Jak Crawford #52 Van Amersfoort Racing, performs during round six of the Italian F4 Championship at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy on Nov 20-22, 2020. // Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool // SI202011210056 // Usage for editorial use only //
Red Bull driver Jak Crawford is working hard to become America's next Formula One driver. (Red Bull Photo)

Jak Crawford: America’s Next F-1 Driver?

The dry spell has lasted for more than four decades.

It’s featured podium finishers and drivers who deserved better than they received, but the facts are the facts: No American has won a Formula One race since Mario Andretti topped the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix.

Nearly 50 years have passed since an American-born driver — the late Peter Revson — stood atop a podium after the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix.

Jak Crawford knows the story. He wants to do something about it, too.

To many in the F-1 world, Crawford represents the United States’ best shot at again hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a grand prix podium. Crawford is a 15-year-old FIA Formula 3 rookie who calls Texas home, when he’s not traveling throughout Europe as a member of the prestigious Red Bull Junior Team.

Crawford began this year from the third step of the   F-1 ladder at a time when most teenagers are waiting to get their driver’s license. Crawford’s driving, however, has been top-notch since he broke into karting in 2011 in Katy, Texas.

His recent accolades justify Red Bull’s considerable support. Crawford scored six victories and 14 podium finishes across the 2018-’19 Formula 4 NACAM campaign — enough for second in the championship and a life-changing request from Dr. Helmut Marko, the adviser of the Red Bull Racing Formula One team.

“Red Bull contacted my dad, saying they wanted to meet in Mexico City for the F-1 race in October of 2019. I met Dr. Marko, who asked me to do a test at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. I went to the simulator, went to the Red Bull Ring, had a successful test and signed with them at the end of 2019. It means a lot to me just to be in the Red Bull Academy, with all of their history and all the drivers they’ve brought up.”

Jak Crawford

Together, Marko and Red Bull have played a pivotal role in the careers of F-1 luminaries such as four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and current Red Bull star Max Verstappen, who  Crawford has followed for years.

“I haven’t really been idolizing someone, but I admire Max Verstappen the most,” Crawford said. “Not just because he’s with Red Bull, honestly. Even before I started with Red Bull, Max was the youngest F-1 driver ever and I’ve always been the youngest in everything I’ve raced since I started at a young age, so I’m trying to follow in his footsteps. Also, on track, I really admire his aggressiveness and his need to win every race.”

Crawford hopes to parlay a similar drive to win into a successful F-1 career.

First, however, there’s his F-3 debut in May at Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya. Crawford is one of three drivers for Hitech Grand Prix, a British outfit that counts current F-1 drivers George Russell and Nikita Mazepin among drivers it has developed in recent years.

Crawford is in a unique position as the next American to ascend to Formula One due in part to his skill, his potential and Red Bull’s invaluable backing. Not since Alexander Rossi’s five-race stint with Manor in 2015 has a driver racing under the American flag made it to an F-1 grid. No American has completed a full season since Scott Speed — another Red Bull-sponsored driver — ran the entire F-1 slate with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2006.

There’s a reason it’s so difficult.

“One comment I get a lot is: ‘Is it hard for an American to go over there and (make it to F-1)?’” Speed told SPEED SPORT. “It’s hard as an American, but not because the other people treat you poorly or don’t give you chances. The hard part about (racing) in Europe is there are no other Americans within the hierarchy of the sport. Without someone giving you advice, introducing you to the right people and putting you on the right path, it’s just difficult. I couldn’t have gotten anywhere close to where I got without Red Bull’s support.”

Jak Crawford #52 Van Amersfoort Racing, is seen during round six of the Italian F4 Championship at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy on Nov 20-22, 2020. // Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool // SI202011200271 // Usage for editorial use only //
Jak Crawford (Red Bull Photo)

Crawford shares Speed’s appreciation for Red Bull, even though he understands that he’s still years away from making it as far as Rossi or Speed.

“They’re such a big help for me in my career and I’m only driving in F-3 this year,” Crawford admitted. “I would’ve barely been able to race in F-4 if it weren’t for Red Bull.

“You don’t see a lot of American drivers in F-1 nowadays,” he continued. “It’s difficult and it requires a lot of sacrifices. It costs a lot of money to race (overseas). Luckily for me, I was able to join the Red Bull Junior Team and that’s definitely helped me. There’s talent in the U.S. It just takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice to get in F-1.”

Few know more about the requisite talent, commitment and sacrifice than Rossi, who toiled for years as a test driver before finally getting the call to debut in the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix. Before he became an Indianapolis 500-winning standout in the NTT IndyCar Series, Rossi’s dream was to break down the barriers that existed between F-1 and America — and not just in terms of points, podiums and wins.

Before he made a single race start, Rossi knew what the U.S. needed to fully embrace Formula One.

“They need to have a driver (in F-1). That’s a big deal in America. They’re patriotic people, they want to support their own and to see their own be successful. Having an American team or an American driver isn’t enough. There needs to be an American team and an American driver for it to truly be successful.”

IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi

The American team part of the equation is already there. Haas F1 Team, a Kannapolis, N.C.-based operation, enters its sixth F-1 season this year with a German (Mick Schumacher) and a Russian (Mazepin) as its drivers.

Could Crawford, a Charlotte, N.C.-born driver, join the F-1 ranks in the coming years? It’s definitely possible.

It’s not at all what Crawford expected when he began karting, though. Crawford figured he’d end up racing door-to-door against Joey Logano and Kyle Busch in a stock car instead of taking a standing start and gunning for global success against Verstappen and Lando Norris.

“It’s definitely weird, since my dad wanted my career path to be NASCAR,” Crawford said. “It’s sort of strange how it all happened. I was just doing karting, I started doing some oval racing and then a year of F-4 and USF2000 (an American open-wheel development series). Suddenly, I was getting into open-wheel more. I got with Red Bull and that opportunity sort of opened up. I’ve always wanted to do F-1 more than NASCAR for sure, but I sort of got lucky that this opportunity opened up for me.”

Luck plays as big a role as anything in determining who succeeds across the pond. Just ask Logan Sargeant, a Florida-based driver who spent last year with Prema Racing in Formula 3.

Sargeant came within four points of capturing the series championship. The 20-year-old American won two races, collected six podium finishes and was a championship contender all the way to the season finale at Italy’s Mugello Circuit. The only two drivers to finish above Sargeant in the standings were Australian Oscar Piastri and Frenchman Theo Pourchaire.

Piastri and Pourchaire will compete for the Formula 2 title this year, while Sargeant landed only a test — and no subsequent offer — from F-2’s Campos Racing team.

A difficult climb, indeed.

Crawford recognizes the advantage he has over other American Formula One hopefuls and he’s more than ready to back it up on the track. Some of the circuits in Formula 3 will be new to Crawford, but not Texas’ Circuit of The Americas, Crawford’s home track and the site of this season’s F-3 finale. Before he gets back home, however, Crawford has to train for the grind that leads to Austin.

“Most of my learning has been done on the simulator,” Crawford said. “I’ve done hours and hours on my home simulator and I spend a lot of time at the Hitech sim at Silverstone and the Red Bull simulator in Milton Keynes (both in England). They have the latest scanned track models, the same car and the same setup, so I really get into a good rhythm before the races.

“We only get a 45-minute practice session before qualifying, so it’s important to have that experience because by practice time, you know what to do. It’s basically like I already know the track, even though I haven’t been there.”

If all goes well this year, Crawford will truly have arrived in Europe — both literally and figuratively.

“It being my rookie season in Formula 3, the most important thing for me is that I outperform my teammates,” Crawford said. “I want to get the most points possible every race and to fight for wins and podiums. It’s going to be exciting, for sure.

“Hopefully, that can continue all the way to F-1.”

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