In 72 years of the Formula 1 World Championship, there have only been 13 in which a race in America has not featured. A look-back at some of the more memorable US Grands Prix, not necessarily for the right reasons.
Despite not being the most popular form of motorsport in America, F1 has often visited the US since its inception in 1950*. There have been eleven tracks with varying degrees of popularity, with Las Vegas readying itself to become the twelfth next year. With such a rich and varying history, many Grands Prix staged in the US have been memorable, mostly for the right reasons.
*Between 1950 and 1958, the Indy500 was also a round of the World Championship, but most F1 drivers did not participate.
United States Grand Prix West – 1983
As well as its basic-titled “United States Grand Prix”, several spin-off races in second venues have often featured within the calendar, the original being in Long Beach, California. Styled as America’s answer to Monaco, the exciting street circuit was a welcome addition, which also provided a challenge for all comers. Some drivers responded to this challenge excellently, and there is no better example than Britain’s John Watson.
Considered by many to be one of most talented drivers never to win a World Championship, Watson was known for a well-crafted, intelligent, and sometimes bullish approach to overtaking. The last win of his career in Long Beach was the greatest example of this, and his best ever.
The Ulsterman, alongside his McLaren team-mate Niki Lauda, had a torrid qualifying, managing only 22nd and 23rd respectively after encountering issues with their Michelin tires. Their rubber would play to their advantage on race day, with many others losing grip quickly. By lap 28, Lauda and Watson were 3rd and 4th respectively, with Watson muscling past Lauda and setting off in pursuit of the leading pair of Riccardo Patrese and Jacques Laffite. Patrese ran wide as he attempted to overtake Laffite, and both McLarens went through. Watson soon got past Laffite for the lead. Watson pulled well clear of Lauda to win by over 25 seconds in one of Formula 1’s greatest displays of overtaking in one race.
The Dallas Grand Prix – 1984
Dallas, Texas hosted a Grand Prix only once. With incredibly hot weather and the subsequent problems with the circuit leading to it never returning to the calendar. Temperatures of 100°F caused havoc for both the drivers – who naturally struggled to drive in such weather – and the circuit, constructed on the grounds of the Texas State Fair, which started to crack in places once cars took to it. Areas that were the worst affected were hastily re-laid and the race was able to go ahead. Keke Rosberg stayed the coolest and won the race, which is perhaps remembered mostly for Nigel Mansell fainting as he attempted to push his Lotus over the line after it ran out of petrol.
The United States Grand Prix (Indianapolis) – 2003
Indianapolis was chosen as the venue for the first F1 American Grand Prix in almost a decade in 2000. In 2003, the championship was a three-way tussle between reigning champion Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, and Juan Pablo Montoya. Indy was the penultimate round, with the trio all still in the hunt. Weather was unpredictable on race day, and as the rain began to drizzle in the early stages, the advantages between the Bridgestone and Michelin runners became apparent.
Montoya, desperate to stay in the title, collided with Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari into turn one, and the stewards imposed a drive-through penalty on the Colombian. BAR’s Jenson Button found himself leading the race but was overtaken by both Raikkonen and Schumacher, who then overtook the Finn for the lead, and would go on to win by 18 seconds. Montoya only managed 6th to end his hopes of the title, with Schumacher eventually clinching it in the final round in Japan.
The United States Grand Prix (Indianapolis) – 2005
If tires were a factor in the 2003 result, 2005 would be the race in which tires were the story. In the Friday practice session, the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher crashed heavily into the wall on the banked section of the track after a tire blowout. Other cars running Michelins suffered issues with their tires, as increased loading on the banking caused significant wearing. Qualifying ran as normal, but Michelin teams were desperate to find a solution, as racing with the threat of further blow-outs would not be an option.
The bosses of the affected teams, FIA President Max Mosley, and F1 Race Director Charlie Whiting met, with ideas including a temporary chicane on the banking vetoed. A deadlock ensued, and speculation grew as to whether all Michelin teams would choose to not race at all. Every car left the grid for the formation lap, but as they rounded the final corner, all drove straight into the pits.
This just left six cars lining up for the race – the Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello, the Jordans of Thiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan, and the Minardis of Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher. Many of the spectators jeered, booed, and lobbed objects onto the track as well as walked out in disgust. The non-race would carry on, with Schumacher leading home a Ferrari 1-2, with Monteiro 3rd. The race led to Michelin quitting the sport after 2006, with Indianapolis being removed from the calendar after 2007.
The United States Grand Prix (Austin) – 2018
After a four-season hiatus off the calendar, America returned to its new home – Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. COTA is a hugely-popular venue as the circuit combines corners inspired by those from other tracks. COTA was mastered by one of the most popular and enigmatic Formula 1 drivers of the modern age in 2018.
The race was looking to be a battle royale between the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, with the former looking to wrap up a fifth Drivers’ title, but an early spin by Vettel and a Mercedes error in strategy left the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen to take the lead. He would go on to win the race – his last F1 victory. It was also a happy day for Max Verstappen, finishing 2nd and pushing Raikkonen in the later stages, despite starting 18th.
Despite the 2022 Championship now decided, will the American Grand Prix provide another entertaining F1 race to set us up nicely for three visits to the US next season?