McLaren chief executive Zak Brown has candidly discussed the potential of signing IndyCar rising star Colton Herta amid growing speculation over the future of struggling driver Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo, who is 18 months into a three-year contract with the Woking-based team, has struggled to silence his critics this year following an underwhelming 2021 F1 campaign.
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The 33-year-old is 12th in the drivers’ standings after 11 races with 17 points, sitting comfortably below McLaren teammate Lando Norris, who is seventh on 64 points.
Rumours have emerged that McLaren is grooming 22-year-old Herta to replace Ricciardo, but the Australian issued a defiant statement on his F1 future last week, posting on Instagram: “I am committed to McLaren until the end of next year and am not walking away from the sport.”
Ricciardo rediscovered some momentum at the Red Bull Ring, finishing ninth in the Austrian Grand Prix earlier this month, his third top 10 finish of the year.
But speaking to reporters after the race, Ricciardo confessed he was still underwhelmed by the result and unhappy with the car’s performance.
Meanwhile, Herta intensified the heat on Ricciardo by professing he was dead keen on chasing a future in F1.
Asked after testing in Portugal last week if he was confident he could succeed in the sport, Herta replied: “Yes, yes … you can’t say no to that question otherwise you wouldn’t be a professional driver. So yeah, I do think I’m fast enough.
“Whether they agree, I guess time will tell, and hopefully I can get more chances in the car and hopefully I can show it.
“It is a goal of mine (to drive in F1) and it has been for a while.”
McLaren would also be tempted by Herta’s American background, which would open the door to a wealth of sponsorship opportunities in the United States.
Speaking on the F1 Nation podcast, Brown insisted the team would never sign a driver purely for sponsorship benefits, but failed to rule out Herta as a future McLaren driver.
“Nationality is on the list, but we would never select a driver for commercial reasons first,” he said.
“The first gate to get through is do we think this driver is world champion, Grand Prix-winning capable? And if the answer to that is yes, we continue to proceed.
“If they happen to be British, because we are a British team, or American, because that‘s an important market, or from Asia, because that’s an important market, it’s kind of a commercial bonus. But first and foremost, we are here to win races – that’s what our sponsor partners want.
“And yes, (Herta) has been very impressive in IndyCar. He was Lando’s teammate not long ago in Europe, so he has European racing background, so let’s give him a go and see what he’s made of.”
Ahead of this weekend’s French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard, Ricciardo reiterated his full commitment to the McLaren team.
“For sure there is a frustration, and I’ve admitted sometimes that in a way, I hate the sport, because you just deal with these highs and lows so often,” he told Autosport.
“But I feel like the days that I also can find myself in a way hating it, I also love it, because the feeling that I get and what that does and how that ignites me, and I guess that feeling in my gut, it’s like, I actually love this.
“Of course I would love to just be on the top all the time, whatever, but the feeling I get is still real, even through those lows.
“That belief and everything that I get, as soon as the emotion and that wave of frustration blows over, give it 10 minutes, half an hour, whatever it is, I’m then like, once I reset, like yeah, I still want this.
“I still believe I can do it. The day I retire is the day that I lose that feeling, is the day that I lose that belief and will to want to keep doing it.
“I truly feel like I’m still pretty far from that.”
The French Grand Prix gets underway this Sunday, with lights out scheduled for 11pm AEST.