Danica Patrick: U.S. F1 driver would need right circumstances to be a big name

AUSTIN, Texas -- Danica Patrick says Formula One having an American on the grid would only be a good thing for the sport's growth in the U.S. if that driver had the right environment to be a success.

Recent reports have linked Andretti Autosport with a takeover of Sauber, which would likely be followed by American driver Colton Herta moving across from IndyCar to F1. The championship has seen a huge spike in interest in recent seasons and many think a homegrown driver is what's needed for the sport to take the next step.

Patrick, a pundit for Sky Sport's F1 coverage for this weekend's U.S. Grand Prix, agrees that is true.

"100 percent. You nailed it," Patrick told ESPN ahead of this week's race. "If it's really going to start gaining and continuing to gain traction in the States the fans here are going to need someone to cheer for.

"And while definitely there are cool personalities in Formula One right now, it means a little bit more when they're local or home. I say this about racing too compared to other sports -- when you live in a city, you live in Indianapolis and you cheer for the Colts, there's a reason to cheer for a team. In racing there's not a reason to cheer for a driver.

"Like, I didn't have all of Illinois behind me just because I grew up in Illinois, you have to get to know the personalities. So the more they can be known and get out there, they'll have more of a following."

Patrick thinks her own racing experience shows how important a good or bad situation can be to an emerging talent -- Patrick qualified fourth as a rookie at the 2005 Indy 500 and nearly won the race, making her a household name in the process. She believes a driver's success is often linked to circumstances as much as talent.

"You never quite know how the transition is going to go from one series to another, one level to another. You see a lot of drivers that might not have accomplished much at one level and all of a sudden you're like, wow, they're incredible.

"Then you see it go the other way where they win everything, make the transition and they don't seem to pan out so much. So there's the transition that you have to understand, how does a driver adapt not only from a car perspective but also from a mental perspective.

"Pressure affects people in different ways. How they're able to handle the transitions and different exposure levels, different requirements of them as a driver, but then just also what's their opportunity like? Is the car good?

"Is it a year where... I feel like the best scenario to enter into a year, as happened to me, when I did my first year in IndyCar in 2005 those cars were so fast. I almost qualified pole and won the Indy 500 on my first time.

"I had a handful of poles that year. I was really fast. It solidifies you as a driver because you're like, oh obviously she can drive. But what if I or anybody comes in a year when the car is not good? Is it them now? Because that's going to be the first thing that gets blamed.

"If you don't do well the driver's the first thing to get blamed if they're new. So it really depends on the year and how competitive the car is."

The U.S. Grand Prix will be live on ABC at 1.30PM on Oct. 24.