Herta signs 4-year Andretti IndyCar extension

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Colton Herta has signed a four-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport that ties the American racer to the IndyCar team through 2027 and indicates Herta has put a pause on his Formula One ambitions.

The extension announced Tuesday is significant because it shuts out the biggest teams in IndyCar from poaching Herta when his current Andretti deal expires at the end of the 2023 season. And it suggests both he and team owner Michael Andretti have accepted neither will be on the F1 grid anytime soon.

The extension specifies that Herta will drive the No. 26 Andretti Autosport entry in IndyCar with sponsorship from loyal partner Gainbridge, which signed a concurrent extension.

“Colton is a true talent in a race car and has natural determination that makes him want to win,” Michael Andretti said. “We’ve been really proud to represent Gainbridge. We share a commitment to compete at the top level and look forward to seeing Colton return to victory lane in the yellow and black Gainbridge colors.”

It brings to a pause a roller-coaster year for the 22-year-old Herta, who at times seemed poised to become the first American driver on the F1 grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015. His chance was scuttled by the FIA, the governing body for F1, which would not grant Herta the Super License required to compete in the global series.

The extension also shows some resignation that Andretti Global will not be on the current 10-team F1 grid anytime soon. Michael Andretti, with assistance in part from Gainbridge, had hoped to convince the FIA to expand the grid for two American-owned cars, with Herta one of the drivers.

But the existing F1 teams are unwelcoming to grid expansion and wealth redistribution, and although Herta was free to leave Andretti for an F1 opportunity, the lack of Super License has him currently relegated to IndyCar.

“I’m super happy and grateful for everything the entire Andretti and Gainbridge teams have done for me,” Herta said in an Andretti-issued statement. “This is a huge step for me professionally and I’m so glad it can be with a top team like Andretti Autosport. We have big goals and a lot of work ahead of us, but I can’t be happier to do it with this team and represent Gainbridge.”

From the IndyCar perspective, the signing is huge: The No. 10 at Chip Ganassi Racing is expected to open when Alex Palou moves to McLaren in 2024, reigning series champion Will Power is entering a contract year on the No. 12 with Team Penske, and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon turns 43 next season — his 21st year with Ganassi.

There’s also been a ton of F1 hype surrounding Herta, who this year signed a testing contract with McLaren. But Herta presently lacks the points required to obtain F1’s mandatory license, in large part because IndyCar is undervalued in the ranking system. The FIA does not govern IndyCar, or NASCAR for that matter, and essentially rates both as mid-pack series.

Red Bull had asked that Herta, a seven-time race winner who in 2019 became IndyCar’s youngest-ever winner days before his 19th birthday, be granted a waiver for a Super License. Had the FIA not refused, Red Bull had hoped to put Herta at its AlphaTauri junior team next season.

The lack of a license essentially shut the door on F1 for Herta for now, and the Californian did not even attend last week’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

Herta was a popular figure at the Miami Grand Prix in May when he attended as a guest of McLaren, asked to sit in the F1 car and requested a diagram of the steering wheel. When Herta showed up two months later at a McLaren F1 test in complete preparation, he wowed on the track, word spread, and rival teams developed sudden interest in landing the American.

In the meantime, McLaren courted too many drivers to count and Herta found himself out of the rotation when the team announced it would satisfy F1′s development driver rule by using Palou (a Spaniard) at the U.S. GP’s free first practice and Pato O’Ward (a Mexican) at Abu Dhabi in the season finale.

Australian upcoming star Oscar Piastri was hired for McLaren’s second seat on the 2023 grid, and Herta was officially out of the McLaren planning.

There’s also less urgency surrounding Herta now that Williams plans to promote F2 driver Logan Sargeant of Florida into F1 next year should the 21-year-old earn his Super License by season’s end. That would give Williams the win in scoring the newest American driver from F1’s fastest-growing market.

The 2023 season will be Herta’s fifth in IndyCar. Gainbridge has been an Andretti top partner since 2018.

Herta will be the Andretti veteran in a lineup that lost Indianapolis 500 winners Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay heading into this year.

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