Plenty of American cars and drivers took part in F1 when the Indy 500 was officially a round of the Formula One championship, but many of these were one-off participants for existing teams, or loaned chassis and engine combinations for American drivers looking to make a name on home soil.
It took Dan Gurney’s initiative and guile to bring an American outfit to European soil in 1966 with the Anglo-American Racers (AAR) team, which ran the incredibly patriotic Eagle chassis with Climax engines. Designed and built in England, Gurney drove the car on its debut in Belgium that year and managed to finish the race unclassified after half the field was wiped out on the first lap. Two weeks later he finished 5th in France and picked up 2 points.
That would be eclipsed the following season when Gurney won at Spa, becoming the first all-American combination of car and driver to win a World Championship Grand Prix. US racing was firmly on the European map, but although the team would score another podium in Canada that year, the rest of the races were blighted by poor reliability. Gurney returned to America to focus on his successful Indycar operation, but continued in F1 with Bruce McLaren’s fledgling outfit.
It would be the 1970s before another US-based racing team was back on the grid. Don Nichols had founded the Shadow team in 1971, primarily to compete in the CanAm series, but a Formula One entry was announced and would appear in South Africa in 1973 with the now classic UOP sponsorship. Three cars raced in total – the team efforts of Jackie Olivier and George Follmer, and the Embassy coloured privateer entry of a certain Graham Hill.
Success came almost instantly, with Follmer getting on the podium in the team’s second race, the Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic. Again, reliability was a concern for the team, but another podium was secured by Olivier in Canada later on that season.
In 1974 the team signed two of the most promising talents of the time in Peter Revson and Jean Pierre-Jarier, but the former was tragically killed in practice for the third round in South Africa when his suspension failed. Jarier would go on to score a podium at Monaco, but again the reliability undermined the fact that Shadow had a decent racing car. 1975 was more fruitful, with a handful of point-scoring results from Jarier helping the team to sixth in the standings. The following year proved tough though, thanks in main to the withdrawal of main sponsor UOP, before another season of contrasts in 1977.
Welshman Tom Pryce, who had replaced Revson, died in a freak accident in South Africa after being struck by a marshal’s fire extinguisher. Pryce had been a shining star with some magnificent performances, including a pole position and win at the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in ’75. Future world champion Alan Jones scored the team’s first win in Austria after replacing Pryce, and it would prove to be the only World Championship win for Shadow.
But things went downhill from there, with Jones’ departing for Williams and several key members leaving to form the new Arrows team. Shadow would continue on with increasingly limited success until 1980, before Nichols finally sold up. They would also hold the distinction of being the first team to change nationalities, from American for 1973-75 to British from 1976-1980.
Famous nowadays for it’s exploits in Indycar and NASCAR, Penske entered Formula One for three seasons between 1974 and ‘76. Its first race in Canada in 1974 was pretty mediocre, with the PC1 finishing in 12th place and driven by American Mark Donohue.
The difficult second season for the team in 1975 saw Donohue enjoying several strong drives, with the highlights being 5th place in both the Swedish and British races that season. But in Austria the New Jersey driver was involved in a serious practice accident and later died from his injuries. The team pulled out of the following Italian race, before returning at their home Grand Prix at Watkins Glen with John Watson behind the wheel. The Briton finished 9th and impressed enough to secure the seat for 1976.
By midway through that season, Watson had become a force to be reckoned with. Consecutive podiums in France and Britain preceded his finest display to see Penske win in Austria on their return to the track that had claimed Donohue’s life. The Northern Irishman started on the front row and spent 54 laps in a slipstream battle with a gaggle of cars to finally emerge triumphant. It would prove the last hurrah for Roger Penske in Formula One, as he would move back to the US to focus on his IndyCar enterprise.
At the same time as Penske and Shadow, a third outfit in the shape of Parnelli was looking for success under the stars and stripes. Parnelli, set up by former USAC racer Parnelli Jones, launched its first full campaign in 1975. The team had Mario Andretti and Cosworth power, which was a fine mix of ingredients.
A positive beginning, including an excellent 4th place in Sweden – just ahead of the Penske of Donohue – was scuppered by the withdrawal of Firestone from the sport, removing not only their supply of tyres, but also their main source of sponsorship income. 1976 became all about survival, which petered out after only 2 more Grand Prix.
America’s most recent on-track F1 foray came in 1985 with the Carl Haas (no relation to Gene) and Teddy Mayer-backed outfit Team Haas. It entered with heavy funding from food conglomerate Beatrice, the promise of a newly designed Ford V6 Turbo, and bringing 1980 champion Alan Jones out of retirement for the project. Their staff also boasted young engineers by the name of Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey.
With the Ford unit delayed, the team ran Hart engines, and didn’t appear until Round 12 in Italy. Jones qualified 25th out of 27 cars and only lasted 6 laps. Three more race appearances occurred as the season wore on, but Jones only broke out of the top 20 in qualifying once, on home turf in Australia, and didn’t make the finish once.
Heading into 1986, the Ford engines had arrived, along with second driver Patrick Tambay, but the new car didn’t make an appearance until Round 3, and was woefully slower than the previous one. At Monaco, Tambay would do well to qualify 8th, but crashed out spectacularly towards the end of the race.
Fortunes would change as the season wore on, culminating in a double points finish of Jones in 4th and Tambay in 5th in Austria, mainly due to several of the regular front-runner dropping out. It would prove to be the zenith of Team Haas, as Beatrice pulled their funding and the team closed its doors soon after the season’s end.
In recent years, only US F1 Team in 2010 have come closest to bringing America back into motorsport’s premier category. Granted an entry alongside Lotus Racing, Manor Grand Prix and Campos Meta 1 (which eventually become Hispania), again it was a project with big backing and high hopes – YouTube founder Chad Hurley was their biggest investor, and they even announced the signing of Argentinian driver Jose Maria Lopez – but before the season began the team collapsed, was fined and banned by the FIA and, despite a threatened phoenix-like rise from the dead under the name of Cypher, disappeared for good.
Only time will tell if Gene Haas’s ambition will develop into racing success, but with the history of Formula One teams from the United States, he’ll nee to be fully prepared for the worst.