Colton Herta enjoys every moment with McLaren

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Among the sea of ​​cachet, opulence and fame of the Formula 1 paddock, Colton Herta is slowly beginning to find his place.

The six-time IndyCar race winner swapped the black Converse high-top trainers and plain black t-shirt he wore for Thursday’s Miami Grand Prix soft start for white Gucci trainers and a sand-colored shirt for Friday. He finally decided to donate mileage to his 2019 Daytona 24 Hours winning prize (a Rolex), now that he has another one from last January he can keep it locked away.

In the three years since he was last in the F1 paddock at Circuit of the Americas in 2019, he has hopped from a Harding Steinbrenner Racing IndyCar team worried weekly about funding from Andretti Autosport, where he has all the resources he could want. Herta has since been added to McLaren F1’s testing program and could lap an F1 track on an F1 weekend as early as this fall, should Andreas Seidel and Zak Brown bank him for an FP1 opportunity.

Not only does he feel more at home in the world of F1, but F1 is also starting to notice Colton Herta more.

“I’ve won a lot more stuff in IndyCar (since 2019), since I was with a very small team. I was really just starting,” Herta told IndyStar on Friday afternoon. didn’t even do that much.”

After: How Herta became a budding international racing star – and America’s F1 hopeful

Three years ago, Herta asked Brown for a VIP pass to get inside the gates, then spent the rest of the weekend wandering around like a normal racing fan. In South Florida this week, it’s Brown and Seidel inviting their potential future F1 driver to the team’s closely watched prep meetings. Whenever current McLaren drivers Lando Norris (a former Herta team-mate in their early Formula Junior days in Europe), Daniel Ricciardo, Seidel and the dozens of team engineers sit down to talk this weekend. end, Herta will have a seat at the table.

Despite continued claims by Michael Andretti that Herta’s involvement in McLaren’s testing program is a boon to Andretti Global’s hopeful F1 aspirations, McLaren maintains that Herta is legitimately being considered for its team in the future. ‘coming. Notably, Ricciardo’s contract runs out at the end of 2023, and while they haven’t given any indication yet of wanting a change, they want things lined up in case it becomes necessary.

The integration of Herta into the Miami team is the first step in this evaluation process.

“It’s a big test, a big challenge for a variety of reasons,” Seidel said Friday. “You have the physical side and the real speed of the cars, and he is also with the team this weekend to understand how we work as a team.

“He will at some point have a seat in Woking (home of McLaren Racing HQ) and will definitely do simulator work, as well as physical preparation to be ready for the test, and we will have to see how that goes. ”

McLaren signs Herta to F1 test role:“Who knows what will come of it”

But until he’s signed up for a race in F1, whether with Andretti, McLaren or elsewhere, Herta has a unique take on the two sports that most casual racing fans in the United States often confuse. with each other. The most striking difference after 24 hours into the team, Herta said, was the number of people working on the car compared to what he was used to in IndyCar. The number of Andretti Autosport team members it will take to run his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda entry for this month’s Indianapolis 500 might not even fill Ricciardo’s engineering meeting seats. or Norris.

Those responsible for F1 greatness must build a fake marina so real boats can sit this weekend for the mere sight, or the budget so they can buy a block of Las Vegas real estate for $240m – all impacts every team, every car and how they race.

“There are so many more engineers doing so many more things,” Herta said. “In IndyCar I probably have three, and they have maybe 20 per car. It’s interesting to see all the data they’re getting from these cars, and I wouldn’t say they’re better prepared. for a weekend, but they have so many more people doing so many different things.

Although he hasn’t yet — and couldn’t — spend too much time roaming the grounds around Hard Rock Stadium, Herta said the trackside walk he shared with Norris on Thursday gave him the opportunity to enjoy much of what the Grand Prix has to offer outdoors. 20 cars racing for world supremacy. Although he felt like he couldn’t say how he felt about the atmosphere compared to what has long been known as racing’s greatest spectacle – “I really don’t see anyone up to a hour before the race because I’m stuck in the engineering trailer” – Herta felt like the scene could be better compared to something outside of the race.

The faux marina adjacent to the art, the millionaires and influencers yearning to be seen, and the headline-grabbing concerts almost make you forget for a second that there’s a race going on.

“The price of everything is crazy. For a grandstand ticket, you’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars,” he said. “There’s definitely that top-flight field you expect from an F1 race, but it’s still more than I’ve ever felt at (Circuit of the Americas).

“It’s almost like a music festival having a race,” Herta said.

Although fans were only beginning to arrive in the paddock on Friday afternoon, Herta said he could imagine that despite all the attention around this race – and F1 racing in America as a whole – that IndyCar probably still provides a better fan experience for on-floor fans. Outside of the 500, most (if not all) IndyCar racing fans can buy a paddock pass for a chance to rub shoulders with their favorite driver and, by the end of the weekend, grab an autograph or a selfie for less. than the price of your favorite F1 team’s branded hat sold on the Miami field (up to $130 in some places).

Even Miami’s who’s who — Mario Andretti, Danica Patrick, Jeff Gordon, Dan Marino, Ian Poulter and JJ Watt, starting Saturday morning — could get a minute with any driver they choose all weekend. Those with less influence than that may well be absent altogether.

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Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver Colton Herta (26) drives down pit lane Wednesday, April 20, 2022, before the start of free practice in preparation for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I would say 99.9% of people here will only see the drivers when they have their helmets on the track, and the lucky few here (in the paddock) won’t see them most of the time either.” “, Herta said. “But you have to think, if IndyCar had one race a year in the United States, do you think it would be like that too? It probably would.

“If we only did the Indy 500 in the United States, people would come from all over if they didn’t have another chance to see an IndyCar race in their home country, when you can live almost anywhere in the United States – except maybe right in the middle of Montana -dab – and you could probably drive four hours or less for an IndyCar race.

The most impassioned observation Herta made while in the heart of the F1 paddock for just over 24 hours? It’s simple. Whether from the Gainbridge suite, McLaren’s engineering HQ deep in the team’s paddock welcome center or walking the track with his childhood racing teammate, Herta sees a track on which he still has no way to run.

He sees, hears and feels the open-wheel cars he grew up dreaming of driving, and now as close as he’s ever been to fulfilling that dream, the desire has only grown stronger. His life has changed so much for the better in less than three years, but he will clearly be disappointed if, in three more years, this rapid change and rise in the world of motorsport does not continue.

“For sure you think about it, especially when you’re not driving,” he said of his F1 dreams. “Because being on the track when you’re not driving is the worst place you can be.”

Email IndyStar sportswriter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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