Herta signs deal to test for McLaren F1 team, my takeaways

McLaren Racing confirmed today that current IndyCar driver Colton Herta will test for the McLaren F1 Team as part of its 2021 MCL35M car testing program in 2022.

Herta became the youngest-ever winner in IndyCar history in 2019 when he took victory at the Circuit of the Americas. Since then, the 21-year-old American has secured six wins and seven pole positions in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. 

The opportunity for Herta comes with the new Formula 1 sporting regulations, which enable teams to now test one-year-old cars, under the Testing of Previous Cars (TPC) provision. The McLaren F1 TPC program provides an opportunity for the team to test potential drivers and evaluate young talent for the future. 

“Colton is a proven talent in IndyCar and we will be interested to see how he adapts to a Formula 1 car,” said McLaren F1 Team Principal, Andreas Seidl. We believe this testing program will provide him with valuable experience while demonstrating the benefit of expanding previous car testing to showcase promising drivers for the future.”

Now, what does this all mean? Is Herta going to eventually become an F1 driver for them?

Highly unlikely. They’ve signed Lando Norris to a long term, multi million dollar deal. 1 of their 2 rides is secured. Daniel Riccciardo is also at least locked in for next year I’ve been told too. So, Herta to McLaren on the F1 side wouldn’t happen until at the very earliest 2024.

However, wouldn’t Pato O’Ward get that nod if the Ricciardo seat comes available? Speaking of which, what does Arrow McLaren SP do for him for 2023? They don’t have a deal past 2022 but I don’t see them wanting to let him walk.

The caveat to all this is, Andretti Autosport could have an opening for 2023 depending on what Alexander Rossi does. If he leaves, and if AA does get into F1 for 2024, couldn’t they make a run at O’Ward? Wouldn’t that be enticing for the Mexican driver to come back to Andretti for a one-off NTT INDYCAR Series season in 2023 and then move over to F1 with them in 2024?

Wouldn’t it be good to dangle that carrot in front of him and potentially take both he and Herta over?

Both O’Ward and Herta know that their window of being an F1 driver is limited. You have to be of a young age to get a shot and both say that once you hit 27, if you’re not already in F1, then it’s over.

While Herta says that F1 would be just for fun for a few years as he’d like to eventually end up back in INDYCAR, the main question is, do we lose him for a few years before that?

That’s why the more these two vie for wins and championships, the more their names are going to be mentioned on moving onto F1. How long can INDYCAR keep these two here?

The other thing is, what kind of impact does this dealing have on Zak Brown and Michael Andretti’s relationship? Is this deal for Herta one from Brown to help his pal in Andretti to help Herta gain enough Super License points or is this truly Brown wanting to keep an eye out on Herta?

What about if Andretti courts O’Ward back? This is either one of both working closer together or one that could push them apart.

“I want to thank McLaren for the opportunity to get my first laps in a Formula 1 car, which has always been on my racing bucket list,” Herta said. “This will be a great opportunity for me to gain some valuable experience in a new form of motorsport and learn from such an established team like McLaren F1.”

That’s a far different tune from what Herta told me last May when he signed a new contract to remain with Andretti Autosport.

“It would take a lot to drive me away from Indy Car,,” he said. “For F1 I’d have to thing about it but my heart is always with IndyCar. Growing up around IndyCar racing is all I’ve really ever known and enjoyed. I enjoy this type of racing and these type of weekend’s the most. So I think right now I’m just focused on IndyCar and if something comes up I’ll have to think about it.”

Herta also told me that he’s happy now with the position that he’s in already. Why leave?

“I’m quick in the position that I’m in,” he continued. “I have good pit stops. I have good race cars. I don’t see a reason to leave when I have all that. They put me in a great position where I can win everywhere we go and that’s the most important thing to me. I think that with this team with the setups that they use I know what’s going to happen every single race weekend.

“The goal is always the same to win the ‘500 and the championship each year. We’ve got to have speed and we’ve definitely shown to have speed.”

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