Colton Herta will open his Formula 1 account with McLaren Racing.
RACER has learned the front-running NTT IndyCar Series driver has been signed to a testing and development deal by McLaren that will see the 21-year-old take part in F1 tests designed to interweave within his full-time Andretti Autosport IndyCar program.
The son of former CART IndyCar driver Bryan Herta will engage with McLaren through F1’s TPC allowance — testing of previous car — where the team’s MCL35M chassis from 2021 or another recent model will be deployed for Herta’s dedicated outings. Herta is likely to be joined by other drivers in McLaren’s TPC pool and at present, it does not currently include additional outings for the team in Free Practice 1 sessions. F1 teams are mandated to run rookies in at least two FP1s this season, following a change of regulations to increase opportunities for young drivers.
A six-time race winner since making the leap to IndyCar as a teenager in 2019, the Californian shot to prominence after becoming the series’ youngest winner in only his third start. Having trained extensively on the American and European open-wheel ladders, Herta was well-prepared to become a regular contender for IndyCar victories and championships in the No. 26 Andretti Honda, earning a best of third in the 2020 drivers’ standings.
Speaking at the recent IndyCar season opener where Herta placed fourth at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, McLaren CEO Zak Brown acknowledged the team’s interest in testing an IndyCar driver, which comes on the heels of Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward making his F1 testing debut for McLaren in December at the Abu Dhabi circuit.
The choice of Herta, who is under contract with Andretti through the 2023 IndyCar season, is an interesting one as Andretti and McLaren’s majority-owned AMSP teams are close rivals in the series and could be future opponents in F1.
Interest in Herta as an F1 option arose last year when he was linked to Andretti’s ill-fated attempt to purchase the Sauber-led Alfa Romeo F1 Team, but with only 32 of the required 40 points needed to earn an F1 super license, he lacked the ability to move forward and race if the sale had been concluded. More recently Andretti’s father Mario, the 1978 F1 world champion, expressed his belief that if his son is successful in launching the Andretti Global F1 outfit as early as 2024, Herta would be one of the two drivers selected to represent the team.
With Brown’s business ties to Andretti through co-ownership of Walkinshaw Andretti United Australian Supercars team, the move by McLaren to bring Herta into its F1 family could be viewed as an effort to assist Andretti by helping Herta to accrue more super license points through testing. RACER also understands the opposite could be true, with McLaren’s interest in Herta being wholly independent of Andretti’s future F1 aspirations.
Facing uncertainty as to whether the FIA will accept Andretti’s application to become an entrant in F1, and with Daniel Ricciardo’s tenure as a McLaren driver beyond 2023 in question, the new testing regimen for Herta would appear to cover all bases for Andretti Global and/or McLaren once 2024 arrives.
In regard to O’Ward, the arrival of Herta — his former Andretti Indy Lights teammate — as a McLaren F1 asset is said to be additive and not at the expense of O’Ward’s F1 testing opportunities with the team.