Formula One Is Shifting Into High Gear in America

In the countdown hours before a Formula One race, the long rectangle of pavement wedged between team garages and temporary HQ units, dubbed “the paddock,” is a busy place, an inner- sanctum crossroads of cars, drivers and pit crews. In-house celebrities are a given, with the likes of Mercedes team icon Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the current world champion, on hand to prep for another tire-shredding showdown.

But this particular paddock is the backstage of F1’s first-ever grand prix in Miami this past May, with Hard Rock Stadium transformed into the nucleus of a sprawling raceway complex that includes concert stages and a faux marina where high rollers will watch the action from non-faux yachts. The buzz is amped, the glitz near blinding. LeBron James, David Beckham and Michelle Obama are on the guest list. McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo, famous for his good-natured hogging of the camera in Netflix’s F1 reality series Drive to Survive, chats up Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Then Michael Jordan is escorted inside and the entire paddock tilts toward him, the atmosphere revved into the red zone.

Things are a bit more sedate on the other end of the paddock where the Williams Racing team is based, and it’s from here that Logan Sargeant, one of the great hopes for putting an American butt into an F1 car, observes the scene. Sargeant, 21, currently competes in F2, basically F1’s minor league, for U.K.-based Carlin Motorsport, but is part of a Williams program that grooms promising drivers for that next, heady level.

Teal Formula 1 race car in motion on track

The Miami Grand Prix.
Courtesy of Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix

While Sargeant hovers a bit outside the paddock’s fame bubble at the moment, he’s more of an insider than any driver present when it comes to the ground beneath their feet. His career path launched with kiddie kart races growing up in nearby Boca Raton, winning state and national championships before he turned 10. And even as Sundays typically now find him rocketing around a track somewhere between Belgium and Bahrain, he maintains die-hard support for the Miami Dolphins.

“It takes me 30 minutes to get here, so it’s pretty much my backyard,” he says. “Being at a home grand prix for the first time—really home—is so cool.”

He pauses as his own mother, who he just treated to a tour of the Williams garage, wanders off toward the paddock’s buzzier side.

“I want to get there one day,” he says. “I want to race here and be able to make someone’s day by them meeting me.”

Even with his dream literally in sight, bridging that next gap is easier said than done. Much. Make no mistake, F1 drivers are the most exclusive group of professional athletes on the planet. By design, F1 comprises just 10 teams that each field two cars, meaning there are only 20 drivers at any time—no less, no more. Precious few seats open up between long, 22- race seasons, with underperforming drivers living in fear of getting axed by teams willing to take a flyer on rookies making noise from a feeder class. As much as 220-mph action, such high-drama dynamics propel F1’s global popularity. Races draw an average of 80 million worldwide TV viewers, and top teams such as Ferrari and Red Bull inspire fan bases that rival soccer for chest-beating fervor.

Race car driver spraying Champagne

Sargeant celebrates a win.
Joe Portlock / Getty Images

F1’s roots are deepest in Europe, but recent years have brought significant expansion into Asia and the Middle East. The next big prize is the full attention, and deep consumerism, of sports fans in the United States. To win both, F1 brass know that the final domino could be giving those fans a red-blooded, flag-draped American speed-demon to cheer.

F1’s current roster includes drivers from Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, Australia, Canada, Japan and Thailand. But there have been no American drivers since Alexander Rossi warmed a seat in a handful of races in 2015. Two recent, F1-rocking developments are likely to help end that drought.

Most significantly, Colorado-based Liberty Media, already the owner of SiriusXM and the Atlanta Braves, purchased F1 in 2017 for $4.6 billion. (The core Euro fan base was fairly sanguine about this acquisition given their displeasure with previous ownership, though there are grumblings about too much “Americanization.”) Liberty unabashedly desires a U.S. presence larger than the decade-old United States Grand Prix in Austin, an aggressive push that spawned this year’s Miami Grand Prix and in 2023 the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix— in short order making America the only country hosting three F1 races.

Liberty’s goal has been abetted by Drive to Survive, which stylishly mixes on-track action with peeks into drivers’ lives and a big dose of the cutthroat rivalries that fuel both top-tier and less well-heeled teams. (The show’s producer has called it “Game of Thrones in fast cars.”) The 2018 debut season was a surprise hit with American viewers, and subsequent seasons have nurtured the phenomenon, with F1 insiders crediting the show for increased stateside awareness. Into this turbo-charged moment arrives Sargeant, who may be the right driver at the opportune time. Love for racing has so guided his life that when he was just 13, he and older brother Dalton relocated to Europe. And while Dalton eventually returned home to race stock cars, Logan doubled down, climbing through Formula classes while basing himself in London (where, ironically, he just acquired his first personal car).

Michael Jordan wearing white button-down shirt and black sunglasses

His Airness scopes the paddock.
Courtesy of Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix

Sounds exciting, but the quest often leaves him working long, hard hours on his own, far from the land he still considers home. He eats and breathes racing, and unlike many F1 drivers, doesn’t travel with a model girlfriend in tow. And the plan hasn’t always gone according to script. After mixed F3 seasons in 2019–21 and a financial scandal that rocked his moneyed family, Sargeant was scrabbling for the funds needed just to remain in F3. Then the phone rang.

“My manager called, and I wasn’t sure if he was winding me up or not!” he recalls of learning that Williams Driver Academy was offering him a spot—and a seat with Carlin for 2022, making him F2’s sole American driver.

Sure, it could be purely coincidence that Williams Racing, a British concern with a storied history in F1, also recently had been acquired by an American investment firm. Then again, probably not.

The Williams partnership allows Sargeant access to F1-level training facilities, simulators and mentors. It also schools him on other responsibilities incumbent on F1 drivers, namely schmoozing sponsors and engaging in endless promotion. As part of the Miami festivities, Red Bull and Ferrari drivers toss first pitches at Marlins games, Hamilton appears on Good Morning America and Ricciardo flashes his trademark grin on The Daily Show. For his part, Sargeant accompanies Williams’ F1 drivers, Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi, to a high-end team event at the W Hotel South Beach. However, as they are mobbed, local-boy Sargeant leans unmolested against a wall and is told by handlers to do as he pleases. Such anonymity would vanish overnight if he’s bumped up.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get to F1, because that’s what I’ve been aiming for since I was a little kid,” he says.

The early part of his first F2 season hasn’t exactly greased that path. He crashed in Saudi Arabia, and in a pair of races in Italy, a tire snafu caused him to surrender his lead position off the starting line, then he blew a second-place finish by running wide in damp conditions.

“He’s had the preparation, he’s done the karting, he’s done the whole ladder in peak form,” says Carlin team boss Trevor Carlin. “And I think in a way that’s why a couple of mistakes have crept into things, because he’s so desperate to do a good job, he’s probably driving over his comfort level. He just needs to relax and do what he does, which is drive a race car fast.”

Fans cheering at Formula 1 race

Avid American fans.
Courtesy of Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix

As Sargeant watches the Miami race unfold on screens inside the Williams garage, the rewards and risks of driving a race car fast are reinforced. The huge crowd cheers wildly as the starting grid piles into turn one, some cars three wide, but a later roar causes him to suck air through his teeth as young McLaren driver Lando Norris throws a tire and crashes in spinning, spectacular fashion after contact with another car.

Though no F2 race was staged in Miami, the weekend spent on his home turf seems to mark a turning point for Sargeant’s season. In Barcelona, he claims third place in the preliminary Sprint race, the Stars and Stripes displayed behind him on the podium for the first time in F2.

Three weekends later, he lines up in seventh place for the start of the Feature race on a tough street course, complete with looming medieval castle, in Baku, Azerbaijan. He has a strong start, charging ahead two spots in the first lap, and steadily climbs to third. “I was hanging with the leaders quite comfortably, so I knew I needed to execute a good rest of the race—good pit stop, good pit entry, good out-lap from the pit stop,” he says.

Then, in the closing laps, race leader Jüri Vips pushes the track’s tightest turn and bounces off the wall. Sargeant nimbly dodges the splintering wreckage as it careens across the track directly in front of his car, and claims second place at the checkered flag.

“Sometimes you smile inside the helmet when you pass a car that has dropped out ahead of you, but that definitely wasn’t one of those occasions because I was trying to not hit him myself,” says Sargeant. “I feel for Jüri, but at the end of the day, a position is a position and you’ll take it.”

Even better is the next race at Silverstone, England. He starts in pole position and never surrenders it, despite a late-race challenge from Théo Pourchaire, another top F2 driver. “I told myself there’s no one or nothing that’s going to come between me and this win,” says Sargeant. “I’ve never wanted a win as much as this one.”

He apparently takes that attitude into the next round at Spielberg, France, where he again wins. The run of good finishes pushes him up to third in the overall F2 standings at just over halfway through the season. It’s well-timed, as news breaks that Colton Herta, currently driving the IndyCar series in the States, is testing for McLaren, sparking speculation that he could jump the queue as the American most likely to clinch an F1 seat. Deepening the intrigue, the rumor mill whispers that Latifi, suffering a lackluster season, will be booted from Williams before next season despite his billionaire father’s company being a team sponsor. The move likely would cut short Latifi’s F1 career, but as Sargeant says, a position is a position to be taken.

Red Ferrari on track at Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix

Ferrari’s iconic red blur.
Courtesy of Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix

That seat is by no means reserved for an American. But even McLaren CEO Zak Brown acknowledges that Sargeant is well situated. “If you look at the success F1 is now having in the States, I don’t necessarily think it’s necessary,” he says, “but I think a U.S. driver certainly would continue to build the momentum.”

Closer to Sargeant’s inner circle, Williams sporting director Sven Smeets is even more bullish. “Having American owners is a fantastic opportunity for us, and also for Logan,” he admits. “He has that possibility to become an American driver. The last two were at a time when F1 didn’t have the potential it now has in the U.S. It’s a different world this time.”

No one sums up the moment better than Sargeant himself. “It would be massive for F1 in America if I make it,” he says. “Throw them an American driver to cheer for and I think there’s nothing bigger than that.”

Meanwhile, the wrap of Sargeant’s latest win is a reminder of how far he still has to go, as the champagne is quickly mopped and the winners ushered off the podium so that the main draw, the F1 race, can soon get underway. Afterward, he witnesses the whole, crazy circus as it packs up and moves on to the next raceway on the next continent.

Wherever that is, he’ll climb into the cockpit and push the laws of physics to the edge, fully aware that each race is a high-stakes chance to pass not just other cars, but also any driver chasing the same F1 dream. Miami was a tantalizing taste of what might await next year, and Sargeant wants more. Just like F1 wants more of America.


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