F1 world champion Mario Andretti sees "Formula 1" quality in IndyCar star Colton Herta, and the motorsport legend says he is "pushing like hell" for the 21-year-old talent to make the switch sooner rather than later.
On Sunday in St. Petersburg, Andretti Autosport's Herta won in dominant style the second round of the NTT Indycar Series, the young American clinching his fourth career win in the series.
Andretti says the recent confirmation by F1 of a second Grand Prix in America from 2022, with Miami joining Austin on the calendar next year, should incite F1 to go out of its way to put an American driver back on the grid.
Coincidently, the last American driver to race in F1 is Herta's Andretti Autosport teammate, Alexander Rossi, who raced in five Grands Prix with Marussia in 2015, one year before winning the Indy 500 as a rookie.
"I think America is probably the only country on the planet that can really properly host two Formula 1 races," Andretti told Motorsport.com.
"Quite honestly, I think F1’s fanbase in America is somewhat understated, but it needs to be perked up – and the only thing it’s really missing is an American driver.
"I’m pushing like hell for Colton," admitted AndrettI. "You’ve got to remember, Colton went to race in England when he was 15 years old, all by himself.
"That’s always been his objective [to get to F1] but he’s very quiet and unassuming, he’s not pushy, but I see a quality there – a Formula 1 quality."
Andretti has no doubts about Herta's outstanding talent which he has witnessed firsthand.
"I’m really a fan of Colton, I’m in his pit during the races, and he’s just very calm and collected," added the 81-year-old racer.
"I love that. He adapts to everything, that’s a big key to everything. You hear people complaining – ‘it’s too slippery, it’s too windy’ – he just gets on with it, it’s the same for everybody, just find a freakin’ way to do it!"
Andretti makes a good case for Herta joining the fray in F1, insisting his presence in the field and strong results would do wonders for any top team, and for F1 in America.
"We’d need the American driver with a top team, not in the back with no chance," he contended.
"If you could get an American driver in F1, producing results, you’d have America going crazy for F1.
“Mercedes sells a lot of cars here, it’s a huge market, imagine what they could do with him? It would juice up the TV ratings too. But it has to happen within a year or so, or they’ll consider him to be too old.
"He’s 21, so it’s a great time, and I realise the lack of testing and licence restrictions.
"But, I mean, that Russian kid [Nikita Mazepin] gets a superlicence, and the guy who’s at the very top level over here can’t get one? There’s something wrong there!"