Herta feels fast enough for Formula 1 after first test

Young American IndyCar star Colton Herta says he feels he’s fast enough for Formula 1 after completing a two-day test with McLaren at Portimao.

Herta, who has racked up seven wins and eight pole positions since joining the IndyCar Series full-time in 2019, tested last year’s McLaren MCL35M under the TPC [testing previous car] rules, running 162 laps of the 2.891-mile Autodromo Internacional do Algarve across two days.

Although running the car on a track at which McLaren had data, thanks to the track hosting the 2020 and ’21 Portuguese Grands Prix, Herta said comparisons with the lap times of the team’s F1 regulars Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo in the MCL35 would be difficult.

“This is a track that is so hard to understand that aspect because of the winds and so many different factors,” he told the media. “It’s a little bit cooler today than it would have been on the race weekend.

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: McLaren

“I was happy with the lap time but we’re on a little bit of a different tire than we’d have had on a race weekend. And if you look back to the quotes from a lot of guys from a year ago, they would talk about how windy it gets here and how much that can change the car here from corner to corner.

“So as far as lap times, it’s kind of hard to say. I think the engineers will know from looking at the data whether you’re fast or not.”

However, when asked if he was confident he’d be competitive in F1, Herta replied: “Yes, yes… you can’t say no to that question otherwise you wouldn’t be a professional driver. So yeah, I do think I’m fast enough.

“Whether they agree, I guess time will tell, and hopefully I can get more chances in the car and hopefully I can show it.”

To that end, he said he’d be interested in FP1 sessions later in the year, while admitting they would be less helpful in terms of available track time.

“[Friday practice] is certainly something I’d be open to,” said the 22-year-old from Valencia, California. “As far as TPC test days, you can’t get better than that because you get the whole track to yourself, you get all this time inside the car that obviously in FP1 in 60mins you wouldn’t get.

“But it would be cool to have a taste of the 2022 cars and see how they compare with this car. So yeah, I’d be up for it.”

Herta described his first F1 test as “a lot of fun” and was left deeply impressed with its acceleration.

“I think the first thing was, when I got off the pitlane speed-limiter, all the torque is pretty incredible,” he said. “Even when you’re at such low rpm, it still pulls. That was the biggest thing for me – the straightline speed, the acceleration, and the braking.

“Obviously the cornering speeds were higher than what you’d get in an IndyCar, but it didn’t stick out to me as much as how impressive the acceleration was and how easy it is to have all this horsepower as soon as you put the throttle down."

Regarding cornering response, Herta admitted, “It is a completely different feel. The feeling you get from an IndyCar is very different because the lack of power steering, so the overall kickback in the wheel doesn’t really transcribe to what you get in a Grand Prix car. So that was something to get used to – slowing down the hands.

"And obviously the speed is a lot higher on the road courses but overall, it was good to get a feeling and a taste for what these things can do.”

Herta said the test was long enough that he got heavily into the constant refinements that were available for adjusting an F1 car.

“We were able to go through a lot of different things, a lot of different balance changes mechanically and aerodynamically with the car,” he said. “And then inside the car itself, I got to play with all the tools, diff settings and all that sort of stuff.

“It was pretty cool to see the balance changes and what you can do with the car just from inside the car, which was quite a bit more than what we are able to do in IndyCar… If you have a problem in one corner, you can adjust it at the flick of a finger.”

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: McLaren

He added: “I felt comfortable right away. The biggest thing was putting a lap together. I feel I got to the limit about mid-way through the [first] day, but that was just separate corners being put together, whereas the second day, I was pretty confident putting [whole] laps together – low fuel, high fuel and everything in between. But it took a while, for sure.”

On the subject of how many more days he might need to feel fully prepared, Herta responded: “It’s hard to say where you rank up against these guys when you’re doing a test program in a year-old car. But as far as how comfortable I got, I did get really comfortable in the car. I could feel the limit. Maybe not the consistency that would come with a few more days but I felt like I was close.”

Herta said a switch to F1 “is a goal of mine, it has been for a while” and that the timing needs to be in two or three years, rather than 10.

“For sure, I think if I were to wait that long, it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “I think in this day and age, Formula 1 is definitely a young man’s game for getting into it. Luckily I have a little bit of time if the opportunity arises, but I’m not really too worried about that at the moment. I’ll just try to go as fast as I can and hopefully open some doors at some point.”

Asked if Herta ws a serious contender for a McLaren F1 seat in 2024, Andreas Seidl responded: “The objective for this test today was, as Colton mentioned, to give Colton the chance to experience an F1 car for the first time and explore its performance. And that was the focus and what comes next is something we take it step by step, we take our time as well. That's where we are…

“When you do these two test days, there's different testing objectives, obviously. First and foremost, giving Colton the chance to get used to the car but then also switching focus on working on different, let's say, driving techniques, for example. Getting used to different operational aspects of Formula One race weekends, like comparing different tire compounds, running at different fuel loads as well, do quali runs, do race simulation runs as well.

“I have to say, the team was quite impressed how Colton was dealing with all these challenges and with his professional approach. And what was great to see as well, his physical preparation was enabling him to really keep going throughout the two days, knowing how challenging this can be in the Formula 1 car on a track like Portimao.

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: McLaren

“In the end, this approach together with the team allowed him really to build up pace, gradually gain confidence. And also finding always the right balance between taking risk and still keeping the car on the track, which is obviously important as well on a test like this.”

Although Seidl agreed with Herta that straight laptime comparisons with McLaren’s fulltime drivers at Portimao from last year could not be made, he said the team would delve into the data and assess Herta’s potential given the relative differences in track, weather and tire compounds, and decide if he will be considered for FP1 sessions.

“In the next days, the team will go into the data in detail, to get an initial idea of the potential Colton has shown in our car,” he said. “Then we will have a better picture or a good idea. And that will obviously be part of our evaluation as well, how the next potential steps could look like.

“As you know, we are obliged by the regulations that we have to run an F1 rookie two times this year in a Free Practice 1 session. We plan to do that at the race weekends at some point after the summer break, so we still have time in order to decide when we actually do that, and who we put in the car. And, yeah, that's a process that we are in, in the next weeks.”

Seidl said too that Herta’s IndyCar rival and former Indy Lights teammate Pato O’Ward would be another driver considered. The young Mexican driver, who currently drives for Arrow McLaren SP in IndyCar and is a championship contender for the third straight year, tested an F1 car for the team last winter.

“Regarding further test opportunities for Pato, it is something we are evaluating at the moment,” Seidl said. “He had a good test with us last year in Abu Dhabi, where we were very happy with how Pato was preparing himself for the test, how he was performing then throughout the test.

“So I would say our initial impression or conclusion, even if it sounds like a boring answer, we are happy with what both guys have shown so far.”

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Colton Herta, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: McLaren

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