There have been a couple of high-profile transfers from Formula One to IndyCar recently, but it's pretty rare to see it the other way around—at least in the modern era. Back when drivers swapped between series, you'd see a lot more of this, with Fernando Alonso being the only name to have done so recently. This makes the prospect of an American F1 driver seem even more distant, though rumors claim that IndyCar's young star Colton Herta could change that.
More than a rumor, there's a genuine possibility this could change thanks to Andretti Autosport (who currently employs Herta in IndyCar), as the legendary American racing family/franchise is reportedly on the hunt to buy an F1 team. Again, rumors allege there's a good chance it could be Sauber, which is currently badged as Alfa Romeo. Buying an existing F1 team, rather than starting their own, has many incentives, namely avoiding a $200-million "anti-dilution" fee from the FIA.
If Andretti were to actually buy the team, then you can be sure that there'll be interest in having an American driver on the grid. Herta very well might be the guy.
Herta currently qualifies for a Super License—the permit needed to chuck an F1 car around—because although he falls short of the 40 points usually needed for the license approval, a relaxation of rules under COVID-19 (due to the difficulty of participating in junior series) means he's over the 30-point threshold needed. So if he's smart, he'll get the paperwork to the FIA as fast as possible and start thinking about the number of zeros he wants on the end of his paycheck.
Herta previously raced in junior series in Europe, so he isn't too alien to the world of F1. Back in 2016, he was Lando Norris' teammate in British F3, which is a pretty wild thing to think about given they're both at the top of their respective games just five years later.
In an interview with Motorsport.com, former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick said she'd back the opportunity if Herta got it, saying, "Definitely, if it's something that you want to do and you feel like you have an opportunity to do well, I mean, he's not going to become a worse driver when he's gone."
As Patrick pointed out, F1 drivers historically have plenty of opportunities to move to Indy so if, for whatever reason, Herta decided he wanted to reverse the move then he'd not be out of a drive.
"So, I think it's a totally great opportunity, and especially if it's something that he's really excited about, I think that's really cool," continued Patrick. "And to have it be all American [with Andretti] I think that'd be great. I'd love to see how that goes."
F1 really, really wants Herta, if it can work out a way to make it happen. But will Herta really want to go to F1, especially if Sauber remains uncompetitive after the major rules overhaul in 2022, and he's winning with a top team in IndyCar?
It's a trade that former F1 driver and current IndyCar semi-star Romain Grosjean said he'd warn younger drivers off, last month. F1 has the international glamour but sitting in a team where a points finish is the best you can hope for isn't fun. And although this year's been really competitive at the top of the grid, it's actually been a disaster for Sauber, especially after Williams' recent points streak has left it last in the championship.
F1 needs Herta more than Herta needs F1. If you ask me, that's a pretty damned great way to start a contract negotiation.
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