IndyCar is experiencing something of a boom as of late thanks in no small part to the rise of the next generation of talent.
Álex Palou was crowned champion last season at just 24 years old and he’s far from the only young gun grabbing the headlines. Might this be the perfect moment then for a US star to make the switch to Formula 1?
Breaking the mould and switching from IndyCar to F1 is a path scarcely travelled. Sébastien Bourdais was the last driver to do so, racing with Toro Rosso in 2007, but expectations have moved on.
Colton Herta is arguably the most exciting choice of the bunch and he’s made his desires known; he wants a competitive drive. At just 22, he has notched up six IndyCar wins and is the series’ youngest-ever race winner, so he probably warrants one, too. He’s been making so many waves, they’ve reached UK shores. McLaren announced during F1’s pre-season testing that they’d signed Herta to test later this season.
He was heavily linked with the vacant Alfa Romeo seat alongside Valtteri Bottas last year when Andretti Autosport was rumoured to be purchasing the team, but his value both on and off track is potentially huge.
He isn’t the only option linked to McLaren though. Pato O’Ward has already driven in F1 for the team during last year’s post-season Abu Dhabi test, describing it as “ridiculous, crazy and insane”.
He has already been on F1 radars having formerly been a part of the Red Bull junior programme up until 2019. McLaren subsequently snapped him up for its IndyCar project in 2020, which may have inadvertently opened a path back to F1.
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown played down suggestions that O’Ward was directly in line for a seat unless he won the IndyCar title. He missed out on accomplishing that last season but is set to battle for the Indy crown once more. With Daniel Ricciardo struggling alongside Lando Norris, might there be a vacancy opening on the horizon?
Elsewhere, Callum Ilott is on something of a gap year in America but there are still F1 links keeping him in the frame. He remains part of the Ferrari Driver Academy but without full support for ’22. It would take a truly competitive year for him to make the trip back.
Those without F1 links are on the outside peering in though none of the other young drivers appear to be glancing towards F1, at least not publicly anyway. Champion Palou has already said he has no designs on an F1 seat while Dutch star Rinus VeeKay has admitted F1 would be a welcome challenge, but he only has one IndyCar win so far.
With Andretti pursuing an F1 entry, Netflix’s Drive to Survive attracting a new generation of fans and the US market growing ever larger, a US-based driver breaking into F1 is the next step. With the talent on show, it’s a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.