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 unable to sign American Colton Herta for 2023 because he did not have enough points under the FIA’s “excess” system.
Brown said the super license “around IndyCar needs to be reviewed” and IndyCar should be treated the same way as Formula 2 in the qualifying system.
McLaren gave Herta a test this yearas with two other IndyCar drivers, 2021 champion Alex Palou and McLaren driver Pato O’Ward.
Brown said it was “a shame Colton Herta is not 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 finish gives less than that.
In F2, the top three places in the championship earn 40 points. For IndyCar, there is a sliding points scale for lower positions. But below the first, all positions in F2 earn more than the same position in IndyCar.
It was this difference that prevented Herta from winning a super license.
Red Bull wanted the 22-year-old, who is a seven-time IndyCar winner and regarded as one of its most talented competitors, for their Alpha Tauri team in 2023 to fill the seat vacated by Pierre Gasly’s move to Alpine.
But the FIA refused to make an exception for Herta, so Red Bull 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 Muhammad is that he’s willing to challenge the rules and fix them going forward,” Brown said.
“Well, he’s playing it by the rules — ‘These are the rules and we’re not going to bend the rules,’ which I think is the right thing to do. Even if we think the rules aren’t good, like the super-licence.
“But what he’s very ready to do is say, ‘Maybe it’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 to replace Daniel Ricciardo, who was sacked a year before his contract was due to expire due to poor performance.
Brown said he had high hopes for Piastri and expected the 21-year-old Australian to be a good foil for their driver Lando Norris.
“Lando is one of the fastest drivers on the grid and I expect him and Oscar to be close,” said Brown.
“I expect Oscar to have some opportunities to beat him and vice versa. And obviously that’s what you want – two drivers next to each other and reversing the order.
“I don’t have any expectations or set a target – that’s what (Piastri) has to do to this date. But Lando is as fast as anyone in Formula 1 and with race-winning equipment, he would win races. I think probably everyone would they agreed with it.
“So Oscar will have a teammate who is one of the fastest drivers in the world. But I fully expect Oscar, in time, to challenge Lando.”
Piastri joins McLaren after a year on the sidelines as Alpine’s back-up driver, after winning the F2 championship in 2021.
McLaren and Alpine were embroiled in a dispute over his future in the summer and F1’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB) ruled in favor of McLaren, stating that Alpine did not have a valid agreement with Piastri.
Alpine’s preference was to re-sign Fernando Alonso and loan Piastri to Williams for two years. They did not want to offer Alonso the two-year contract he demanded and did not budge on negotiations, believing the two-time champion had no alternatives.
Either way, Alpine’s tactic backfired. Alonso left to join Aston Martin after the retirement of Sebastian Vettel. And while Alpine tried to play hardball with Alonso, Piastri and Webber decided that Alpine wasn’t committed enough to them and that they would be better off signing to a team they thought wanted them more.
Alpine team manager Otmar Szafnauer and chief executive Laurent Rossi have criticized Piastri’s behaviour, saying he was disloyal after the support the team had given him.
Brown said: “I’ve been very impressed with how he behaved over the summer. I thought Ottmar’s comments to Oscar were very unfair and not accurate. Especially when I had watched CRB and now I know exactly what happened.
“I thought the way Ottmar questioned his integrity was very inaccurate and unfair, especially coming from Ottmar.
“And (Piastri) was very mature throughout the process. For a 21-year-old with all that pressure and the spotlight, he wasn’t down, he had his head down.
“We had him in our (old) car. He did a great job and I think he’s going to be a future star.”
Brown said observers 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 competed in a year,” Brown said. “We don’t have many tests and I wish there were more tests before the season. Not just for Oscars, but in general.
“Because he’s basically only going to take a day and a half. Which isn’t long. I think he’s going to be competitive and push Lando. We just have to give him time to grow into the team.”
Proposed rule changes
Ben Sulayem said at the weekend of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that the FIA would “review” the first year’s policing of F1’s budget cap.
Last month, Red Bull was found guilty of exceeding the limit in 2021 and fined $7 million and stripped of 10% of its aerodynamic research allowance for a period of 12 months.
Brown said one change he would like to see as a consequence of the budget cap is loosening of technical regulations.
He argues that the rules need not be so restrictive if the groups’ spending is already constrained by a mandatory cost cap, and that loosening them would encourage 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’re in control.
“Then you would see more innovations, more risks, the cars would look even more different.
“And if you have the kind of cap, you have two governors — ‘everything has to look just like this and you can’t spend more than that.’ Stop (policing) spending and do what you want (with cars) .”
He said with the two limits in place, innovation in F1 was “at risk”.