IndyCar driver Colton Herta completed a two-day test session with McLaren this week, getting his first taste of a Formula 1 car as he looks to keep his future opportunities open.
Herta was invited to the test in part for the team to evaluate his potential for driving in the premiere series in the future, but also so that the 22-year-old could show that he’s willing to put in the effort to join the series if given the opportunity.
The test comes after multiple days spent learning the car in McLaren’s simulator, and after over a year of rumors surrounding his talents and if he should be given a seat in F1.
Herta drove for nearly two full days around the Portimao circuit in the team’s 2021-spec car, giving him a chance to properly feel out the differences between the MCL35M and his IndyCar back in the States.
“It was a lot of fun, a great two days getting acclimated to the car, which is obviously quite a bit different to what I’m used to driving,” said Herta following the test. “A little bit of a different driving style but the engineers were very helpful getting me up to speed. And what a car to drive!
“It’s really special to not only have a first test in a Formula 1 car but in a race-winning Formula 1 car is even cooler, so it was a great opportunity for me – have to thank Mr. Seidl, Zak [Brown], for allowing me to borrow their car for the last two days.”
Herta, IndyCar’s youngest race winner, currently drives for Andretti Autosport stateside, which has been attempting to gain entry onto the Formula 1 grid over the past year.
Team owner Michael Andretti has come across pushback from the existing teams, however, as more cars on the grid would lead to the sport’s revenue being spread more thinly to cover all the entrants. If the team is permitted to join F1, the plan is to bring its star driver over to complete a full American presence on the international stage.
For now, however, Herta is limited to testing year-old machinery with existing teams through the TPC (Testing of a Previous Car) program allowed by the regulations.
“It’s hard to get in a race car and not drive it as fast as you can possibly can,” continued Herta, describing his experience. “That was the goal coming over here, get acclimated, get up to speed, and really see what I could do in a race car. It was a lot of fun, it was super special to drive, handled beautifully, was able to make some set-up adjustments in the afternoon and get it more to my liking.
“I think the first thing [that was different] was letting off the pit lane speed limiter and all the torque is pretty incredible, even when you’re in such low rpm, it still pulls. That was the biggest thing for me. The straight line speed, the acceleration, the braking. The cornering speeds are higher than what you get in IndyCar but it didn’t stick out to me as much as how impressive the acceleration and how easy it was with all this horsepower to put the throttle down, so that was the biggest thing.
“I felt comfortable right away, the biggest thing was putting a lap together, I felt like I got to the limit about mid-way through the day but that was just separate corners being put together whereas the end of the second day I was pretty confident at putting the laps together in low fuel, high fuel, everything in between.”
Herta logged over 80 laps of the 2.9-mile circuit on each day of the test, which allowed him ample time to come to grips with the complicated machinery.
Next on Herta’s radar is the possibility of joining the team again for an FP1 outing in a current-spec car later in the season, an opportunity that he’s more than open to.
“Yeah, definitely be something I’d be open to. As far as TPC days, you can’t get better than that as you get the full track to yourself. All this time inside the car that in FP1, 60 minutes or so, you wouldn’t get. But it would be cool to have a taste of the 2022 cars and see how they compare to this car so yeah I’d be up for it.”