Having a Dream Snatched Away

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I don’t know of many drivers that have gone through the tug-of-war of emotions like Colton Herta has in the past year. Last fall, Michael Andretti was in talks to buy Alpha Romero’s Formula One team, just when it looked like the deal might go through, it didn’t. This past spring, Andretti campaigned for support among F1 teams to expand the number of teams by one. That had some momentum for a while, before flaming out. Colton Herta was the driver in Andretti’s mind, for both of these failed attempts to break into Formula One.

Then to the chagrin of Pato O’Ward, McLaren signed Herta to a testing contract for their Formula One team. Herta finally tested an F1 car in Portugal this past July, posting fairly impressive times. For the past few weeks, we’ve heard that Red Bull had decided to put Herta into one of the cars on their junior team – Alpha Tauri, provided he could get an exemption for the FIA Super License.

The Super License, in a nutshell, allegedly proves that a driver is worthy of competing in Formula One. A driver must accumulate forty FIA points over three recognized series seasons, in order to obtain a Super License. Points for the IndyCar championship are awarded based on where they finish each season. For example, had Herta won the IndyCar championship, he would have been awarded the entire forty points right there. But by finishing tenth, as he did this season – Herta only accumulated one point.

As it stands right now, Colton Herta has thirty-two of the required forty points to obtain a Super License – the only remaining obstacle standing in the way of Herta obtaining a ride. Red Bull and many of the higher-ups with Formula One, thought they would be successful in obtaining a waiver or an exemption to this rule. If they were, Herta would be making his living overseas instead of in IndyCar.

There were many strong arguments to support the idea that Herta should be granted the exemption. He had won seven IndyCar races and had won the Rolex 24 twice all before turning twenty-three. Plus he had already conducted a successful Formula One test this past summer. The idea for an exemption seemed to make sense.

Formula One had other ideas. The idea of granting an exemption to any driver fell on deaf ears. They stuck to their guns and basically said rules are rules. This will be an unpopular notion, but that seems to make sense too.

Is the idea of requiring a Super License an elitist requirement? Of course it is. But just because some people that it affects don’t like it, does that mean they should do away with it? It takes me about four and a half hours to drive from Nashville t Indianapolis, going about 75 mph. If I were allowed to go 90 mph, it would trim about an hour off of my trip. I think I should be allowed to do that, so I will count on the good nature of Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana to exempt me from their restrictive speed limits. If they don’t grant me the exemption, I expect all readers of this site to be in an absolute uproar and have tirades on social media on my behalf.

While this is an overly simplified example, it follows the same principles at stake. The Super License requirement was put in place by Formula One. They have the right to make those requirements. It’s their series, they can create any requirement they want to.

Alexander Rossi took to social media over the weekend to explain the thinking behind the Super License requirement:

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I think that sums it up pretty well. Herta is clearly qualified to drive, and is not a ride-buyer. But Formula One has chosen this path and they are now preventing a hot, young American talent from joining the grid, simply because other bad apples before him with Daddy’s deep pockets have spoiled the barrel.

Over the weekend, I’ve seen many question why any IndyCar driver would want to go to Formula One and enter that circus. They almost sound like Herta is a traitor for even wanting to go over there. If I were a successful IndyCar driver just entering my prime, knowing what I know about Formula One – I wouldn’t want to go over there. But that doesn’t mean Herta is wrong to yearn for the world of F1.

We all have different goals and dreams in our lives. Few of us get to attain our most lofty goals, but we set lower goals to aim for along the way. At my ripe old age I’m happy that I’ve hit several of my goals, but there are still some out there. Some of those are still attainable Others, I’ve grown to realize that they won’t ever be reached.

How fortunate for Colton Herta to be on the cusp of fulfilling one of his biggest goals at such a young age! Growing up in a racing family, I’m sure Herta set his sights on Formula One at a very young age. While his past couple of IndyCar seasons have been plagued with inconsistency, he has proven himself to be a very fast and competent driver who is fun to watch. Most racing fans agree that Herta is more than capable of racing in Formula One, provided he is with the right team.

You see, that’s the trouble with Formula One. No matter how capable you are. If you aren’t with one of the top two or three teams, you are destined to run at the back of the pack in obscurity. Yes, you are being well-paid – but if you drive for Williams or one of the other less-successful teams; you know when you climb into your car at the back of the grid, you have no realistic shot of winning. Some of those teams are ecstatic if they can even crack the Top-Ten with just one of their cars. Does Alex Albon ever look very happy? To me, he always has the look on his face like he’s about to go see the proctologist. But he’s well-paid. Never forget that.

Still, just making a Formula One grid is an accomplishment of a lifetime for most racers. Jimmie Johnson speaks fondly of the days he watched his idol, Rick Mears, win multiple Indianapolis 500s. He ended up going to stock cars for almost two decades, before he fulfilled his dream of driving in the Indianapolis 500 himself, this past May. Do you think he ever watched F1 as a kid and wondered how he would fare over there? I’m pretty sure he did.

Racers are an interesting breed. They look at a team or car that has had little success, and think that the only problem was that the team did not have them as a driver. They are convinced they are the missing piece, and that they can make a difference. There is an interview with Mario Andretti from the 80s, floating around out there on You Tube, where he says that not once did he ever climb into a car and think he could not win the race. That’s just the mindset of every driver…well, every successful driver.

Colton Herta has dreamed of the chance to drive in Formula One. Who are we to tell him that he’s wrong to do so? Chances are pretty good that if Colton Herta found his way onto the 2023 Formula One grid in an Alpha Tauri car, that he would probably never win a race – or even a podium, for that matter. Maybe this is for the best – for now.

Herta is still young. He doesn’t turn twenty-three until next March. You would like to think that his opportunity in F1 has not closed forever. Maybe one of the better teams will show an interest in a year or so. Or perhaps, Michael Andretti might find his way into F1 ownership in some capacity.

In the meantime, Herta can retrain his focus on the NTT IndyCar Series for next season. I’m sure in his mind, that’s a small consolation prize for having his dreams squashed (again) and I’m sure this stings. But this is September, and the IndyCar season won’t get underway until next March. That should be enough time to get over this disappointment and then truly focus on the job he has held since 2019. Just imagine how a determined and non-distracted Colton Herta can perform, when he isn’t driving with what he thinks is one foot out the door.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Having a Dream Snatched Away”

  1. I am in the minority here but I don’t think Herta is F1 capable right now, he’s too reckless. Yes F1 has plenty of those but I would rather see Colton clean up his driving a bit and be a legit F1 driver in a few seasons. I don’t even know that we would notice Herta much if the booth didn’t have a nauseating love affair with him. According to the booth, the halo saved 100 lives this year and Herta could have swept the series. (I am not anti Herta or anti windscreen, but the booth over-inflates both of them)

    • billytheskink Says:

      I think it would depend on what one means by “F1 capable”, or rather, what an F1 team hiring Colton would expect of him.

      Herta’s raw speed and the results it produces are undeniable. Since he became a full-time driver, his 7 wins trail only Newgarden and Dixon while his 9 poles trail only Power and Newgarden. And his weakest tracks (ovals) are the ones F1 doesn’t race at… if you counted only road and street course points in Indycar, Colton would have easily earned the necessary points for a super license.

      Herta’s inconsistency is also undeniable. He has failed to finish in over 30% of his starts and he has several high profiles incidents where he has removed himself from contending for the podium or win through his own mistakes.

      He hasn’t quite proven he’ll take care of a car race-in and race-out, but it is easy to why his raw speed (combined with his age) is intriguing to F1 teams. And from the standpoint of finding speed in a car, he is about as F1 capable as anyone in Indycar right now.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    George, I think your speed limit example needs a little bit of additional detail to make it better parallel the Herta situation… It would be more like if IMS decided that they wanted to encourage people from Missouri to attend the 500 and arranged it so that people with Missouri license plates could drive 90 MPH to Indianapolis while you would only be allowed to drive 75 MPH. Is that fair? Of course not, but the goal of IMS in this situation is not to be fair, it’s to get Missourians to drive east. You could circumvent this by moving to Missouri… but that’s a heck of decision, isn’t it?

    The Herta situation lays bare the not-generally-spoken-of reason for the current superlicense points structure: it is supposed to encourage participation in the F1 feeder series. Having Formula 2 pay out more SL points per championship position than Indycar (outside of the champion) doesn’t make much sense if one regards how competitive each series is. Not that Formula 2 is not quite competitive or full of talented drivers… but in Indycar Herta competes with far more veterans than rookies, veterans who have won dozens of races and multiple championships. He races greater distances and on a wider variety of tracks than they do in F2 and he also has far more practice making pit stops and dealing with worn or cold tires than F2 drivers have. From this standpoint, Indycar “deserves” not to simply be equal on SL points with F2, but to have even more. It’s just not the standpoint the FIA is taking when doling out superlicense points. I don’t agree with it or care for it, but I understand where they are coming from.

    Colton Herta is not really being treated fairly in this situation (heck, he’s outdriven multiple teammates who are already superlicense holders), but he knew the rules going in.

  3. Graham Rahal nailed it when he said that F1 wants our dollars and our market value, but they have no interest in Americans succeeding on their turf.

  4. James T Suel Says:

    Of course Herta is good enough for F1. The only area f1 exceeds in is technology. It’s true they want our money, but not a winning American driver. We embarrassed them way back in 57,58 when the Big American Roadsters ran circles around the F1 cars and drivers. The super license is pure BS. THEY are scared to death that Andretti will build a winning team so there not gonna let him in either . I say send them back to Europe and maybe give them one race here But make them pay for it .

  5. I’m not in agreement that F1 does not want an American driver. What they do want is to protect their junior driver investment programmes and the RTI equivalent of F2 & F3. So it comes down to money. Owners representing three F1 teams have expressed an interest in getting Herta into a seat out of ten. If Daly, Newgarden, Herta had the money to stay and hopefully resulting results when they raced in Europe then I think they would be on the grid already.

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