With Haas about to embark on its biggest driver shake-up since it joined the Formula 1 grid, now would be the perfect time to gamble on a talent that would achieve one of its long-term ambitions. 

There has not been a full-time American driver in F1 since Scott Speed contested the 2006 season for Toro Rosso. Alexander Rossi was the next to debut in F1 as he completed a partial campaign with Manor in 2015 before returning to the States to pursue his IndyCar career and win the Indianapolis 500 at the first attempt. 

When Haas joined the F1 grid in 2016, it outlined that it one day wanted to run an American driver in one of its race seats, but such a move came too soon for its first season in the championship. Team principal Guenther Steiner later played down links to IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, suggesting there was no American driver ready to make the switch to F1. 

Santino Ferrucci joined its junior roster as a development driver and became the first American to drive an American F1 since 1977 at Silverstone in 2016, before a succession of controversial incidents at the same circuit two years later during a Formula 2 race ultimately cost him his place in Haas’ set-up. 

Fast-forward another two years and following a couple of frustrating F1 campaigns, Haas is ready to roll the dice on a brand-new driver line-up after deciding to drop long-serving duo Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2021. 

Haas is ready to inject new blood into the team and is now finally willing to field one (or even two) two rookie drivers, having previously favoured experienced hands. 

SEE ALSO: Why Haas axed both F1 drivers at the same time - and who could replace them?

“Maybe two rookies is a good thing, I don’t know that yet,” Steiner said ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix. 

“That is one of the things we have been evaluating as well. Do we need one experienced one or not? [If not], OK, we do with two rookies.

“But sometimes just trying something different helps to learn about it. And sometimes teaches that you shouldn’t have done it as well, I’m fully aware of that.

“But sometimes to do things differently, it opens up new ideas and we get better. If we all stay with the status quo, we will never evolve.

“It’s a balance you need to find to try to do what you think is best for the future,” he added. “That is what we are evaluating.”

With all the talk of F2 trio Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman and Nikita Mazepin being linked, there is one driver making quite the splash across the pond that has seemingly been overlooked as a potential candidate for Haas at this stage. 

Colton Herta has been something of a revelation since he joined the IndyCar Series on a full-time basis in 2019.

Aged just 18, Herta grabbed the headlines when he became IndyCar’s youngest-ever winner at COTA last year en route to finishing seventh in a rookie season that featured a total of two victories and three pole positions. 

In his sophomore campaign with Andretti Autosport, Herta has cemented himself as a regular frontrunner. A dominant third IndyCar win at Mid-Ohio in September has helped the now 20-year-old sit third in the championship standings heading into the final round of the season at St. Petersburg this weekend. 

Despite his success in IndyCar, Herta has indicated that he would be interested in a move to F1 providing he could land a competitive drive. 

“I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack,” Herta told RACER in an interview earlier this year. 

“I think it would have to mean either being with a top three team or incentives of, if I do good enough, getting to a top three team. 

“So being at Alfa , or something like that for a year or two, and if I do good enough, maybe I can move up to a Ferrari or a Red Bull.”

Herta pointed out that an American driver on the F1 grid would help boost interest in the sport back in the US, something which owner Liberty Media is targeting as one of its key priorities as part of its quest to expand F1’s appeal in new markets. 

It would also certainly appeal to Haas team owner Gene Haas, who has been keen to field a home-grown driver. 

“I think it’d be awesome,” Herta explained. “I think this is one of the markets [where] F1 lacks. It’s a huge market. I think you can see the TV numbers in the U.S. aren’t actually amazing for what you would think Formula 1 would get.

“So I think if having that U.S. driver can push the market forward and drive the market, I think it’d be very beneficial for Formula 1.”

F1’s superlicence rules appeared to be the major hurdle standing in Herta’s way of becoming the next American representative in the championship, but a revision to the rules introduced by the FIA will allow it to grant a super licence to drivers if they have scored 30 points across a four-year period. Previously, drivers could only receive an F1 superlicence if they accumulated 40 points over three years.

This change could be crucial for Herta, whose superlicence points situation is complex. 

Due to a low car count in the field, his runner-up finish in the 2018 Indy Lights Series does not count, and his third-place finish from the previous year is only worth 75% (or 7.5 points instead of the usual 10). P7 in IndyCar last season earned him another 7 points, putting him on 14.5. 

Providing he can hold onto his P3 position in the 2020 IndyCar championship, he would earn 20 points, which would be enough to edge him over the new 30-point threshold.

Herta’s displays have led to some high praise from IndyCar legend and 1978 F1 world champion Mario Andretti, who, as the last American to win an F1 grand prix, believes the US now has a star worthy of a chance.

“We have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind. As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. 

“He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA and Laguna Seca, and beat two of the very best Indy has to offer [in] Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colours again.”

Such a move may be a risk, but with Haas no longer the fledgling team it once was, and Steiner feeling his side has “nothing to lose” given its current competitive state, could now be the time to fulfil one of its major goals?

There might not be a better opportunity.

 

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