Junior Open Wheel Talent

News and Views on Drivers Chasing Open-Wheel Stardom

American Drivers on the Verge of Formula 1

by Ryan Stringfield
Posted December 2, 2009 at 9:18 am Formula One, Test

When people think about Formula One they don’t usually think of American drivers. This tangible concept is about to change.

Two young up-and-coming motorsport stars are on the verge of making a name for themselves in the ultra-competitive and often seemingly impenetrable world of Formula One. J.R. Hildebrand of Sausalito, California and Alexander Rossi of Nevada City, California are in Spain this week, taking part in the young drivers F1 test at the Jerez Circuit.

While it’s true that America hasn’t had much of an F1 presence for a few years now, it would seem, at least for the time being, that this is about to change. A new upstart F1 team—based out of Charlotte, NC—is currently in the works. The team is planning to run under the USF1 banner. Unfortunately, at this time, it’s looking increasingly likely that they will field non-American drivers in an effort to simply make the grid in 2010. In other words, they will field funded drivers. That said, there are certainly quite a few American drivers being considered for a future role with the team.

The testing experience being obtained by both Rossi and Hildebrand will undoubtedly prove extremely beneficial in their quest to find a seat in the upper echelon of motorsport. Both drivers have been very impressive in the junior formula world, against international fields.

Alexander Rossi, despite his young age of 18, has been a top prospect in the open wheel world for quite a few years now. In 2008, he won the Formula BMW-Americas title and followed that up with a win at the prestigious Formula BMW World Final, held in Mexico City against some of the best up-and-coming drivers from around the globe. This season, he won the International Formula Master Rookie title and finished fourth in the overall championship against a very strong field. In an effort to continue developing his racecraft and to make the move to Formula One, the California native has been competing in the GP2-Asia series which is a top-feeder series for F1.

J.R. Hildebrand has taken a slightly different route than Rossi, but would be a very capable driver to fill a future F1 role. Hildebrand, 21, won the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights championship, which is the top feeder series for IndyCar. He had a dominant year in Indy Lights winning 4 races, earning 5 pole positions, and finishing inside the top-three on 10 occasions. J.R. also has a fair amount of international experience on his resume. In 2005, he was selected as the recipient of the prestigious Team USA Scholarship and competed overseas in the Formula Palmer Audi-Autumn Trophy. He has also driven for Team USA in the A1GP International Series.

Jonathan Summerton is still widely touted as the most likely American candidate to have a role with the upstart USF1 team. Summerton, who hails from Kissimmee, Florida, competed in the Atlantic Championship this season where he compiled 4 wins and 9 podiums. The 21-year-old driver has also had his share of international experience by competing in Formula BMW, the Formula 3 Euro Series, the prestigious Master of F3 race, as well as A1GP. He became the first American to win an A1GP race during the 2007-2008 season in a race held at the Shanghai International Circuit in China. He finished 2nd this season in the Atlantic Championship to fellow American John Edwards who is another promising prospect with international experience. Edwards, 18, looks poised to make the jump to Indy Lights or IndyCar for 2010, but hasn’t ruled out any options. He would be another solid candidate for a Formula One role.

There are several American drivers, not mentioned in this article, just waiting for their opportunity to make a lasting mark in open-wheel racing. Make sure to follow along and watch these youngsters as they set out to change the status quo of Formula One.

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