Why Colton Herta’s Ascent to F1 Is So Complicated

Herta is just eight points shy of a Super License, and the FIA doesn’t seem too keen on helping out the young American.

byJerry Perez|
F1 photo

Colton Herta is on the verge of becoming the first American full-time Formula 1 driver in over a decade. In order for that to happen, however, a series of events must perfectly line up for the second-generation racer to ascend to the pinnacle of motorsport. But will they? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Herta is just a week away from wrapping up the 2023 IndyCar championship, where despite some stellar performances he'll likely come in eighth in the points. He's managed one victory this year as well with two pole positions, five top fives, and eight top 10s with one more race to go. Unfortunately, his top 10 finish in this year's championship will not help his FIA Super License situation, as he won't earn enough transferable points to meet the minimum requirements. More on this later.

You could say that the most complex part of Herta's F1 deal is over, so at least that's promising. Andretti Autosport, Herta's current IndyCar team, has already agreed to release him to pursue a career in F1 whether it's with McLaren or AlphaTauri. McLaren too, despite having offered Herta a full F1 testing program (which is still ongoing), has agreed to let him race for the Red Bull B Team should the FIA issue him a license.

“We would never want to hold a driver back," said McLaren CEO Zak Brown about Herta's position, per Racer. "Racing drivers want to drive."

If this is all Herta needed to make his F1 racing debut, he'd be golden. Unfortunately, that pesky FIA Super License is required to compete in F1, and it wouldn't be the first time a young star's trajectory is thwarted because of it. Herta currently has just 32 points of the required 40. And the FIA's flawed methodology for awarding points to series outside of its sanctioning reach is the very reason why Herta's IndyCar rival, Pato O'Ward, failed to reach F1 in 2019. The now-successful IndyCar racer was ultimately denied his Super License at the very last minute (and despite having Red Bull's full support), forcing him into IndyCar instead, where McLaren quickly picked him up.

Could we see a repeat of this situation? It's definitely a possibility given how similar Herta and O'Ward's cases are. Perhaps there's more pressure on the FIA and the other parties involved to promote an American driver since there aren't any on the F1 grid, but given FIA President Stefano Domenicali's stance on the Andretti F1 team and "the rules," I'd say that the chances of an exception being made are slim. Domenicali is all for bringing races to America and raking in the big bucks, but he doesn't seem to be fond of Andretti or its young drivers.

"The sport needs to respect the rules,” Domenicali told Motorsport.com. “And, of course, American drivers or other drivers are very important. If he is eligible to come in F1 because he has the points, it's fantastic news. But there is a ladder to follow, there is a protocol to respect, and that is the situation. So it's really what I believe is right to do.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff joined fellow team bosses Frederik Vasseur of Alfa Romeo and Gunther Steiner of Haas in saying that while it would be "great" to have an American on the grid, the rules should be respected. Interestingly enough, this is the same group that's been overly vocal against Andretti joining F1 in the near future.

“It would be great to have an American in F1,” said Wolff to Motorsport.com. “And it obviously would give us a good boost in the U.S. But I think the points system is there for a reason. We don't want to create a system where you try to pick out series that have the least resistance, where the scoring ability is the highest. I think the F4/F3/F2 echelon is something that works for Europe.

"But the regulations are the regulations, and I would really hope the Americans can somehow score enough points to make it in F1.”

Reports claim an answer on the Super License points will be made by the Italian Grand Prix this weekend, which will coincide with Herta's final IndyCar race of the year on Sept. 11. A big weekend for the young driver, to say the least.

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