Formula 1 should change its driver qualification system to make it easier for IndyCar drivers to join the grid, says McLaren Racing boss Zak Brown.
Red Bull were barred from signing American Colton Herta for 2023 because he did not have enough points under the governing body FIA’s ‘super-licensing’ system.
Brown said the super-licensing “around IndyCar needs to be reviewed” and that IndyCar should be treated the same as Formula 2 in the qualifying system.
McLaren tested Herta this yearas they have done with two other IndyCar drivers, 2021 champion Alex Palou and McLaren’s own driver Pato O’Ward.
Brown said it was “a shame Colton Herta isn’t in F1”, adding that all three were “capable of being F1 drivers”.
Although winning an IndyCar championship guarantees a driver the 40 points required for a super-license, any other top-10 position gives less than that.
In F2, the first three places in the championship all earn 40 points. For IndyCar, there is a sliding scale of points for lower positions. But below, all places in F2 earn more than the same position in IndyCar.
It was this disparity that prevented Herta from obtaining a superlicense.
Red Bull had wanted the 22-year-old, a seven-time IndyCar winner and considered one of its most talented competitors, for their Alpha Tauri team in 2023, to fill the spot vacated by Pierre Gasly’s move to Alpine.
But the FIA refused to make an exemption for Herta, so Red Bull instead turned to former F2 and Formula E champion Nick de Vries.
Brown said he hoped FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem would review and change the points system.
“What I’ve seen about Mohammed is that he’s willing to challenge the rules in place and fix them in the future,” Brown said.
“So he plays by the rules – ‘These are the rules and we’re not going to bend them’, which I think is the right thing to do. Even though we think the rules are not good, like the super – Licence.
“But what he’s quite ready to do is say, ‘Maybe that’s not a good rule. We should review this rule and make a change. “”
Excitement for McLaren’s new driver
McLaren have signed Oscar Piastri for 2023, replacing Daniel Ricciardo, whom they dropped a year before the end of his contract due to underperformance.
Brown said he had high hopes for Piastri and expected the 21-year-old Australian to be a good foil for his lead pilot Lando Norris.
“Lando is one of the fastest drivers on the grid and I expect him and Oscar to be close,” Brown said.
“I expect Oscar to have opportunities to beat him and vice versa. And that’s obviously what you want – two riders side by side and reverse the order.
“I have no expectations or plans – that’s what (Piastri) has to do on this date. But Lando is as quick as anyone in Formula 1 and in racing gear he would win races I probably think everyone would agree with that.
“So Oscar is going to have a teammate who is one of the fastest drivers in the world. But I expect Oscar, in time, to challenge Lando.”
Piastri joins McLaren after a year on the sidelines as an Alpine reserve driver, following his 2021 F2 championship win.
McLaren and Alpine were embroiled in a dispute over its future this summer, and F1’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB) ruled in favor of McLaren, saying Alpine had no valid agreement with Piastri .
Alpine’s preference had been to re-sign Fernando Alonso and loan Piastri to Williams for two years. They didn’t want to offer Alonso the two-year contract he needed and didn’t budge in negotiations, believing the two-time champion had no alternative.
In fact, Alpine’s tactics backfired. Alonso left to join Aston Martin after Sebastian Vettel retired. And while Alpine tried to play hardball with Alonso, Piastri and Webber decided that Alpine wasn’t committed enough to them and that they had better sign for a team they felt wanted more.
Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer and general manager Laurent Rossi criticized Piastri’s behavior, saying he was disloyal after the support the team had given him.
Brown said: “I was very impressed with the way he conducted himself over the summer. I thought Otmar’s comments towards Oscar were very unfair and inaccurate. Especially after passing the CRB and now i know exactly what happened.
“I thought the way Otmar questioned his integrity was very inaccurate and unfair, especially coming from Otmar.
“And (Piastri) was very mature throughout the process. For a 21-year-old player having all that pressure and spotlight, he wasn’t frazzled, he kept his head down.
“We had him in our (former) car. He did a great job and I think he’s going to be a future star.”
Brown said observations should bear in mind Piastri’s inexperience and the fact that teams only get three days of pre-season testing in 2023, split between their two drivers.
“What’s important is that he hasn’t raced in a year,” Brown said. “We don’t have a lot of testing and I would like there to be more pre-season testing. Not just for Oscar, but just in general.
“Because effectively he’ll only have a day and a half. Which isn’t a lot. I think he’s going to be competitive and push Lando. We just have to give him time to grow in the team. .”
Proposed Rule Changes
Ben Sulayem said during the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend that the FIA would “re-examine” policing the first year of F1’s budget cap.
Last month Red Bull was found guilty of exceeding the cap in 2021 and fined $7 million and deducted 10% of its aero research allowance for a period of 12 months.
Brown said one change he would like to see as a result of the budget cap is a relaxation of technical regulations.
He argues that the rules need not be so prescriptive if team spending is already capped by a mandatory cost cap, and that freeing them up would spur innovation.
“I don’t know why the regulations have to be as strict as they are,” Brown said.
“If you have a cost cap, then there should be more technical freedom, because you are governed.
“Then you would see more innovation, more risk taking, the cars would be even more different.
“And if you have the kind of cap, you have two governors – ‘everything has to look exactly like this and you can’t spend more than that.’ Stop (the police) with the spending and do whatever you want (with the cars).”
He said that with the two limits in place, innovation in F1 was “at risk”.