PRUETT: An open letter to Colton Herta

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

PRUETT: An open letter to Colton Herta

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: An open letter to Colton Herta

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Colton, I get it. Formula 1 has been your dream for almost as long as you’ve been alive, and if everything I’m reading is true, you might be trading IndyCar for F1 with Andretti Autosport. So hear me out, because if you haven’t made a final decision, all I can say is this: Please don’t do it.

You’re on the cusp of something incredible in IndyCar. Sure, your Andretti team wasn’t ready to put you or your teammates in contention to win the most recent championship, but that didn’t stop you from recording three rampaging wins, capped off at the last two rounds where you toyed with the field in ways that were reminiscent of drives I’ve seen from IndyCar’s all-time greats.

I had visions of a young Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Sebastien Bourdais on those pole- and race-winning performances, and that’s not something I want to see disappear. Not when you’re ready to lead IndyCar into the future along with Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, Rinus VeeKay and the other next-generation stars. On your current IndyCar trajectory, the 2020s could easily end up being remembered as the Herta decade, which is why the timing of a F1 switch seems so ill-fitting.

Dixon was 23 when he won his first of six IndyCar titles; JPM was 24 in his championship CART season and Bourdais was 25 during the first of his four in Champ Car. It was only after they had secured one or more IndyCar crowns that the Colombian and the Frenchman took their talents to F1. At 21, maybe there’s something to learn from their decisions to wait.

If you were coming off a disappointing season or two and felt the time was right for a change, I’d have no argument to make. But that sure wasn’t the case as you closed the year as the hottest driver in IndyCar, demolishing everything in your path as the momentum built from round to round.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll be thrust into IndyCar title contention by the Andretti team next year, but with the acquisition of Romain Grosjean and his race engineer Olivier Boisson, plus all the experience and new ideas they’ll bring to the program, it’s hard to have anything other than grand optimism for your chances and what lies ahead in America.

Bourdais arrived in Formula 1 with four Champ Car titles in his back pocket. Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

Don’t get me wrong; with a call from Toto Wolff at Mercedes F1 or Christian Horner at Red Bull to pilot one of their cars, the entire IndyCar community would be waking up at odd hours on Sunday mornings and cheering you on from afar. The part that’s so troubling is the prospect of seeing you strapped into whatever it might be called in the future under Andretti’s control – The entrant formerly known as Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen – as you drive like a demon just to keep the Schumachers, Mazepins and Latifis company in the Tailenders Club. What an epic waste of time and talent.

Unfortunately, the destination where you might be headed is a distant ninth out of 10 entrants in the championship right now; over the last five years, the Sauber F1/Alfa Romeo team has been eighth at its best and last at its worst. That kind of consistent mediocrity paints a worrisome picture of how your F1 dream can easily turn into a nightmare.

You’ve watched as a steady stream of disillusioned F1 drivers, those who could no longer stomach being irrelevant, turned to IndyCar and rediscovered their passion for driving. In fact, look no farther than your teammates Alexander Rossi and Grosjean for lessons on where F1 dreams go to die while fighting over 17th on a weekly basis.

Rossi eventually chose IndyCar, won the 100th Indianapolis 500 on his debut, and has placed as high as second in the championship since leaving F1. Grosjean, the embodiment of every positive thing IndyCar has to offer, spent last season looking and performing like a man who was freed from a long and cruel sentence in grand prix prison. Their examples serve as cautionary tales of why I really hope you don’t shackle yourself to F1 anonymity.

And that’s not intended to be a critique of your skills or Andretti’s ability to transform the current Sauber/Alfa Romeo team into a more competitive organization. But how many years would be needed to get there? How many seasons in your young prime would be sacrificed during that rebuilding process? Two? Three? Five? And how many IndyCar championships might be left on the table during the experiment?

There are questions, of course, as to whether F1’s comically rigid licensing system would allow you (or Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward) to gain access to the grid in the near future, but even with a super license in hand, we’re still talking about casting aside your status as a perennial IndyCar title contender for the humbling depths of competitive poverty in F1.

A cautionary tale? However you look at it, Herta’s new Andretti stablemate Romain Grosjean has been happier – and more successful – since swapping F1 for IndyCar. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Is there value to be found in leaving IndyCar as one of its most formidable stars in order to test your mettle against Valtteri Bottas, the driver Mercedes is cutting in favor of fellow young phenom George Russell? Bottas is a serious operator; if you were able to beat the Finn, it would certainly be an impressive feat. But would it lead to those aforementioned calls from Wolff or Horner, or would it merely prove that you can match or exceed Lewis Hamilton’s former No. 2?

About the only positive I can come up with here involves your No. 26 Honda IndyCar. The rumor I’ve heard for a little while now is what might happen with the seat you’d vacate, and if that intel is accurate, a move to F1 could give Andretti Autosport’s new Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood a prime full-time job in the car you’ve wheeled to five wins since 2020. Rather than Kirkwood’s promotion coming on the heels of losing you, would it be crazy to wish for you and Kirkwood – working together with Rossi and Grosjean – to turn Andretti’s IndyCar team into hell on 16 wheels?

No matter how I run the various outcomes through my head, I keep ending up with you returning to IndyCar in a few years with a vast assortment of skinny jeans and knit caps, and not much else of value to show for the F1 adventure. If it isn’t with a team that routinely finishes inside the top 10, why trade IndyCar wins and title shots away just to heed a thousand blue flags in F1?

And if your life won’t be complete without F1, let your team owner work his magic in the coming years and turn The team that might be called Andretti Grand Prix into a program that can reward your potential.

Until then, stay here. Lean into your excellence. Put your face on the Borg-Warner trophy. Add a few championship rings to your fingers. Start the process of becoming an all-timer. The Tailenders Club is the last place you belong.

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