice for the Silverstone International Trophy.

7.Masten Gregory

Masten Gregory

Masten Gregory

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Years: 1957-63, 1965
Starts: 38
Best finish: 2nd
Podiums: 3
Poles: 0
Titles: 0

Famous for standing up and leaping from his car in the event of an accident – in the days before seat belts – Gregory was an F1 regular in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

After successful sportscar outings, the bespectacled Gregory made his world championship F1 debut at the 1957 Monaco GP in a Scuderia Centro Sud Maserati 250F. He finished third, albeit two laps behind winner Fangio’s Maserati, and became the first American to take podium in a world championship GP.

Several accidents (usually in sportscars) meant he missed various GPs in his early years and was rarely in top equipment. Gregory did, however, drive for Cooper during its successful 1959 season, scoring a third at Zandvoort and a career-best second in the Portuguese GP.

Thereafter good results became hard to come by, though Gregory did win a non-championship F1 race at Karlskoga in 1962, driving a UDT Laystall/BRP Lotus 24.

Gregory’s last F1 season came in 1965, after which he focused on sportscar competition. He won the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing a Ferrari 250 LM with future world champion Jochen Rindt, and contested that year’s Indy 500.

6. Eddie Cheever

Eddie Cheever, Alfa Romeo 184T

Eddie Cheever, Alfa Romeo 184T

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1978, 1980-89
Starts: 132
Best finish: 2nd
Podiums: 9
Poles: 0
Titles: 0

Cheever, who grew up in Italy, made more championship F1 starts than any other American and was an established driver throughout the 1980s. He was a highly rated F2 talent and member of the BMW Junior programme, but never quite managed the breakthrough at the sport’s pinnacle.

After failing to qualify a Theodore in the first two races of 1978, Cheever made his F1 debut for Hesketh in the South African GP. He then went back to F2 with Osella, won three European Championship rounds, and then joined the team’s F1 effort for 1980.

The FA1 was uncompetitive, but Cheever’s fortunes improved when he joined Tyrrell for 1981. He became a points scorer and finished 12th in the standings, well clear of rookie team-mate Alboreto.

Cheever joined Ligier in 1982 and performed well against proven race-winning team-mate Jacques Laffite. Reliability was a problem but Cheever scored three podiums, his first in the Belgian GP followed by two home rostrum visits in Detroit and Las Vegas.

He arguably got his biggest break the following year when he joined Renault. But Cheever was outperformed by team-mate Alain Prost. While Prost scored took four wins and narrowly missed the title, Cheever’s best was second in the Canadian GP and he finished seventh in the standings. Cheever scored his best qualifying result at that year’s French GP with second, but he was 2.3s behind poleman and eventual winner Prost.

Renault changed its line-up for 1984 and Cheever never had such competitive machinery again. He moved to Alfa Romeo, then missed most of 1986 (when he was a world sportscar race winner at Jaguar) before joining Arrows for 1987.

There he formed a sometimes fiery relationship with team-mate Derek Warwick. Initially they were evenly matched, often qualifying close together with Warwick having the marginal advantage.

Cheever finished ahead in the 1987 standings but thereafter he seemed to fall further away from Warwick’s qualifying pace and was beaten by the Briton over the next two seasons. Cheever’s ninth and final F1 podium came, from 17th on the grid, in a race of attrition in the 1989 US GP.

He then moved to Indycar racing, first in CART and then the Indy Racing League, with victory in the 1998 Indy 500 being his biggest success, scored with his own team.

5. Peter Revson

Peter Revson, McLaren M19C Ford

Peter Revson, McLaren M19C Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1964, 1971-74
Starts: 30
Wins: 2
Podiums: 8
Poles: 1
Titles: 0

Son of one of the Revlon cosmetics founders, Revson made his own way in motorsport when the family was less than enthusiastic about his decision to go racing. His initial foray into F1 in 1964 was unremarkable, but he carved a successful career from himself in North America.

Revson was particularly successful in the no-holds-barred Can-Am series, winning the title in 1971 with McLaren. In that same year he qualified on pole for the Indy 500 before finishing second, underlining the fact that he was now ready for another F1 shot.

He joined Denny Hulme at McLaren for the 1972 campaign, armed with the competitive M19. Revson was not embarrassed by the 1967 world champion, finishing fifth in the standings to Hulme’s third. He took pole for the Canadian GP and scored four podiums.

Revson finished second to a sensational drive by Jackie Stewart in the round three of the 1973 campaign at Kyalami and then got his hands on the superb McLaren M23.

PLUS: The McLaren that won two F1 drivers’ titles

Revson qualified third at Silverstone for the British GP, on the same time as Hulme and ahead of Stewart. He then avoided the mayhem caused by rookie team-mate Jody Scheckter at Woodcote at the end of the first lap.

Revson ran with the leaders following the restart and soon started pressuring Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus for second. As leader Ronnie Peterson started suffering with oversteer, the duo closed and Revson moved into second when Fittipaldi lost drive.

Shortly after half distance of the 67-lapper, Revson took the lead and stayed ahead to take his first F1 win by 2.8s as Peterson and Hulme completed the top three.

After another podium in the Italian GP, Revson’s second win came in the chaotic Canadian GP. He qualified on the front row, only to fall back in the early stages of the wet race. But, while confusion reigned as cars went off or pitted in the changing conditions and F1 used a pace/safety car for the first time, he moved into contention.

Despite some thinking a charging Fittipaldi had won, honours were given to Revson following an extensive examination of everyone’s lap times!

Revson beat Hulme to fifth in the standings, but Fittipaldi joined McLaren for 1974 and Revson moved to the fledgling Shadow operation. Although he failed to finish either of the opening two races, Revson qualified fourth and sixth with the promising DN3.

But, while testing ahead of the third round at Kyalami, Revson suffered a front suspension failure. The 35-year-old was pitched into the barriers and killed, having made just 30 world championship F1 starts. Had he lived, he could have climbed higher on this list.

4.Richie Ginther

Richie Ginther, BRM P261

Richie Ginther, BRM P261

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1960-67
Starts: 52
Wins: 1
Podiums: 14
Poles: 0
Titles: 0

Having shown well in American sportscar racing, Ginther was encouraged by friend Phil Hill to try his hand in Europe. Hill helped him join Ferrari, largely for testing and development, and Ginther made his world championship F1 debut at the 1960 Monaco GP, finishing sixth.

Ginther reckoned his drive to second in the 1961 Monaco GP, behind Moss’s Lotus 18 was his greatest drive, and two other podiums in the dominant Ferrari 156 ‘Sharknose’ helped Ginther to fifth in the standings, while Hill became champion.

PLUS: The story behind Ferrari’s dominant F1 shark

Ginther moved to BRM for 1962. Despite his mechanical sympathy, reliability was poor, but he scored two podiums – completing a BRM 1-2 at Monza behind Graham Hill – as BRM and Hill took a title double.

His 1963 season was remarkable given the unreliability of the era. Ginther finished eight of the 10 rounds and was never lower than fifth. He finished third in the drivers’ championship, behind Jim Clark and team-mate Hill, but ahead of John Surtees and Dan Gurney.

The following campaign was less impressive in a difficult year for Ginther. He still took two podiums, including another second at Monaco, and was fifth in the table, before joining the young Honda operation for 1965.

Ginther worked away and, at the Mexican GP finale, led every lap to score his and Honda’s first world championship race victory. Thereafter, Ginther contested only a handful of events before retiring to focus on team management and other interests.

One of the era’s best test drivers, Ginther was a good support act who often brought the car home. He contributed to two constructors’ titles and scored 14 world championship podiums, more than anyone on this list outside the top three.

PLUS: Celebrating America’s forgotten F1 winner

3. Phil Hill

Phil Hill, Ferrari 156

Phil Hill, Ferrari 156

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1958-64, 1966
Starts: 49
Wins: 3
Podiums: 16
Poles: 6
Titles: 1 (1961)

Hill was arguably a greater sportscar driver than he was an F1 pilot, with hat-tricks in the Le Mans 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. But his single-seater record was still impressive.

Hill made his world championship debut in a privateer Maserati 250F, but it was with Ferrari that he made his presence felt. He scored a podium in just his second Ferrari F1 start in the 1958 Italian GP, then helped team-mate Hawthorn to the drivers’ crown by handing the Briton second in the Moroccan GP decider.

After playing second fiddle to Tony Brooks in 1959, Hill took his first win at the following year’s Italian GP, albeit in an event boycotted by the main British teams due to the use of the Monza banking.

The 1961 campaign provided Hill’s big chance. Ferrari’s 156 ‘Sharknose’ was comfortably the fastest car for the new 1500cc formula and the title fight quickly became one between Hill and team-mate Wolfgang von Trips.

Hill took pole for five of the first six races but arrived at Monza for round seven four points behind and 2-1 down on wins. Von Trips, along with 15 spectators, was killed following a clash with Clark’s Lotus, leaving Hill to win the race and take the crown.

It would be Hill’s final win. The British opposition, led by Lotus and BRM, caught and surpassed Ferrari in 1962, Hill being restricted to three early podiums.

He then joined the ATS team formed by ex-Ferrari personnel after a mass walkout, but the project was a total failure. His final full season came in 1964 with Cooper, Hill scoring his final point with sixth in the British GP.

2. Dan Gurney

Dan Gurney, Brabham BT7 Climax

Dan Gurney, Brabham BT7 Climax

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1959-68, 1970
Starts: 86
Wins: 4
Podiums: 19
Poles: 3
Titles: 0

Don’t let the numbers fool you. Gurney was one of the best F1 drivers of the 1960s and could, perhaps should, have been a world champion. Unlike Hill, Gurney didn’t win the title, but he was an F1 frontrunner for longer and was arguably higher up the pecking order during the era.

Gurney was one of several talents to attract the eye of North American Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti, who helped get him into the Italian team’s sportscar squad. His F1 debut soon followed at the 1959 French GP and Gurney’s first podium came in his second world championship start in the German GP.

Gurney’s season at BRM in 1960 was an unhappy one and included a crash that killed a spectator when his brakes failed at Zandvoort. He then joined Porsche, finished fourth in the 1961 drivers’ table and took his first F1 victory in the following year’s French GP.

He arrived at the Brabham team for 1963 and soon assumed the role of team leader over then double world champion and boss Jack Brabham. Reliability, particularly that of the Climax V8 engines, cost Gurney dearly over the next couple of seasons, but he won the French and Mexican GPs in 1964 to get Brabham off the mark.

There were no victories in 1965, though a better finishing record allowed Gurney to match his best championship position of fourth.

With Repco power arriving for the new three-litre engine regulations and Jack Brabham considering retirement, Gurney could have been well-placed to take the title in 1966. But instead he decided to set up on his own, forming Anglo American Racers, leaving Jack to take his third F1 crown.

Len Terry’s Eagle would become one of the iconic F1 designs but the Weslake V12 engine proved troublesome and reliability was suspect.

Top 10: Best looking F1 cars ranked

When the Eagle worked, Gurney was one of the closest challengers to the pacesetting Cosworth DFV-engined Lotus 49 once it arrived in 1967 and scored his most famous victory in that year’s Belgian GP at Spa, averaging a then record 146mph.

PLUS: Dan Gurney’s top 10 greatest races

The AAR F1 project came to an end in 1968 and Gurney only made a handful of starts before retiring in 1970.

Outside of F1, Gurney won races in NASCAR, Indycar, sportscars (including Le Mans in 1967) and Trans-Am, and his All American Racers team continued scoring successes long after he retired. He also gave his name to the Gurney flap, started the tradition of spraying champagne after a victory, and was one of the key figures behind the founding of CART.

PLUS: The American visionary who couldn't wait for Ferrari

1. Mario Andretti

Podium: Race winner Mario Andretti, Lotus, second place  Ronnie Peterson, Lotus, third place  Niki Lauda, Brabham

Podium: Race winner Mario Andretti, Lotus, second place Ronnie Peterson, Lotus, third place Niki Lauda, Brabham

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1968-72, 1974-82
Starts: 128
Wins: 12
Podiums: 19
Poles: 18
Titles: 1 (1978)

Italian-born Andretti is one of motorsport’s legends, with four Indycar titles, victories in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, seven world sportscar championship wins and a Pikes Peak success to his name during a remarkable career that spanned more than three decades. But none of that is what earns him the number one spot here.

Andretti, already a two-time USAC champion, took a sensational pole position on his world championship F1 debut for Lotus in the 1968 US GP. He scored his first victory for Ferrari in the 1971 South African GP, but Andretti didn’t commit to an extensive F1 campaign until the Parnelli project in 1975.

That soon ran out of steam, but Lotus boss Colin Chapman had long since recognised Andretti’s abilities and signed him for 1976, when the team was at a low ebb.

Although the Lotus 77 wasn’t the team’s best, Andretti scored podiums in the Netherlands and Canada, then won the famously wet Japanese GP finale at Fuji. And Lotus was working on the ground-effects programme that would revolutionise the sport.

Andretti and the Lotus 78 was the fastest combination of 1977 but unreliability, often with the development Cosworth DFV engines, limited him to third in the drivers’ standings.

But there was no stopping Andretti and Lotus in 1978. After winning the Argentinian GP in the 78, Andretti added five more wins (and another lost to a jump-start penalty) in the Lotus 79 to clinch the title with two rounds to spare, having taken eight poles.

PLUS: F1’s great Lotus landmarks - Lotus 79

Lotus was left behind the following season and reliability was poor, while 1980 was even worse. Things were no better with Alfa Romeo in 1981 but, having turned his focus back to America, there was still time for one more star F1 turn for Andretti.

Called up to drive for Ferrari at the 1982 Italian GP, Andretti sensationally took pole – delighting the tifosi – and finished third. He might have won had it not been for a sticking throttle, but his final tallies of 12 wins and 18 poles make him easily America’s top F1 driver to date.

Mario Andretti, Ferrari 126C2

Mario Andretti, Ferrari 126C2

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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