He'll be back on the IndyCar grid in 2023.
The FIA has made many strange decisions over the last few years, but few have stung as much as the decision not to grant Colton Herta the superlicense he requires to compete in Formula 1.
Red Bull Racing wanted Herta to join its AlphaTauri team alongside Yuki Tsunoda, granting Frenchman Pierre Gasly an easy out of his contract so he could move up a notch and join dominant midfield team, Alpine. But Herta was eight points short, so an exemption was applied for with the FIA.
The FIA recently announced its final verdict on the matter, and Herta will not be allowed to participate. There was still some hope, given the considerable sway of Red Bull and Alpine, but it was not to be. Pierre Gasly will remain at AlphaTauri, while Herta will return to IndyCar in 2023 with Andretti Autosport, which also wants to join F1 but appears to have been shut out.
An FIA spokesperson responded on the matter following an inquiry by Autosport. "The FIA continuously reviews its regulations and procedures, including with respect to super license eligibility, with the main factors being considered with respect to this topic being safety, experience, and performance in the context of the pathway."
In short, gaining a super license is much easier if you compete in F3 and F2. More points are awarded to drivers who compete in these series than any other motorsport series worldwide.
We have some strong opinions on this matter, but we'll get to those eventually in a separate article. For now, we'll just lay down the facts of the points system. Let's just say if we had our way, Herta would already be shadowing Verstappen and taking delivery of his brand-new Civic Type R, the official company car of Red Bull drivers.
The super license was established to keep people from buying a seat in F1.
While we understand that the concept of the gentleman racer will always be a part of certain formulas, there are systems to keep these drivers out of F1 where they present a real hazard.
Still, some drivers slip through the cracks. We can name several drivers, but the only one that presented a real threat to the grid's safety in recent years was Nikita Mazepin. Mazepin gained the necessary 40 points by finishing 18th in the 2019 F2 championship and fifth in the 2020 championship. Fun it may be to make fun of 'Mazespin' as he was known, we need to look at some numbers.
Let's use some science to see how IndyCar compares to the Formula racing series. It took Charles Leclerc 1:36.169 to get around COTA in his F1 car in 2019. That's during a race and not qualifying. Colton Herta set a lap time of 1:46.6258.
The difference between an F1 and an F2 car is about 15 seconds and 400 horsepower. A modern F1 car produces around 1,050 hp, so an F2 car is around 620-ish. An IndyCar can make anywhere between 600 hp to 700 hp, so F2 and IndyCar are relatively similar.
What's done is done, however. Red Bull offered Herta a prime opportunity to develop via AlphaTauri, but the option is not necessarily gone. To score the eight points required for a super license, Herta needs to finish fourth or higher during the 2023 IndyCar season, but he can bolster that figure by partaking in practice sessions in F1.
With both Red Bull and McLaren showing interest in Herta, he might get more practice sessions that he needs to score the eight points that stopped him from joining the grid in 2022.
What we will say is that the FIA's superlicense regs were tightened after Red Bull got Max Verstappen onto the scene before he was old enough to drive a car on the road. The FIA wanted to prevent such from happening again, but now Max is on his way to his second championship. Maybe talent should matter more than points, and Herta is nothing if not talented, with seven IndyCar wins at just 22 years of age.