He did it! At 18, he became the youngest ever IndyCar race winner. Colton Herta is the biggest surprise in professional racing, right? Wrong! Colton is only a surprise to the people who haven’t followed his career. Everybody who ever worked or raced with and against him knew without a shadow of a doubt that Colton would make it big. He is talented, determined, professional and has the marketing persona to build empires in motorsport. And these are all un-biased facts.
We have known Colton a long time, ever since his British Formula 4 season (then called the MSA Formula), when his father Bryan trusted us to guide his European racing path. People used to say big things, like “this kid is special” or “he’s always full on” but they didn’t know half of it: Colton was much more than that. He used to spend his evenings in the workshop at Carlin Motorsport, helping with the car preparation and he used to travel to the track in the truck, helping unloading it. All in all, he was 110% committed to what he was doing in Europe. He wasn’t here to “enjoy London” or to become the most popular guy in the paddock. He was here to become a top driver and you could see that on track, where he didn’t give anyone an inch.
The first part of the year in the F4 didn’t go our way but once Colton got the hang of it, he dominated the second part to finish third overall. We decided on doing British F3 next but because of his young age he wasn’t going to be allowed to race in the first round of the series so we switched to Euroformula Open – a championship which was new for Carlin Motorsport that year. Racing against seasoned veterans like Habsburg (now in DTM) and Pulcini (now in FIA F3), Colton again came third, blowing everyone away at the Red Bull Ring. We always said he would have benefited from another season in Europe, but the sponsors and the budgets decided his time on this side of the pond was over and he had to go back to the USA where he was lucky enough to catch the eye of people who understood his abilities and trusted him despite his young age. Indylights was great for Colton and now he is showing the world what he is really made of!
The story behind the story is that the people around Colton – and the driver himself – made steps to open a dialogue with F1 teams and young driver programs. For one reason or another those efforts were ignored and F1 lost the chance to have a young American superstar on the grid. It’s not that Colton wasn’t ready: they just weren’t listening.
There is a big need for an American in Formula 1, for obvious reasons but the “no American is good enough” story simply doesn’t work anymore and Colton is proof of that. He is, without doubt, the biggest trick F1 missed. So far.
If you take a look at the European racing scene this season, there are a number of talented Americans running at a decent level in Europe and the F1 teams should maybe take a closer look at them if they want to not miss out again in the future.
Probably the best prospect at this point is Cam Das, who is a different breed of driver compared to Colton but has the potential to get to the top in his own methodical and analytical way. Cam never raced professional karts and that makes him very special. He is a very intelligent driver, who understands the physics of racing and who can squeeze everything out of a car. His race-craft improved tremendously over the past two seasons and this year is his chance to put it all together, showing people that his US F4 title was just the start. Keep an eye on him and let’s not miss another trick. It would be a big shame!