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

Colton Herta McLaren F1
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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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.