IndyCar driver Colton Herta, 22, finishes testing with McLaren as quest to return an American to Formula One seat continues

Colton Herta made his biggest leap yet in his attempt to restore an American to a seat in Formula One as the 22-year-old IndyCar driver ended two days of testing with McLaren at Portugal’s Portminao circuit on Tuesday.

Herta spent much of day one getting up to speed in a year-old version of the F1 car before unleashing it on a variety of tire compounds, setups and handling packages. He ended up doing 162 laps over around 750 kilometers (466 miles) and gave McLaren a good look at one of the brightest young contenders outside of the European feeder system.

“I have to say the team was quite impressed with how Colton handled all of these challenges and his professional approach was also good to see,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl. “His physical preparation allowed him to last two days and know how challenging that can be in a Formula 1 car at a circuit like Portminao.”

Despite a boom in popularity for F1 in the US, which soon has three races on the schedule, there has not been an American driver on the grid since current IndyCar star Alexander Rossi left in 2015.

During a conference call with reporters, Herta made it clear that he would like to be next.

“It’s hard to get in a race car and not go as fast as you can. That was the goal when I came here: to acclimate, get up to speed and see what I can do in the race car,” he said. “It was very special to ride, it handled beautifully, I was able to make some setup adjustments in the afternoon and make it more to my liking. But yeah, you always want to show how fast you can drive a race car no matter what the circumstances.”

In this case, a lot may depend on these circumstances.

Lando Norris, who drove alongside Herta in Formula 4 in 2015, has a contract with McLaren until 2025, while Daniel Ricciardo has a contract that expires after next year. And with a disappointing run of performances this season, there has been some speculation that the two sides could part ways before the start of next season.

But Herta is not the only one vying for a vacancy. McLaren development driver Will Stevens is an option while another IndyCar star, Pato O’Ward, has been testing for the team ahead of the final Abu Dhabi Grand Prix of the F1 season.

The next step for Herta and O’Ward could come later this year in the seat of a 2022 car during free practice at a Grand Prix weekend; The series returns to the United States in October for a race at the Circuit of The Americas in Texas.

“We are evaluating this with regard to further test options for Pato,” said Seidl. “He had a good test with us in Abu Dhabi last year. We were also very happy with how Pato prepared for this test. So I’d say first impressions or bottom line, even if it sounds like a boring answer – happy with what both guys have shown so far.”

Herta and O’Ward both have wins in IndyCar ahead of this weekend’s race in Toronto, although the 23-year-old Mexican driver has been more consistent with four top-five finishes, taking him to fifth in points. Herta is currently 10.

“It was a good test to see what these cars are all about and what the physical differences are compared to an IndyCar,” said Herta. “It’s a goal of mine (to drive Formula 1) and has been for a while. There have been instances where I’ve been close. But what’s the deal with that, it’s all about getting seat time. I wanted to see what these cars are all fortunately McLaren gave me a chance.” IndyCar driver Colton Herta, 22, finishes testing with McLaren as quest to return an American to Formula One seat continues

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