Bryan Herta, USA's next best chance for F1

 by Mark Cipolloni
August 15, 2002

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Bryan Herta recently tested  last years Minardi F1 car

We spoke to Bryan Herta yesterday, fresh off his recent test of last years Minardi F1 car at Donnington, England.  After getting past the initial jitters that comes with auditioning for the biggest chance in your career, Herta surprised even himself just how well he did.

It's not too often that an American driver gets a shot at F1, and I think it surprised a lot of people when they heard that Bryan got the call.  Not that he isn't worthy, but more the fact everyone says you must come up through the European farm system in order to make it to F1.  Herta certainly didn't fit that bill.  Everyone was thinking America's next F1 driver would be a youngster backed by the Red Bull program that make it to the top rung of motorsports through the European ladder system F3-->F3000-->F1.  So imagine everyone's surprise when Herta's name popped up.

"I got to run about 30 laps in last year's Minardi, and it was an incredible experience," says Herta.  "Last years car is about 1.5 sec. per lap slower than this years car, but a number of other drivers drove the old car so I was able to measure how well I did."  The seating position is much more reclined than other race cars, in part due to the raised nose of a modern F1 car.  The car was super responsive compared to anything I had every driven, including a Champ Car."  Of course a lot of that is due to the 400 pound weight advantage a F1 car has, but the advanced systems on the state-of-the-art machines make a difference too.

Former CART Champ Car driver Bryan Herta

The modern F1 car also makes a lot more downforce than a modern Champ Car, so the performance difference is significant.  I asked Bryan how he faired in lap times compared to the other drivers tested.  "I'm not allowed to talk about lap times, but I am extremely pleased at just how well I did against drivers such as Justin Wilson."  I think my style of driving is perfectly suited to a F1 car.  A F1 car seems to like a smooth driver who doesn't throw the car around a lot, and I'm known for being smooth.  I think that's why I always ran so well at Laguna Seca, where you must be smooth to be fast."

"I was surprised that all the advanced systems did not take away from the driving," said Herta.  "Although they make the car faster, because everything just works better, the driver still has to hit his braking points and carry the speed through the corner.  If it was all computer controlled like some people think, there would not have been such a disparity in lap times between all four of the drivers who tested that day." 

"The car basically shifts itself on upshifts, making perfect gear changes at the precise moment just before redline.  On downshifts all I had to do was hit one button, for say 2nd gear, as I approached the corner, and when I applied the brakes the car would downshift to second automatically at the right time.  Pretty amazing stuff, but I was able to shift it manually too.  I liked both ways," said Herta.

"I'm only 32 years old," says Herta.  "That's younger than Michael Schumacher and he just seems to be getting better.  My reflexes are still sharp and I know I can get the job done."  I want to get teamed with Mark Webber.  He's a hot commodity in F1 these days, and if I'm competitive with him, people are going to stand up and take notice," says Herta.  "I'm at the perfect age whereby when I'm ready to retire in a few years, the American youngsters that Red Bull brings along now, will be ready to step in to fill my shoes, and I can be a perfect mentor for them along the way."

Are you worried about the challenge, if it comes?  "Heck no, I've got everything to gain and nothing to lose.  If I do well, people will say wow, where'd he come from, and if I don't, well I wasn't thought of as F1 material by most pundits anyway."

Although Herta claims he doesn't have to bring money to the table, he admits, he wishes a company would step up and help a little.  "That certainly would help cement the deal," says Herta.

We have heard all this talk about Red Bull and their program to get an American driver to F1.  Well here's their chance to step out and help Bryan Herta, who is on the verge of possibly landing a ride for the last three races of this year, and maybe a fulltime ride in 2003 if he did well.  Anthony Davidson is driving in place of Minardi rookie Alex Yoong the next two races, while the team gives Yoong another chance with a test. 

Herta knows if he gets asked to test again in the next couple of weeks, it's likely he'll drive for Minardi at Monza, the USGP and in Japan....that's how well his first test went.  If Herta drives at Indy for the USGP, it's bound to make big headlines in the USA, as the only American in the race.  Talk about a bonanza for a sponsor.

Now it's just a matter of Bryan waiting for the phone call of his lifetime from Minardi.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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