Red Bull pull the plug on Colton Herta with Alpine test cancelled

Thomas Maher
IndyCar driver Colton Herta looking serious in the pits at Laguna Seca. California September 2021.

According to reports in German media, Colton Herta’s switch to F1 with AlphaTauri will not be going ahead…

Red Bull’s push to sign Colton Herta as a replacement for Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri in 2023 won’t be going ahead, according to Germany’s Motorsport-Magazin.

The main stumbling block to the move has been Herta not qualifying for an FIA superlicence, with the governing body not making an exception to allow the IndyCar race winner to change disciplines.

As a result of this unyielding position from the governing body, Red Bull won’t be progressing with their push to bring Herta into F1.

The negotiations came to light during the Dutch Grand Prix weekend, with Christian Horner revealing that Red Bull would be willing to release Pierre Gasly to Alpine to replace Fernando Alonso, provided that other ‘spinning plates’ worked out to give them an ‘exciting prospect’.

Helmut Marko, speaking to SpeedCity Broadcasting, revealed with confidence that Herta was the target for AlphaTauri – the switch of series for the American driver, as well as Gasly’s move to Alpine, would be announced at Monza, provided the FIA granted an exemption for Herta.

In order to qualify for a superlicence, the licence required to race in F1, drivers must have accumulated 40 points of weighting through their racing in other categories. Despite his prominence in IndyCar, a non-FIA championship, the low weighting given to IndyCar (less than that of Formula 2) means that Herta does not have the required 40 points.

This led to plenty of discussion over the Italian GP weekend, as some team bosses argued the FIA shouldn’t concede ground to Red Bull and change the rules, while others argued some common sense should be used for a driver near the top of a series as illustrious as IndyCar.

With the Monza weekend coming and going without any announcements, it’s now clear that Red Bull haven’t been able to proceed with their announcements, and all their plans aren’t likely going to meet with success.

“The whole system is wrong,” Red Bull’s motorsport boss Dr. Helmut Marko told Motorsport-Magazin.

Alpine set to test at the Hungaroring, but who will drive?

Alpine are set to carry out a test at the Hungaroring next week, with several prominent names mentioned as possibilities for taking the wheel of last year’s A521.

Colton Herta wins the Monterey Grand Prix 2021. Indycar. Monterey, September 2021.

Herta appeared set to join in the test but, with the Red Bull move seemingly off the table, he is now unlikely to take part. Alpine junior Jack Doohan is a likely candidate, as well as Williams’ Monza super-sub Nyck de Vries. 2023 race seat candidates like Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg are not likely to appear.

What’s next for Alpine and Red Bull?

The FIA’s decision not to cede ground to Red Bull means the driver silly season actually becomes a little less silly.

Pierre Gasly, who had already signed his ’23 contract with Red Bull to continue with AlphaTauri, with any chance of a move elsewhere requiring both he, Red Bull, and a third party all agreeing, now looks locked in place – unless Red Bull really do decide a change is required and thus release Gasly.

Alpine are still without a driver to replace Alonso, with the plans for Gasly unable to proceed without Red Bull’s cooperation.

The main topic raised by the whole scenario is that of the FIA’s stringent superlicence requirements. The current system was introduced in 2016, ironically in response to Red Bull promoting a very young and very inexperienced Max Verstappen into F1.

In a year in which the FIA have enforced rules with far greater strictness than previous seasons, in response to the spotlight on the governing body’s processes in the fallout from the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it’s not that surprising that President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been unyielding on the matter.

With Herta also a driver coming from outside of the FIA’s own ladder of motorsport categories, as prominent as he is in a series’ rival to F1, the benefits of having a competent American driver in the sport seem to be outweighed by the negatives of setting a precedent that the superlicence rules are there to be bent – even if that driver is clearly of sufficient skill.

While perhaps not fair on Herta, as the unlucky victim of this stringent bureaucracy, the FIA need to be seen as the authoritarian leaders of the sport and, in that regard, they have come through. Now it’s time to get on with making the necessary changes to recognise the importance of series such as IndyCar to global motorsport…

Read more: Fernando Alonso wanted a longer deal at Alpine, but it ‘didn’t mark sense’