LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: NTT IndyCar Series driver Colton Herta prepares for warm up laps on race day at the 2022 Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach on April 10, 2022 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
Amongst all the hype surrounding Formula 1 in America recently, Colton Herta has once again become the subject of silly season rumours. Between Andretti’s attempts to join as a new Formula 1 team and his recent contract with McLaren, it’s looking more and more likely that Herta will be joining the grid in the next couple of years.
Reactions have been mixed, with many excited at the prospect of an American Formula 1 driver. But others are apprehensive, wondering if Herta has what it takes to be successful in the category.
Is Herta worthy of a spot in motorsport’s most exclusive series? Or is he better off sticking to IndyCar?
Who is Colton Herta?
Born in California in March of 2000, Herta has motorsport in his blood. His father, Bryan Herta, was the 1993 Indy Lights champion and won races in both IndyCar and CART throughout his career.
After three years of karting from ages 10 to 13, Herta made his single-seater debut in the SBF2000 Winter Series. He then began his way up the traditional Road to Indy ladder, beginning with the USF2000 Championship. But after finishing 15th his first season, Herta decided not to progress straight to Indy Pro 2000.
Instead, he headed to the UK, where he competed in the MSA Formula Series (currently known as the British F4 Championship). Racing with Carlin, Herta took four wins and three pole positions throughout the season. He finished third in the standings, not far behind the championship winner and Carlin teammate Lando Norris.
For 2016, Herta competed full time in the Euroformula Open Championship and Spanish Formula 3. He finished the season in third and second respectively in the standings.
But Herta was done racing in Europe after 2016 and came back to race in Indy Lights for the following year. Racing with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing, Herta finished third in his rookie season in Indy Lights, the highest placed rookie and only 30 points behind the championship winner.
He stayed for another season with Andretti in Indy Lights, and while he was on the podium for 13 out of the 17 races, he finished second to Pato O’Ward. But this performance was enough to secure Herta an IndyCar seat for 2019 with Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
IndyCar (so far)
At 22 years old, Herta is already a six-time race winner in the IndyCar series. He took his first win at the Circuit of the Americas in 2019, the second race of his rookie season. Just 18 at the time, Herta holds the record of the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race.
Later that season, he broke another record, becoming IndyCar’s youngest pole winner as well. Herta would go on to prove this result wasn’t a fluke by winning at least one pole position and race every full season he’s competed in IndyCar.
Many have likened him to Max Verstappen, incredibly fast but prone to unnecessary error. One example of this was in the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville last season. Herta led both practice sessions that weekend, and his pole lap was over a second quicker than his closest competitor. But five laps from the end of the race he locked a tyre going into a corner and hit the wall, throwing away the race win.
We’ve seen Verstappen iron out unnecessary mistakes throughout his Formula 1 career and gain the consistency needed to win a title. No one who has seen his talent doubts that Herta can do the same. After all, he’s only 22 years old.
Formula 1 Ties
The closest Herta has come to a Formula 1 seat so far was towards the end of 2021. Andretti Autosport had all but finalised talks to buy Sauber, giving them control of Alfa Romeo’s Formula 1 team. But the deal fell through at the last minute, and Herta stayed in IndyCar for another season.
Andretti didn’t give up after the Sauber deal didn’t pan out. In February, Mario Andretti announced his son’s application to form a new Formula 1 team, to join the sport in 2024.
Michael has applied to the FIA to field a new F1 team starting in 2024. His entry, Andretti Global, has the resources and checks every box. He is awaiting the FIA's determination.
While Andretti still awaits a response to the application, Herta has been making connections with other Formula 1 teams. Most recently, he signed a contract with McLaren as a part of their testing programme, which will give him a chance to test a Formula 1 car at some point in 2022.
Recently, rumours have surfaced that Herta might be on the list of drivers who could replace Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren. McLaren and Ricciardo’s future together is still unknown, but some have said that the team might be interested in Herta joining their team.
Talking about this possibility, Michael Andretti said “I want Colton to stay with us forever, but if he’s got an opportunity and we don’t have that to offer, I can’t stand in the way.” Herta has a contract with Andretti through 2023. But afterwards he’ll be free to sign with McLaren or anyone else.
Could He Succeed in F1?
Just because a driver is successful in one series doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be successful in another. Certain skills don’t always translate across categories, and Formula 1 would be a major step for Herta to make.
That being said, there’s already proof he has at least part of what it takes. Mario Andretti revealed in an interview that Herta spent time in Alfa Romeo’s Formula 1 simulator last year. “By the third day he was quicker than Giovinazzi and Raikkonen on the simulator,” said Andretti.
Herta has already proved his pace spans more than just one kind of racing. He has won in his class in the IMSA Sportscar Championship’s 24 Hours of Daytona, not once but twice.
Herta also proved his worth at the 2022 Race of Champions, where alongside Jimmie Johnson he raced on snow and ice to take Team USA to the finals of the Nations Cup. He beat out drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Mika Hakkinen in equal machinery.
While it’s clear Herta still has some consistency issues to work on, it’s also clear he’s a generational talent. With so much doubt surrounding whether American drivers have what it takes to succeed in Formula 1, it’s time for someone to prove that theory wrong. Colton Herta could very well be that driver.
Should Formula 1 Fans Be Excited About Herta’s Impending Arrival?
America has been long overdue a full-time Formula 1 driver. The last American to race in Formula 1 was one of Herta’s IndyCar teammates, Alexander Rossi. Rossi started five races with the Marussia F1 team in 2015. In fact, only 19 American drivers have ever started more than ten races in Formula 1.
As Formula 1 continues to reach more of an American audience and attempts to grow its presence in the country, they’re on the lookout for American drivers. And as drivers like Herta get closer and closer to making that a reality, some will doubtless argue that they don’t fairly deserve a seat in Formula 1.
But why fight it? It’s almost inevitable that an American driver joins the series within the next couple of years, and Herta is certainly a talent to look forward to. His on-track results speak for themselves.
But more and more, the Formula 1 audience is also interested in the drivers’ personalities. They want someone interesting, someone entertaining. Especially if he goes to McLaren, Herta would be racing alongside one of Formula 1’s most popular personalities (and his old teammate) Lando Norris. So the question, while not the biggest issue at hand, is still important: does Herta have a persona that Formula 1 fans can get behind? The short answer is yes.
Did you know? When he isn’t racing, Herta plays the drums for a punk rock band called “The Zibs”.
Did you know? Bryan Herta, Colton’s dad, is his race strategist at Andretti Autosport. It makes for some very interesting interactions on the radio!
Did you know? As one of the younger drivers, Colton loves a good meme. He is known to occasionally run races with Big Chungus on his helmet, or even on his racing shoes.
Ultimately, Herta racing in Formula 1 seems inevitable at this point. And from what we’ve seen from him so far, he likely won’t be as far off the pace as some people will expect him to be. The move from IndyCar will, of course, be an adjustment. But if anyone is up for that challenge it’s him.
Not only is he good enough for Formula 1, but he’ll also make a fantastic addition to the grid when (and if) plans eventually come to fruition.
Feature Image Credit: Getty Images
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