It’s an increasingly common conversation among racing fans in the United States who want to see success in Formula 1. The talent pool is clearly there, so why are there not more drivers in the frame for F1 seats?
Logan Sargeant has become the first full-time American on the grid in over 15 years, and at a time when immensely skilled young drivers are shining in what appears to be an ever-strengthening IndyCar field, it feels like there should be a conveyor belt queuing up to join him in F1. Instead, there are three in Formula 2, but none are banging the door down quite yet.
While Ecuador can also lay claim to Juan Manuel Correa and both Guatemala and Spain the same for Brad Benavides, the youngest of the trio and best-placed is Jak Crawford. At just 17 and Red Bull-backed, he’s got time on his side, an F1 team’s support and – like Correa – a podium to his name.
But his story is perhaps a good example of why it’s taken so long to reach the point of fans having an American F1 driver to get behind, and why the three currently chasing the dream in F2 – and all of those who may follow – deserve the utmost respect.
Crawford was hotel-hopping around Italy at the age of 12 to start racing karts, before a growth spurt – hardly unusual for a kid entering his teens, but also not something you can predict – made that path appear too challenging and a move into Formula 4 cars in Mexico followed after he turned 13.
That wasn’t exactly a stable period, as he was still racing karts alongside a stint in USF2000, but then it all changed very quickly in October of 2019, when he was still just 14 years old.
“My dad received an email or a phone call from Dr. (Helmut) Marko saying that he wanted to meet us in Mexico City,” Crawford recalls to RACER. “This was back in in 2019. We were in Houston. So of course we are close to Mexico City – only an hour flight. So they were there for the grand prix, of course, and me and my dad got the flight and met Dr. Marko that night.
“That was my my first interaction with him. I had a 15-20 minute chat with him, which went well, and that was when he said he wanted to see me on track. So within a week, he sent me to the Milton Keynes headquarters to go in the simulator. And then I went to Van Amersfoort Racing (in the Netherlands) for time in their simulator as well.
“All was good on the simulator, and then I went to a two-day test at the Red Bull Ring. There were some other Red Bull Junior drivers there, there was Johnny Edgar there, and Harry Thompson, who was a part of Red Bull at the time, so I was sort of up against them.
“At the Red Bull Ring, I remember it was very, very cold, very wet for half of the day – it was really tough to get any sort of tire temperature or anything. But at the end of the first day, he had already offered me a contract and said he was impressed by my simulator work and my first day and that was it. It was done on the first day.
“So that was that was really nice. That was a moment I think I’ll remember forever.”
There had already been a training camp with the Ferrari Driver Academy that had amounted to nothing, at which point Crawford felt the F1 dream had disappeared. But in the space of three weeks he’d gone from having first contact with Marko to signing a contract that would put him on course for a full season of Formula 4 in Europe.
It’s a dream to many, but it came at an often-overlooked price when you think about what many other young teens would normally be doing at Crawford’s age.
“I miss my family, of course,” he says. “I had to leave school quite early at 12 years old, then I started doing homeschooling or online school on my own. So I think I miss, you know, the bit of the childhood of growing up as a teenager and the high school part of it, which is tough. It was something that I wanted – I’m a very social person, especially with my friends.
“So that was a really difficult part, to miss out on on the social life of just an American sort of high school thing. But it’s definitely worth it.”
During that time, Crawford was being fast-tracked from Formula 4 towards Formula 1. And yet he was still hotel hopping around Europe as he raced for Van Amersfoort, British-based Hitech, German team Motopark and renowned Italian outfit Prema.
It was less than a year ago that Crawford finally got a permanent base he could call home – or at least a home away from his family’s Houston home – and even that was designed around his racing career and where he needed to be, with the hardly-glamorous Milton Keynes (I’m British, I can say it…) picked due to its proximity to his F2 team Hitech and Red Bull’s factory.
“I do feel I have matured, especially as I’m living on my own already,” he says. “I was living alone at 16… I have to cook for myself, I have my own car, I drive myself around, places I need to go. And it sort of feels like I have a job – even though I’m still in Formula 2, it feels like have a job and I’m doing everything for myself.
“So yeah, I do feel like I’ve had to mature more as well. On the racing part of it, I’m racing guys that are older than me, and with quite a bit of experience in racing. So in that part, I have to advance myself. I feel like in my career, I’ve done a good job of doing that even since an early age in go-karts, always moving up early to the next category, which was good. I think that sort of helped me in the junior careers to be where I was at, in F3 at such a young age.”
After his podium in the F2 sprint race in Melbourne and as the second-longest serving member of the Red Bull Junior Team at just 17, Crawford appears to be on a promising trajectory towards F1 at some stage in the future. But despite it working out for him so far, he would prefer it – both for himself and other Americans who aspire to race in F1 – if there were options to race closer to home and not be at a disadvantage to other drivers.
“It does matter if there was a route to Formula 1 in the U.S., I think,” he says. “I do wish there was a better one, although there’s not many ways I could see it happening any better. Of course, they have (series) like the U.S. F4 Championship, which is I’m pretty sure is FIA-driven. But that’s all they really got. I think they have a regional series as well. But it stops there and it’s not going onto an F1 path.
“So when you get that chance to go to Europe on an F1 path, you have to take it. It’s really difficult to learn all the tracks and stuff like that. And it’s a different type of racing over there – completely different from racing in the US to Europe. So, I wish there was a better path, but I don’t think there possibly will be.”
Formula 1’s owners Liberty Media are listening, but it won’t be a quick fix. So for now, drivers like Crawford will continue have to consider such a major life change if they want to chase an F1 future.