IndyCar team owner and former Jaguar F1 boss Bobby Rahal believes Alex Palou, Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward would all be capable of competing to a high level in Formula 1 if given the opportunity.
Herta and O’Ward’s names have been linked with Formula 1 heavily in the past year, with the pair now both associated with McLaren – with Herta set to run a testing programme with the team this year and O’Ward having completed the young driver test in Abu Dhabi last December.
But while 25-year-old Palou’s name has not been widely bandied around in Formula 1 circles, he is the reigning IndyCar champion – taking three wins among seven podium finishes to win his first title in only his second season in the series.
He beat stiff competition to do so, not least within his own team – with former Sauber F1 driver and recently-crowned Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon alongside him.
But in order to succeed, Rahal believes the drivers need to have a high-performing car to be able to show off what they can do.
From P18 to P6 😁
Really happy with our race yesterday: good strategy, good pitstops and good pace to move some places. Onto Road America this weekend for the real deal. Can’t wait! 🙌#DetroitGP@NTTDATAServices pic.twitter.com/q7s15DTivo
— Alex Palou Montalbo (@AlexPalou) June 6, 2022
“Let’s face it. First off, whoever it is would have to go into one of the best teams. You know, Mercedes or Red Bull,” said Rahal on Formula 1’s Beyond the Grid podcast.
“The technology is so advanced that if you don’t have all the everything behind you, it will be difficult to show [talent].
“I think Colton Herta’s got a lot of potential. He’s very young – as we say, there’s a lot of runway ahead of him. He will be around for a while.
“I really like Pato O’Ward and I know he’s going to drive…he tested the McLaren. I think he’s pretty special.
“And I don’t know what the situation with McLaren is but they have done a good job of late. So there’s an opportunity there.
“I think for my son, Graham, he’s just too tall. I don’t think he’d fit in the cars – he’s about six foot three, six foot four. And he’s now 33.
“So it would have been great to see him in a car some years ago but the opportunity didn’t come.
“But when you look at the young guys – and again, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, [Alex] Palou was pretty impressive this year – to get into it and really outperforming [Scott] Dixon, who’s kind of the yardstick and doing well, and all circumstances with a great team, that helps tremendously. But still, I thought he did a very good job.
“So I think any one of those guys, you put them in the right car, give them some time, I think they could do pretty well.”
O’Ward’s chances of a Formula 1 drive appear to have been placed to one side for the foreseeable future, with the Mexican having recently signed a multi-year contract extension tying him to Arrow McLaren SP in IndyCar until 2025.
Herta is also admired by Michael Andretti, who is keen to bring an American driver into Formula 1 if his proposal to bring a new team into the sport is accepted.