Failed F1 Prospects: Then and Now
As the pinnacle of world motorsport, Formula 1 is a hard sport to break into.
Sometimes, the driver skill just isn't there.
Other times, it comes down to attitude.
And more often than not, money plays a role.
Regardless of why they fail, so many young drivers do. Even those who make it into the sport frequently have a short shelf life.
Here's a look back on some of the more interesting racers to fall off while trying to climb the grand prix ladder.
In the late 1970s, a future superstar was trying to break into F1. His name was Ayrton Senna and it was obvious he was going places. One victory eluded him, though: the Karting World Championship.
In 1978, Jackson, Mississippi's Lake Speed kept Senna winless in the event, beating him and others to become the only US American to ever earn the honor.
Surely, then, Speed stayed in Europe to work his way to Formula 1?
Well, not quite.
After being persuaded by H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, Lake decided to pursue a career in stock cars. In 402 Cup races, Speed collected a singular victory.
The sad part?
One of his cars was sponsored by none other than SPAM. Being sponsored by meat product in a can sounds unappealing, but being sponsored by FAKE meat product in a can is downright degrading.
In all seriousness, though, things have come full circle for the retired NASCAR racer, as Lake Speed continues to take his go-kart out to the track. The Lake Speed Achievement of Excellence karting award is presented on behalf of the International Karting Federation in his honor.
In 2003, Andrew Ranger appeared to be North America's leading prospect for a future in Formula 1. The Canadian ran a handful of events in the British Formula Renault 2.0 championship with Manor Motorsport.
One of his teammates at Manor just so happened to be Lewis Hamilton.
Apparently, Ranger was able to match Hamilton's pace, and rumors began to circulate that Flavio Briatore was interested in working with Andrew as a development driver.
However, Ranger ended up racing in North America in the Atlantic Championship in 2004, and moved on the Champ Car World Series (while racing motorbikes on ice in the winter) in 2005.
Ranger's two-year stint in CCWS yielded a single podium (second in Monterrey), and in 2007, the Roxton Pond-native moved on to participate in NASCAR's fifth-tier division: the Série NASCAR Canadian Tire.
Having claimed two championships in three seasons, Ranger now looks to move up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he has recorded six starts and one podium.
One hopes his climb up the stock car ladder is more successful than his one in Europe.
Estonian racer Marko Asmer had the Internet forums abuzz during his rise to the top, and rightfully so. With 11 wins in 22 rounds of the 2007 British Formula 3 championship, Asmer appeared to be a top prospect for the future.
Things kept getting better for Asmer, as BMW-Sauber signed him to be their test driver in 2008. Marko had also landed a deal to race GP2 for Fisichella Motorsport.
In 12 races, Marko failed to score a single point, and at season's end, both drives had been lost.
Today, Marko Asmer is a reserve driver in Superleague Formula, a series where fellow F1 reject Adrián Vallés won the 2009 title.
Only one US-born driver has won the Formula 1 World Championship.
Jonathan Summerton's hope was, and still is, to change that.
In 2006, Summerton made a name for himself in the European seen in Formula 3, where he won the Hockenheim round of the F3 Euroseries and finished ninth in the standings, ahead of future F1 drivers Sébastien Buemi and Romain Grosjean.
Summerton moved to A1GP for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons. In the latter year, Jonathan took Team USA to its first victory in the feature race at Shanghai (as a side note, the Team USA entry was oh-so-fittingly sponsored by Burger King).
In 2008, Jonathan Summerton returned to the United States. Although the move was officially explained as one to help create sponsorship opportunities, it was, in reality, a sign that JS's days of pursuing F1 were over.
Following two seasons in the Atlantic Championship, Summerton looks to make a move back to European racing in Formula 2. In his debut test, he was far off the pace.
In the meantime, the Floridian has been meeting with Team US F1. Perhaps, though, he is just interested in purchasing a toaster*.
*(http://tinyurl.com/ydaheq3 if you don't get the reference).
Perhaps "failed" does not describe Sakon Yamamoto, as the Japanese racer was able to make it into F1.
However, his stint did not last long.
Yamamoto's 14 grands prix yielded six retirements and a best finish of P12.
After F1, Sakon returned to GP2, where he went winless in 21 races.
Presently, Sakon Yamamoto is a DJ, laying down mad techno beats in his crazy leather jacket. You can see the new and improved Sakon here: http://tinyurl.com/ydqlgzb.
India's first racing hero Narain Karthikeyan was a solid driver in the junior formula series, and remained committed to purusing Formula 1, turning down offers to race stateside in the Indy Racing League.
The devotion paid off as Karthikeyan, like the aformentioned Sakon Yamamoto, was able to make it to the top of the racing world and land a drive in F1. In one full season of racing with Jordan Grand Prix, Narain amassed five points, all of which came from the United States Grand Prix contested by just six cars.
After F1, Karthikeyan went on to win races for Team India in the now defunct A1GP Series. He also participated in the Le Mans Series with Kolles Racing.
Narain's next challenge?
Learning how to properly climb into a stock car after scratching his helmet in his first attempt to seat himself in an ARCA racer.
Few people in the F1 paddock wanted to see another Cheever. Eddie had been more than enough.
The family, however, wasn't going to quit, as Eddie's nephew Richard Antinucci looked to climb the European racing ladder.
Antinucci made a positive first impression, finishing fourth in British Formula 3 in 2004. The next year, Richard moved to the F3 Euroseries, and in 2006, he took two race victories en route to a fifth place finish in the final standings.
Despite finishing second in the Macau Grand Prix (after starting fifteenth), Antinucci was out of a ride in Europe, and headed stateside to compete in the Indy Lights championship.
Currently, Antinucci is expected to race full-time with IndyCar backmarkers Team 3G (3G stands for "three guys," though one of the guys apparently owes the team money).
Ashton Lewis, Jr.
A lot of "Juniors" make it in the world of stock cars.
Not so much.
Ashton Lewis, Jr. of South Carolina tried to beat the odds. He won the IMSA Barber Saab championship stateside in 1992, taking the Team USA Scholarship to race in the Formula Ford Festival.
Unfortunately for Lewis, his pursuit of F1 did not last long.
Ashton ended up in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series, stock car's second-level division, where he recorded a career-best finish of second in a career that spanned 14 seasons.
Lewis can still be found at the track as a spectator, but has no plans for future racing.
Australian Ryan Briscoe appeared to be on the fast track to success after taking the 2003 Formula 3 Euroseries title on the strength of eight victories.
His performance impressed Toyota F1, who signed Briscoe to be one of their test drivers in 2004. In 2005, he was all set to join the Toyota-powered Jordan Grand Prix.
Then, he made a decision no one expected: he turned down F1 to join IndyCar.
That year, Briscoe suffered serious injuries in a horrifying accident at Chicagoland Speedway. The time away from the seat, paired with poor results, looked to spell the end of Briscoe's career. How differently it all could have been...
Fortunately for Ryan, though, backmarkers Dreyer & Reinbold tabbed him to race at Watkins Glen in 2006, where he took an impressive third place finish. The following season, the Aussie participated in the Indianapolis 500, finishing fifth with new team Luczo-Dragon Racing.
In 2008, Briscoe got a dream ride by IndyCar standards, joining the Penske squad.
Perhaps, then, Ryan Briscoe is the only driver on the list who failed at reaching F1 by his own choice. One has to wonder what on earth he was thinking.
Then again, maybe Briscoe gets the last laugh. He just tied the knot with American racing reporter Nicole Manske. The IRL doesn't seem so bad now, after all, does it Ryan?