As rumors swirl about Daniel Ricciardo’s future in F1, talk has turned to the impact his potential replacement could have in the sport.
The American, seen as the biggest threat to Daniel Ricciardo’s future at McLaren, says he has “serious ambitions” to become a Formula 1 driver.
Speculation is growing that Ricciardo’s F1 career could be in jeopardy, with McLaren confirming he is preparing for the long haul by offering 22-year-old IndyCar wonderkid Colton Herta a development deal.
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McLaren CEO Zak Brown said there was “no rush” to decide what to do next for Ricciardo, whose contract expires at the end of 2023, but internal talks will begin later this year.
“We like to think long, so (we) do some testing…with Colton,” Brown said earlier this month.
“So I don’t think you can ever plan too early, but there’s no rush.”
Speaking on the F1 Nation podcast this week, Herta opened up about his desire to succeed in F1, whether with McLaren or another team.
“It’s a serious ambition for me,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things that, you know, when I’m done racing I want to be able to say I’ve done it. And Formula 1 is pretty high on the list for one of those things, n ‘is this not ?
“I wanted to go to IndyCar, I wanted to go to the Indy 500, I still want to win the Indy 500 obviously, which I haven’t done yet.
“There is a long list of different races, events, series that I want to participate in, and Formula 1 is definitely higher on the list than a lot of things.
As for his next test drive in the McLaren MCL35M, Herta did not reveal exactly when it would take place, but said it was crucial he did well in the test.
“I could probably (reveal the date) but I don’t know, I might get in trouble so I’m not going to,” he said.
“But it will be later in the year. I can say I’m going to Woking (McLaren’s UK base) in June for a seat adjustment and then simulator stuff. So I’m looking forward to it.
“The last time I was there was in 2019… I think I had a sim day. I didn’t really get to see the factory which I hope to have a nice visit.
“I know they’re very tight-lipped about everything, so hopefully I can see all the details, but yeah, that’ll be the first step. And then obviously the trials later in the year, which will be fantastic – I’m really looking forward to it.
“You know I want to be in F1 at some point in my career, and obviously time is of the essence for that, so it’s going to be very important to do a good job in testing and I hope to open doors.
“As far as I’m concerned at the moment, I don’t have a racing seat, I don’t have a contract for one, so anything can happen. Hopefully if it doesn’t lead to anything with McLaren it will talk people a bit. Maybe it will open a door if I can go fast enough in the car.
Herta wishes Ricciardo no ill, but knows that if the Aussie’s poor form continues the door is slightly ajar for him to take his place at McLaren.
“If (Ricciardo) continues to build, I probably won’t have this opportunity,” Herta told the The Indianapolis Star.
“Obviously, I would never wish on someone. I’m not praying for his downfall. If he does well, good for him – he deserves the seat.
“I guess everything is in his hands for the future.”
More broadly, experts believe having an American driver on the grid represents the final frontier of F1 expansion in the United States and would “do wonders” for the sport.
“Yes, of course,” veteran motorsport commentator Leigh Diffey said on the In The Fast Lane podcast when asked if Herta becoming an F1 driver would catapult the sport into the next stratosphere.
“And it’s not just because he’s young and he’s good. It also has the connections.
“Gainbridge had signs all around the Miami Grand Prix circuit this weekend and Gainbridge, with Michael Andretti and Zak Brown – obviously McLaren offered Colton a test program – he has Gainbridge behind him.
“So when you have an insurance company that’s willing to write a big check, it’s not a bad place to be.”
“Formula 1 has been broadcast to a wider audience in the United States. We have a much larger percentage of people’s attention here. Now they need someone to cheer on.
“Haas, you can strike those parochial heartstrings by being an American team.
“But to have someone in there, a young Californian, whose father was a racer, his father tested a Minardi Formula 1 car many years ago – there are those connections.
“They love Colton in IndyCar and if he could be there in (F1) I think that would be a big step forward.
“Colton has the eyes of Zak Brown and Michael Andretti (on him) and who knows where Michael’s Formula 1 aspirations go if they allow an 11th team in.
“That aside, just Colton as a driver and if he’s on the roster and they’re going to put him in there and if he tests well – I think that would do wonders and even bigger things for this country and Formula 1 in the United States.”
Herta is certainly doing a lot of good so far. He won the Indianapolis Grand Prix this weekend and is currently sixth overall in IndyCar.