After maintaining radio silence for more than a month, Colton Herta is ready to talk about the efforts by his NTT IndyCar Series team owner to gain control of the Sauber Formula 1 team and bring the 21-year-old Californian to the grand prix grid.
Although the deal fell through for Michael Andretti at the 11th hour, Herta says the disappointment was manageable because he wasn’t hellbent on leaving IndyCar for F1.
“It was going to be my decision if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay,” Herta told RACER. “It needed to be the right situation, have the right funding to either be competitive, or get to that point to be competitive. But it takes a lot to drag me away from IndyCar, too, because it’s what I grew up [with]. I didn’t grow up watching Formula 1. In fact, I didn’t really start following Formula 1 until maybe I was 12 or 13, where I watched IndyCar from the time I could remember. It was gonna take a lot for me to get dragged away to Europe.”
While Andretti’s first attempt at F1 team ownership was unsuccessful, the son of four-time IndyCar race winner Bryan Herta says his enthusiasm to reach F1 remains.
“It is something that I want to do,” he continued. “But there’s a lot of things that I want to do in my career and they don’t all revolve around IndyCar. Whether that be doing the Daytona 500, or the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or competing in IMSA some more; there’s a lot of different stuff in racing that I want to do. I guess in some respects, the type of racing I want to do is time sensitive to whether I can do that later in my career, or whether I don’t have a choice and have to do it when I’m given the opportunity.
“But IndyCar, that’s what gave me my love for racing. And yeah, it’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from it at this point with the situation I’m in, able to gun for a championship, able to win races. But in retrospect, I hope people can respect that there is a lot of different things that I want to race in my career.”
Herta, who captured three dominant wins last season on the way to finishing fifth in the championship with his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, says he didn’t let the mounting F1 team takeover saga derail plans to capture more IndyCar victories and possible his first title in 2022.
“I don’t want to say never really cared, because they put so much time and effort into trying to make that deal done, so it was intriguing to me,” he added. “But for me, it didn’t really matter until I had a contract. I read the articles. ‘Oh, it’s a done deal,’ or ‘Oh, it’s 90-percent [done].’ And, honestly, I didn’t even know that much about the Formula 1 deal.
“I left it to my dad to handle and I didn’t really want to know that much. I never really shied away from focusing on IndyCar, to be honest. I was never like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be in F1 next year,’ or anything like that because I had a contract in IndyCar and that’s what my focus was. And you know, me and (Herta’s race engineer) Nathan [O’Rourke], we’re working as if we were going to work together next year, no matter what.
“I never let myself think that I was going, because honestly, I didn’t have a contract. And for me, it didn’t matter how much people said, ‘You’re going to F1.’ What Michael and my dad were telling me, I put it in the back of my head because I didn’t want that to take away from working in IndyCar. My full focus is on what I’m contracted to do, which obviously would have switched if I had a contract offer.”
Once preparations for the new season gets under way, Herta hopes to make use of the momentum he built in September by winning the last two races of the year in dominant fashion. But he’ll return to an Andretti Autosport team that’s gone through a 50-percent driver changeover as Romain Grosjean has replaced Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Indy Lights graduate Devlin DeFrancesco embarks upon his rookie IndyCar campaign in the car formerly driven by James Hinchcliffe. Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner, joins Herta as one of two team veterans to lead the reconfigured operation.
“It’s a double-edged sword in some ways because it’s really sad to see Ryan and Hinch go; I loved working with them,” said Herta, who doesn’t expect to start testing before January arrives. “They were very good and their [chassis setup] feedback, which is most important for me as a teammate, you know, I could really trust them. I could go straight to their setups and it was exactly how they would explain it. So it’s sad to see that that aspect of it go, but it’s exciting to work with new people and bring Devlin and Romain in. Either way, I look forward to it.”
With the subject of racing in F1 tabled for the immediate future, Herta’s turned his attention to learning more about his new teammates and preparing Andretti Autosport to make a stronger run at earning the next IndyCar championship. Having finished third and fifth in the standings — best among all Andretti drivers — since being promoted to the main team in 2020, there’s only one mission to accomplish when the new season kicks off in February.
“It will probably be a little bit of an adjustment period of how much feedback can you trust that these guys are giving?” he said. “Is their setup, is their style of driving super different, and you can’t really drive their sort of car? So yeah, there’s a lot of aspects that go into it with new guys, but for me, it’s really exciting to work with the two new guys. And then obviously, [to] have Alex back is great, and [he’s] a guy that I can always just trust and love working with him, too.”
Listen to the full interview — including Herta’s NASCAR aspirations and how he’s already come close to making his first start in stock cars — below or click here.