The Importance of Having Goals

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If you haven’t heard, Alex Palou has announced he is bolting to McLaren for 2023, even though Ganassi exercised their option on Palou for next season. This all dropped Tuesday night after today’s post was already written and loaded up. This saga is still developing and getting ugly. I will discuss it on Friday in the Toronto Preview. In the meantime, enjoy a post about what has suddenly become old news. – GP

It is sometimes easy for fans to tell drivers what they need to do, when it comes to their lifelong goals. Just like it’s easy for us to tell someone how they should spend their money when we are not the ones writing the check. Fans always seem to have the right answers, especially when the answer really has no bearing on their everyday lives.

Colton Herta tested a year-old McLaren at Portimão in Portugal, earlier this week, partially fulfilling what was likely a lifelong dream. I say partially because I’m pretty confident in saying that a fulltime Formula One ride with a contending team has been Herta’s ultimate long-term dream – not just a test.

The reactions prior to Herta’s test have been all over the board. Some fans are very happy for him to reach his goal of finally getting a true feel of a Formula One car. Others are afraid this will become a huge distraction for Herta, who is already in the midst of a somewhat disappointing season so far. Some fans have even scorned the second generation driver for wanting to take an opportunity to drive anything other than an Indy car.

I am somewhere in the middle on this, but I certainly don’t hold it against Herta for wanting to drive an F1 car, for a couple of days or for several seasons.

We all have goals while growing up. For whatever reason, we had an old motorcycle helmet up in our attic while I was growing up. I cannot tell you how many hours I used to spend in front of a mirror wearing that helmet with a red bandana over my nose and mouth, pretending I was AJ Foyt. There was no question what I wanted to be when I grew up – I wanted to be a race car driver. More specifically, I wanted to drive in the Indianapolis 500.

Obviously, I never came close to that goal. It wasn’t that my goal changed, I just didn’t have the means or the knowledge of how to reach that goal. I don’t think my story is that different than most of us growing up. Most of us had big dreams that we never came close to fulfilling. When I was growing up, most kids my age wanted to be an astronaut, an NFL quarterback or a movie star. To my knowledge; none of us came close to living our dreams. In fact, given what I’ve experienced through this website; I may have come closer than anyone else I grew up with.

If Colton Herta grew up wanting to be a Formula One driver, who am I to tell him he shouldn’t? More importantly, who am I to tell him he can’t?

We IndyCar fans don’t like to admit that there may be something better out there. If I was an IndyCar driver, I would be perfectly content to stay in the series I grew up following. But admittedly, I never paid any attention to Formula One while I was growing up. The only reason I knew who Jim Clark, Graham Hill or Jackie Stewart were, was because I watched them race in the Indianapolis 500. Had they not come over in the sixties, their names would have been completely obscure to me.

But I didn’t grow up in a racing family. Colton Herta did. Through his father, Bryan, he had inside information about every form of racing out there. Like many, Colton Herta grew up thinking that Formula One was the pinnacle of motorsport. There is certainly no arguing with the technology aspect of Formula One being the tops in motorsport. It should be, with the budgets involved. Personally, I prefer IndyCar racing, but that is just my preference. It doesn’t make it right or wrong – it’s just what I prefer.

When you look at how F1 travels the globe and has a fanatical worldwide following, it is easy to see why a young kid growing up would want to set his or her sites on becoming one of the select twenty Formula One drivers in the world. The lifestyle appears to be very lavish and it’s easy to see how it would be enticing to a young kid blessed with racing skills and the financial backing to move up the ladder.

Pato O’Ward had similar dreams as most young drivers do. When he signed with McLaren, I’m sure he had dreams of spending a year or two in IndyCar – showcasing his talents and being called up to the McLaren Formula One team or being lured away by Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari.

O’Ward had earned a test following the 2021 season, by winning his first IndyCar race at Texas earlier that season. McLaren CEO Zak Brown had promised an F1 test when and if O’Ward got his first IndyCar win and he made good on the promise in a McLaren test in November of 2021 at Laguna Seca, and again in December of 2021 at Abu Dhabi.

Reportedly, the tests went well – as chronicled in this article by Bruce Martin for Forbes. But it was Colton Herta, who was O’Ward’s Indy Lights teammate and current rival, that was signed to a testing deal with McLaren earlier this year. O’Ward got his feelings hurt and went into a funk for the first couple races of the 2022 IndyCar season. Supposedly, O’Ward went through something of an attitude adjustment back in the spring, between Texas and Long Beach. The result was a more focused, committed and upbeat Pato O’Ward that finished fifth at Long Beach and won at Barber. In May, O’Ward signed a three-year contract extension with McLaren and O’Ward’s F1 dreams seemed to have been put on-hold for the moment.

Pato O’Ward probably still has dreams of one day driving in Formula One, but he seems to have come to the realization that if he doesn’t take care of the present, there will be no future.

Although Herta is the one with the F1 testing contract in hand, he might be wise to follow O’Ward’s new way of thinking.

Granted, their situations are different. Arrow McLaren SP appears to be a team very much on the rise, their last race notwithstanding. Andretti Autosport currently has the look of a team in disarray. But Herta has been hot and cold. When he’s got a car that is dialed in and everything is working for him, he is tough to beat. But when anything, and I mean anything goes wrong. Herta seems to lose focus and bad things suddenly happen. Herta is currently tenth in points and has a race win. No drivers ranked below him have a race win and four drivers ahead of him have yet to win this season. That reeks of inconsistency.

Some will say that inconsistency is the fault of his team, who is in the midst of a chaotic season. Others say that Herta has been underperforming, because his mind is on Formula One and not the task at hand – the NTT IndyCar Series.

The real skeptics claim that the woes at Andretti Autosport are because Michael Andretti is too focused on his own quest to own a Formula One team, and his IndyCar team is suffering as a consequence. Not being around the team, I have no way of knowing – but it’s not too hard to believe.

Getting back to where my opinions lie with Herta; I think Herta could take a page from Pato O’Ward’s playbook. O’Ward went through his own distracted period where his mind seemed to be more on his dreams of Formula One than on his current job – an IndyCar driver with Arrow McLaren SP. Whether O’Ward figured this out on his own or had some unsolicited help – it has improved his attitude, his focus and his results.

Goals are important. They are what keep us going. Short-term goals and long-term goals are equally important. I’ve reached the age where most of my long-term goals are not going to happen, and I’m okay with that. Colton Herta knows what is best for him and if he has a goal to eventually end up as a fulltime Formula One driver – who am I to tell him that’s wrong? If that is his lifelong goal, I think he should move mountains to achieve it.

But I also think he needs to decide if he wants to be a fulltime IndyCar driver or not. If he has his eye on Formula One, while he is sitting in an IndyCar cockpit – he is doing a disservice to himself, his team and his sponsors. Split-allegiances are never any good for anyone.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “The Importance of Having Goals”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    I can see why the prospect of seeing Herta’s raw speed in a Formula 1 car is thrilling to both Herta and McLaren, though that speed remains pretty raw and unpolished even as he continues his 4th full time season in Indycar. I suspect we all thought Colton would be a more polished racer by now, though he is still quite young and he has improved more than a little bit, with as many DNFs by contact in the last 3 seasons combined as he had in his rookie year. Will he ever find the consistency of a Dixon or Newgarden?

    I’m reminded of the early career of Eli Tomac in AMA Supercross, raw speed plagued by inconsistency (and poor starts). Tomac was the fastest man on two wheels in 2017, 2018, and 2019… and failed to win the Supercross championship each time because of inconsistency. In 2020, though, he put it all together and won. He did it again in 2022, never finishing worse than 7th in either season. Sometimes it takes longer than it ought to, but Herta still has time to put it all together. Will Formula 1 be patient? Eh…

  2. Shyam Cherupalla Says:

    I disagree with your assessment George that Herta seems to distracted, how in the earth can a driver make a difference if the team keeps bungling pitstops, qualifying strategies and race strategies. Case in point, St. Pete had a short fill in his second stint so he had to pit early for the third pit stop which meant he had to conserve fuel to get to the end of the race therefore couldn’t challenge the top three front runners, Long beach he was on top of the timing sheets throught the weekend, even got pole and was leading the race until the team bungled pit stop putting him to third behind Palou and Newgarden so he was trying to be as close as possible with the leaders before 2nd pit stop and overdrove and crashed, Alabama they kept him waiting till the last 3 minutes of round 2 qualifying and just as he was about to do the fastlap, red flag incident got him relegated to a 12th place start ( I believe), Mid ohio he was nicely there in 2nd or 3rd throughout the race and the team again didnt call him in, in time when Team Penske in the same situation pitted Mclauglin for that penultimate yellow which would have had Herta challenging Mclaughlin for the win. Right there its 4 races he would had better finishes a win or even podium. How would this have been a distraction?

  3. Yannick Says:

    What is the point behind Zak Brown’s actions? Does he really “just” want the best IndyCar drivers on his team or does he want to create instability within rival IndyCar teams by hiring away their young talents? If it is the latter, this does not seem like a really sensible move because AMSP is not stable enough yet as a winning team to keep winning in spite of such distractions. Also, don’t these drivers remember how AMSP screwed over Hinch because he was a Honda driver not that long ago? All of that makes it seem that Zak Brown pays really well. Or Pato O’Ward might be doing something else next year.

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