While it is possible that Guanyu Zhou wasted his chance in Formula 1 for reasons unknown, Michael Andretti did not.
Andretti, an owner of the NTT IndyCar Series, has acquired 80% of the shares in the parent company Sauber from ALFA-Romeo Racing ORLEN.
This means that a new name will be thrown around for the final seat in Formula 1 in 2022: Colton Herta. The American phenomenon became the first American driver since Florida-born Brazilian Pietro Fittipaldi competed on an F1 weekend, and the first to fly the American flag since Scott Speed almost a decade ago.
Herta to join F1 would, as usual, violate the norm, a driver changes from F1 to IndyCar. Romain Grosjean, Marcus Ericsson, Kevin Magnussen, Max Chilton and a whole host of other characters have moved from Formula 1 to the land of the free in recent years. The IndyCar to F1 is not unprecedented, with the most notable of the 1995 IndyCar champion being Jacques Villeneuve, who drove for Williams in 1996. We all know how that turned out (not good). The most recent example was actually Sebastian Bourdais in 2008, who moved from ChampCar to Toro Rosso – and then back to IndyCar.
Herta’s possible promotion made me think: Who else from IndyCar could be successful in F1?
Here are three possible drivers who could make the leap in the future and could be a surprising addition to the grid.
Let’s start with the obvious choice of Josef Newgarden. The current Team Penske driver has two Astor Cups and 20 race wins behind him. While Newgarden’s Indy 500 victory has escaped Newgarden’s attention so far, many US fans have wanted the 30-year-old to test at least one F1 car.
Newgarden started in GP3 in 2010, but only managed to finish fifth in Monza. In 2011 Newgarden returned to America and won the Indy Lights title with five wins. Since then, his career has only moved on, scoring his first two victories in 2015 and seeing immense success in 2017 when he joined the captain’s team.
For the past three seasons, Newgarden has been no worse than second overall. Although his age makes him unlikely to have a permanent F1 seat, I would love to see an American team like HAAS or maybe even ALFA-Romeo give him a chance to drive an F1 car.
As a newcomer to the IndyCar scene, Alex Palou had a mediocre rookie season. I hesitated to believe that if he signed with Chip Ganassi Racing he would blossom. However, the young Spaniard impressed with three wins, a second at the Indy 500 and a championship in 2021, only his second year in the series. It seems that Palau won almost everything important in his first season in the number 10.
Palou took a GP3 victory in 2015 and competed in a handful of F2 races with Campos in 2017. He also competed in Super GT and Super Formula, so he’s not lazy.
His past experience and younger age make him an ideal candidate for someone looking for an experienced driver who can deliver in almost any car he drives. Maybe a new team getting into F1 would try to get Palou to take off and get some decent results. A strong following season in Ganassi N0. 10 could put Palou on the current driver watchlists of many other teams.
The young Mexican has a real chance of getting promoted to Formula 1 one day as his current IndyCar team boss is Zak Brown, the main owner of McLaren. Brown made him a deal that if he won a race in 2021 he could test a McLaren F1 car. O’Ward has won more than once this season and will test the car at Yas Marina later this year. Brown said a possible drive is not out of the question, but he must win the Astor Cup before being considered.
In 2021, O’Ward won in Detroit and Texas. He won the Indy Lights title in 2018 and was runner-up in the Pro Mazda series in 2016, and in 2019 he drove two races for MP Motorsport in Austria in Formula 2 instead of the suspended Mahaveer Raghunathan. After just getting down to driving one weekend, O’Ward traveled to America and IndyCar for 2020. He also has a Weathertech SportsCar Championship in his name, where he and his co-drivers James French and Kyle Masson won the 2017 Prototype Challenge class.
O’Ward is a driver I could imagine getting super successful in F1, perhaps as a replacement in case Daniel Ricciardo retires to lose his seat. McLaren is the preferred target, but the Mercedes ties could see him in a Williams or even F2 while he waits for the seat.
I would love to see the prospect of IndyCar becoming a breeding ground for F1 talent, but a lot of F1 teams think of IndyCar the same way most European football leagues see the North American MLS, a crappy retirement league that everyone dives into every now and then young phenomenon on.
These three drivers are a handful of guys who could possibly make the jump one day and they would all certainly do a great job no matter which teams they race for. But for now, if Colton Herta lands at Sauber, most of the USA would finally have a good reason to get up early and start this F1 race.
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