Michael Andretti purchases the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team, reuniting a famous racing family with the pinnacle of global motorsport. Then, it installs a young, promising American talent as one of its drivers, something Haas — the sport’s other American team — has failed to do in six seasons. It’s a really nice idea that’s given rise to a heap of speculation, though a nice idea is all that it is at the moment. Andretti’s supposedly doing everything in his power to make it real, though.
Nearly two weeks ago, it was reported that Andretti was nearing a deal to acquire 80 percent of the investment firm that owns Sauber Motorsport and Sauber Engineering, which run Alfa Romeo’s F1 effort. It’s rumored that Andretti visited Sauber’s base of operations in Hinwil, Switzerland on Monday.
On Tuesday, Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press tweeted that she heard from multiple people that Andretti was trying to get Colton Herta, who races for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar, into an F1 car for Friday practice ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas.
Then, an hour later, Racer reported that neither the rumored announcement of Andretti taking over the Alfa Romeo team nor Herta’s potential practice run are expected to occur at COTA after all.
Still, that’s a lot almost happening in a very short amount of time. Why the rush? The impetus could be Herta’s need to earn more points to qualify for a Super License, which all F1 drivers are required to have. You need 40 points, awarded for finishing positions in various racing series and totaled over a three-year period, to get a Super License.
As it stands, Herta has 32, though drivers are awarded a point for each F1 Free Practice session they participate in. For what it’s worth, the FIA has also thrown new drivers something of a lifeline in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Indianapolis Star explains:
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FIA issued an amendment; a driver may select three of their last four years to accumulate 40 points. That “left out” year doesn’t have to be 2020. Additionally, if a driver has totaled 30 points by adding up three of their last four years but can claim they were unable to reach 40 due to “circumstances outside their control or reasons of force majeure,” the FIA has the latitude to grant a license.
Taking that addendum to the rules into account, Herta could qualify with his 2018 Indy Lights runner-up title — if not for the fact that particular Indy Lights season wasn’t contested by enough drivers to count, based on the FIA’s rules. Perhaps the FIA could issue an exemption; nevertheless, I can only imagine how frustrating this must be to Herta and Andretti if they indeed believe the team will find its way onto the F1 grid next year.
All that would explain why Andretti would want Herta to get seat time during F1 practice sessions as soon as possible. But even then, there are only six races left in the current season, not to mention the massive, time-consuming adjustment in driving style required to transition from IndyCar to F1 — and vice versa — necessary to be competitive.
It’d be exciting to see Herta make the jump and join Valtteri Bottas in an Andretti-liveried car next season, should there be an Andretti-liveried car next season. The 21-year-old, six-time IndyCar race winner has made his interest in an F1 career known before. Maybe he’ll get that chance in 2022, maybe he’ll have to wait. Either way, if everything goes according to Andretti’s plan, it seems bound to happen one way or another.