ADVERTISEMENT
F1 andretti colton herta indycar indy 500

Inside Line: Time for an American driver in Formula 1

colton herta indycar indy 500

Indianapolis 500 weekend! I for one I am super fired up for one of the great highlights of the year for as long as I can remember and look forward to the 105th running of one of motorsport’s greatest events.

I shan’t wax lyrical about the legendary race, the double-edged sensation and cruelty of which is etched in history – is there a more dangerous place to race cars? And yet they will do so anyway, as winning the Indy 500 is a ticket to sports immortality.

This piece is more about Formula 1 coming to America for real and how that should be achieved.

As much as F1 is about teams, in the end, people mostly pay their money to see the drivers. They are the stars and without them it is almost impossible to really sell the sport to an American public far removed from Eurocentric culture of which F1 most certainly is.

ADVERTISEMENT

F1 desperately needs an American driver in a top team to really hit the jackpot in the USA. A proper homegrown talent with a top-three team. Without that F1 is missing the most important trick in the book to conquer an untapped audience on the other side of the pond.

And for that, there is no better place than Indycar which for far too long has been largely ignored by F1.

Like Formula 2, the acknowledged feeder series for F1, Indycar is a one-make series and a level playing field for talent to emerge in rigorously competitive conditions.

That the USA’s premier open-wheel series is not seen as an additional feeder series is due to the short-sightedness of everyone in F1. The Indycar Champion should at least be given a test with the F1 world champion team, even the Indy 500 winner. Why not? A show of solidarity and respect.

Because from Indycar they will find the next American hope, not F2. And why force a guy who has made his mark in Indycar to do seasons of F3 and F2?

Why not fast track the pipeline and make the series relevant as a talent pool?

Before we delve into who can step up, let’s keep in mind that the last American driver to win a Grand Prix was Mario Andretti nearly half a century ago. And Scott Speed the last one to race a full season in F1 back in 2006. Before him, in 1993, Michael Andretti had almost a full season with McLaren before he called it quits.

More recently, Alexander Rossi did five races with the now-defunct and hapless Marussia team, which is akin to the Willaims of today for those who were not around or forgot.

That’s a pretty bleak record for a nation steeped in motorsport history and culture, not to mention a huge market. Even more so now with Netflix attracting a whole new audience, while F1 delivers top-end content through all its pay and free portals such as YouTube and Facebook, meaning many new eyeballs to attract.

So who have we got that maybe F1 material in America right now?

Rossi is worth mentioning again. He had a taste, albeit with a minnow team, and has since developed into a respected Indycar competitor and a regular contender in a very competitive field. He has paid his dues to at least earn a test with a big team.

Josef Newgarden, a double Indycar champions, is another one who would also be a fairly easy fit for any F1 team and deserves at least a test.

Granted, one could argue that at 29 both these drivers are past their prime for the sport at the highest level, which is enjoying an influx of Young Guns, an evolving cast of next-gen stars establishing themselves for a long time to come In F1.

If age is a problem, then F1 need look no further than 21-year-old Colton Herta.

The kid ticks all the boxes and has taken Indycar by storm. He will start this Sunday’s Indy 500 from second on the grid. I will be rooting for him because an impressive showing is sure to be noticed as F1 will be watching. The is no clash with Monaco as has been the case for far too many years.

The Asian adventure for F1 was important, it can be said with Japan, Singapore, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and now Saudi Arabia it is mission accomplished. The next uncharted market is the USA.

From a PR perspective a team like McLaren is sure to jump at the chance as Zak Brown knows the importance of his homeland for F1 to become truly mega. He has already bagged a hotshot teen for the future.

But with all due respect, McLaren won’t be winning races in the near future and (the near future) should be the deadline to get an American in F1.

Why wait? Wait for what? In young Herta, we (and America) have a driver ready to take the first step. Get him in a top-three team, the sooner the better. But it has to be with Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari; an American driver in a Red car would be box office stuff, winning or not.

Then Formula 1 would be serious and coming to America for real.

[For the record, this weekend we will go big on the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 on this site.]