Colton Herta announced as F1 test driver for McLaren under new ‘previous cars’ provision

Colton Herta McLaren F1
George Walker IV / Tennessean/USA TODAY Sports Images
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American racer Colton Herta was announced Saturday as an F1 test driver for McLaren as part of its 2022 program.

Herta, who turns 22 on March 30, drives in the NTT IndyCar Series for Andretti Autosport on a contract through the 2023 season, but he has made no secret of his desire to race Formula One.

Michael and Mario Andretti both believe the second-generation racer is F1 material and would like to move him to the series should Michael Andretti land an F1 team.

In the meantime, McLaren will use him under new F1 regulations that allow teams to test 1-year-old cars under the “Testing of Previous Cars” provision. The McLaren TPC program gives the team an option 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,” McLaren principal Andreas Seidl said. “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.”

Herta does not have the necessary points required to obtain the FIA license required to compete in F1. He became the youngest winner in IndyCar history in 2019 when he won at Circuit of the Americas days before his 19th birthday.

“We’re pleased to see this opportunity come together for Colton and look forward to seeing him take his first laps in an F1 car,” Michael Andretti said. “The practice time with McLaren F1 will help provide Colton with valuable FIA Super License points, which is a goal of ours as we continue efforts to bring the Andretti brand back to the Formula One World Championship.”

The Californian is the son of former racer Bryan Herta, who is his strategist in IndyCar. He has won six IndyCar races and seven poles and is considered an IndyCar title contender.

Herta wants to race in F1 one day soon so that he’d still have a long enough runway to return to IndyCar to complete his career. He drove the closing stint in January for an LMP2 class victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and then teamed with Jimmie Johnson to finish a stunning second for the United States in the Race of Champions.

“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.”

The signing of Herta puts a wrinkle in current McLaren IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward’s hopes to move to F1.

O’Ward and Herta are former teammates for Andretti in Indy Lights and were teammates in January on their winning Rolex car. O’Ward also is trying to get his F1 license.

McLaren head Zak Brown said last month during the IndyCar race weekend at St. Petersburg, Florida, that he does not have an open F1 seat, with both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo signed to long contracts. Ricciardo is believed to be signed through 2023; Norris signed an extension in January through 2025.

“We want to have a test program for young drivers like we used to have in the past. Pato in the family is natural,” Brown said. “Right now we don’t have any seat available. Lando is under a very long-term contract. Daniel, we have another couple of years with, so there is no imminent seat available.

“To just give Pato some seat time because you never know if a driver gets injured, or gets COVID, strange things have happened. But what we won’t do is compromise the IndyCar team at all. So I would never take Pato out of IndyCar into F1 without having a great solution because IndyCar is as important as is Extreme as is Formula One to being competitive. So this is not a training ground for Formula One.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”