Top 10 Best Ever North American Formula 1 Drivers

Tags: #Formula1 ,   #MarioAndretti ,   #JacquesVilleneuve ,   #LanceStroll ,   #SergioPerez

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2021-09-10 11:06:03

North America, and especially the United States, always had a turbulent relationship with Formula 1. Even though the sport celebrated its 70th anniversary, the number of drivers from Mexico, the United States, and Canada is relatively low. The most alarming situation is in the States, as no driver won the race since 1978. Additionally, since Alexander Rossi in 2015, no American racer participated in a Grand Prix. As we are waiting for new faces to arrive from Indycar or some other championship, let's take a look at the best Formula 1 drivers coming from North America. However, take note that we are ranking them based only on their performance in this championship.

10. Lance Stroll (Canada)

 Lance is under a lot of pressure because of his wealthy father

As a son of a billionaire, there's no doubt that Lance Stroll had many doors open. However, his talent gave him a place in Ferrari Driver Academy in 2014. The same year, he proved his worth by winning the Italian F4 Championship. Stroll was on a roll, as in 2015 in 2016, he also won titles – Toyota Racing Series and European Formula 3. That was enough to give him a seat in the Williams team.

Born in 1998, Lance Stroll is the youngest name on our list, so there's a lot of space for him to improve. Stroll would have probably been even higher if he had a chance to better show his potential. Despite spending his whole career in average teams, he still had some impressive results. This includes several podiums, with two in 2020. Even though he proved himself as a capable F1 competitor, he still has a lot to do to be considered among the best in this era.

9. Eddie Cheever (USA)

Eddie Cheever during his best year in Formula 1

Eddie Cheever was never a championship material, but what he had was longevity. Starting in 1976, he competed for the next 30 years in prominent racing series. Cheever made his name in European Formula Two, wherein in 1977, he finished second. This was huge, as he beat top talent, including Didier Pironi and Riccardo Patrese, both future Grand Prix winners. After similar showings in the next two years, Cheever earned his place in Formula 1.

For the next decade, he started 132 races, ranking him first among American Formula 1 pilots. Unfortunately, Cheever had a single season driving a competitive car in 1983. His Renault was even among title favorites, as he achieved four podiums. However, the seventh place at the end of the season wasn't awe-inspiring as his teammate Alain Prost barely lost the title. Cheever was never a contender with only two more podiums in the next six seasons, often feeling frustrated with his car performance. 

8. Pedro Rodríguez (Mexico)

The last of Pedro Rodríguez happened at legendary Spa

While he wasn't the first Mexican Formula 1 driver, Pedro Rodríguez de la Vega was the one who made his country proud. Starting with bicycles when he was eight, he participated in everything from motorcycle races to rallies, endurance competitions, and open-wheelers. After losing his brother at the 1962 Mexican Grand Prix, Rodríguez seriously considered retiring. However, in the next year, he was in Formula 1, driving for Team Lotus. 

Unfortunately, in his first four seasons, he participated in only five races, with minimal success. Nevertheless, the start of 1967 was spectacular, as he won in South Africa. This came so unexpectedly that hosts didn't have a Mexican national anthem! That and the following season were best in his career, as he finished sixth both times. Rodríguez looked impressive while driving for BRM, and in 1970, he won his second and last Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Unfortunately, a year later, he died on the track during the European sportscar championship. Rodríguez is the best racing driver from Mexico, with his wet surface skills and bravery still unmatched.

7. Peter Revson (USA)

Peter Revson couldn't survive this horrific accident

As an heir to Revlon cosmetics, Peter Revson could have enjoyed an easy life. Admittedly, he did relish his playboy status, but at the same time, he was also addicted to motor racing. He started competing at 21, but his first win in the second race encouraged him to continue. Yet, his family wasn't amused, so he was left without money. After barely making it by racing in Europe, he entered his first Formula 1 season in 1964.

Yet, after six hugely disappointing races, he was out and decided to start over in America. Only in 1972 he truly came back, driving for McLaren, and even winning twice in 1973. Despite some excellent showings, he was out of the team, with Shadow as his final destination. Despite an awful start of the season, Revson was a huge optimist, as the car was quick. Unfortunately, he died soon after a crash during a test session at the South African Grand Prix. Seven years earlier, his brother Douglas also lost his life while racing. 

6. Sergio Pérez

Sergio Pérez's first win is impossible to forget!

Precisely 40 years after the shocking death of Pedro Rodríguez, Mexicans finally had another top driver in Formula 1. Little Sergio Pérez began racing when he was only six. After numerous wins and records, he continued his career in Europe and won the British Formula 3 Championship in 2007. With further strong showings in the GP2 Series, he earned a contract with Sauber F1 Team.

Pérez is one of the rare drivers who were consistent and kept improving their final season classification. In 2020, he won his first race for Racing Point, ultimately finishing at impressive 4th position. While his competitive spirit sometimes results in penalties, Checo (his nickname) is fast, consistent, and already the most successful Mexican Formula 1 driver ever.

5. Dan Gurney

Dan Gurney is one of the rare American Formula 1 Grand Prix winners

With wins in Formula 1, Indy Car, NASCAR, and Trans-Am, Daniel Sexton Gurney is among the most complete racing drivers. In fact, only Juan Pablo Montoya and Mario Andretti did the same later. Dan Gurney waited until his 26th birthday before he was given a fair chance, and after an excellent Le Mans debut, he had an F1 contract with Ferrari. 

Despite some outstanding performances, he decided to move to BRM, where he struggled, before departing to Porsche. In 1962, he won his first race, adding two more while competing for Brabham. However, 1961 remained his best season as he finished fourth. In 1967 Gurney managed to secure maiden victory for Eagle, but his last three brought only a few decent results, with many retirements. Gurney was an extremely smooth driver but became super-aggressive in a desperate situation, which gave him some spectacular wins. At 6'4", he was remarkably tall for a driver, making him even more of an icon of the era.

4. Jacques Villeneuve

Jacques Villeneuve's F1 career was very emotional

Young Jacques Villeneuve crafted his skills all around the world, racing open-wheelers in Italy and Japan. However, despite winning races, he never managed to add a championship trophy. In 1994 he moved to the Indy Car world series, finishing sixth, with a single victory. Yet, in 1995 he became a champion, finally proving his world-class talent. 

That was more than enough for him to join Williams Renault F1 the following season. Driving for the best team, he secured four victories, even challenging for the title. Furthermore, in 1997 he narrowly beat Michael Schumacher in Ferrari, becoming the champion with seven more victories. Unfortunately for him, Jacques risked it all by joining the BAR team the following season, which ultimately was a terrible decision. For the rest of his career, he never fought for the title or even won a race. His last two seasons were especially horrific, as he failed to match the pace of his teammates.

3. Phil Hill

Phil Hill was a quiet Formula 1 superstar

Phil Hill started racing early in his life, but he pursued his dreams in Europe, unlike many Americans. After years spent with Jaguar, he finally caught the attention of Ferrari. His years with the team were exceptionally successful, as he won Le Mans three times. He also managed a hat-trick with them at 12 Hours of Sebring.

Hill had his Formula 1 debut in 1958 when he was already 31. At the age of 33, he won his maiden race while still driving for Ferrari. Continually improving, he acquired the title in 1961, becoming the first American to do so. However, his downfall was of epic proportions. After a promising start of the 1962 season with three consecutive podiums, he was in points only once more before retiring in 1966. Still, his legacy remains intact.

2. Gilles Villeneuve

Probably the best duel in Formula 1 history!

The Villeneuve family had its three members racing in Formula 1, but no one could match the skills of Gilles Villeneuve. He spent his first years in snowmobile racing, where he learned how to drive on slippery surfaces and under limited visibility. Even though constantly broke, Villeneuve won three Formula Atlantic championships. At 27, he finally got his chance in Formula 1. 

Despite spending all his career in Ferrari, only in 1979, he had a car capable of winning a title. That season he finished second, closely behind his teammate Jody Scheckter. While he was considered a favorite the following season, Ferrari was in such bad shape that he scored just six points, with Scheckter adding only two! Unfortunately, his tragic death in 1982 kept him away from ever realizing his full potential. Despite this, he is among the fastest and most exciting race drivers in history, and his legacy keeps living.

1. Mario Andretti

Look at the highlight of Mario Andretti's F1 career

Mario Andretti is such an icon of American racing, as he was highly successful in every championship. We are talking about a man who won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, 12 Hours of Sebring, and a four-time IndyCar champion. His longevity is also unheard, as he won his last IndyCar race in 1993, aged 53! That season, he was sixth overall, beating many of his younger rivals.

While Andretti had his Formula 1 debut in 1968 and won his first race in 1971, he only drove his first full season in 1975. Despite his advancing age, he kept improving, finally winning the title in 1978. While he continued racing for four more seasons, he never won a single race. Yet, as a substitute driver, he took third place at the 1982 Italian Grand Prix, proving what a champion he is.

While the list of successful North American Formula 1 drivers is relatively short, these ten guys are unforgettable. Since all three countries are on the Formula 1 calendar in recent years, let's hope that the championship's popularity will bring a male or a female capable of winning it. 

Who is your favorite among these drivers, and why? Do you think more American drivers will enter Formula 1 in this decade?

Photo: George Bale/Unsplash


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