Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Herta's Locked In

 To no one's surprise, it was announced that Colton Herta had signed a contract extension with Andretti Autosport.

Probably a big surprise is the length -- it runs through 2027 -- and the price tag, as Marshall Pruett reported that it most likely made the 22-year-old the highest paid driver in IndyCar. By a pretty steep margin it appears. 

Since coming to AA and IndyCar full-time in 2019, Herta has proven to be the real deal. In four seasons he already has seven wins and 11 podiums as he has finished as high as third in the season standings. This past season, his only win came on the Indy road course at the beginning of May, but overall had a disappointing campaign as he ended up 10th in points.

In the end, Herta gets what he wants: he's getting paid, has job security, becomes the leader among the drivers in the AA stable (with the departure of Alexander Rossi to Arrow McLaren SP), gets to continue working with his dad, Bryan, and still has a window of opportunity for Formula 1.

I think the final two points I made are the most important. I really think he enjoys working with his dad, and why not? They've had a great amount of success together, and, despite some of their interactions on the radio that gets replayed on TV, they get each other and I think his dad has had a lot to do with the success he's had.

Plus, the F1 thing. Herta has made it clear that racing in F1 is something that is important to him if the opportunity presents itself. Between his tests with McLaren and the ongoing potential of Michael Andretti and his partners securing a F1 team, it is a possibility. And, like Herta says, he's 22...he could go overseas for a few years and could come back and still have a long IndyCar career ahead of him.

Frankly, I don't blame any driver for wanting to test the waters in F1. Love it or hate the idea, F1 is considered worldwide as the pinnacle of the sport. You become a global name, brand and commodity, and lots of financial opportunities come along with that. Think about when you were 22 -- wouldn't that have been crazy appealing?

I mean, it would for me. Hell, I'm 53 and that would appeal to me right now!

Of course, much of the F1 hopes hinge on Herta earning enough points for a Superlicense, as Nathan Brown describes in detail here. The target number is 40 points, and Herta has 32. A great 2023 might give him enough points to make him eligible, but contractually he now can't move to F1 until after the 2025 season.

Plus, the even bigger question: given Andretti Autosport's recent form, can he have enough points when he needs them?

For the record, I hate the Superlicense criteria. I get why it is in place, and I also understand that it is weighted towards F2 and F3 for a reason: to encourage drivers to follow a European ladder system. But the fact that it is difficult to get there through IndyCar is BS. You can say anything you want about F2 and F3, but neither of those series compare to the competition and talent level that exists in IndyCar.

You mean to tell me that winning an F2 title is tougher than beating Scott Dixon, Will Power, Joef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin, Alex Palou and the rest of the field in IndyCar? Don't come at me with that. As Palou showed in FP1 the USGP in Austin last weekend, IndyCar drivers can run with anyone.

The fact is, Herta is good enough to run in F1. Whether or not he gets that opportunity is where the debate exists.

I'm not unearthing anything amazing by saying this, but in order for that to happen, Andretti Autosport needs to get its stuff figured out. All we've seen from this team over the last couple of years is poor form, bad pitstops and badly prepared cars. I truly believe that Rossi and Herta are two of the, at worst, 20 best open wheel drivers on the planet. But the last three years absolutely were three wasted, and lost, years of Rossi's career. All of the sudden, Rossi is 31, and while he has a lot of career left, it's right now shorter than it once was.

Rossi has had enough, which is why he moved to AMSP, and I think immediately becomes a championship contender again. As of right now, AMSP has replaced AA in the Big 3 in the IndyCar paddock with Penske and Ganassi.

The one thing I think Herta has on his side is his youth. Even if F1 doesn't work out, and even if AA doesn't get its stuff together -- which is highly doubtful -- Herta will only be 27 when this contract ends, leaving him free to move to Penske or Ganassi if the opportunity is there.

While the IndyCar is in great hands for the future with all of the young talent in the series, the fact is that five years from now, it will have a completely different identity. Many of the older drivers will have probably retired, and the young guys will be the faces of the series. Herta will be one of them.

So while on the surface, there are some questions concerning his signing, Herta is exactly where he wants (and needs) to be.