It's old news at this point that IndyCar driver Colton Herta, who was being considered for a drive buy Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, will not be on the grid in 2023. While several factors influenced this final decision, one was certainly the difficulty and complexities around qualifying Herta for an FIA super license. Let's take a quick look at exactly what the regulations are, and why this was a problem for Herta.
The FIA super license program was implemented in the wake of Red Bull signing Max Verstappen to Torro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri) In 2016. This was at the time a controversial move due to how young Verstappen was, completing his first race for the team before he had a road driver's license at the age of 17. The controversy that this created within the paddock prompted the FIA to adopt the “points system” they now use for attaining a super license, which is required by all drivers to compete.
This points system awards drivers in various other racing series “points” depending on where they finish in the standings for that sport and require that a driver accrue 40 points before they can apply for a super license to race in Formula One. The issue with the system as implemented arises because this point system does not treat the different series as equals, with an obvious preference towards formula two and formula three, the lower “feeder” levels of Formula One With an apparent prejudice to the American racing series of IndyCar. The following graph, curtsey of The Race demonstrates the points that are awarded for finishing in the top 10 spots of F2, IndyCar, F3, and the FREC.
For the sake of the argument, let's say you race in IndyCar, and finish 5th in the overall drivers standing for three years in a row. That would be a very impressive feat, as IndyCar is a professional racing series “on the same level” as Formula One (with its junior programs as well). After those three years in IndyCar, you would have accrued 24 super license points(8 per each year). Now let's say you finish first in the FREC, the “Formula Regional European Championship”—a well-contested but lower-level European championship between F2 and F3. Finishing 1st in that championship once leaves you with 25 super license points. Let that sink in for a moment—finishing 5th in a professional, well-respected, open-wheel championship in the United States is viewed as approximately 30% as valuable as winning an amateur but Formula One-affiliated championship.
I'm not saying that finishing fifth should give the same number of points, but this demonstrates how undervalued IndyCar drivers are in this super license context. Another example would be finishing 5th in one season and 2nd your next season in IndyCar. This would still leave you 4 points shy of qualifying for a super license. Meanwhile, a driver could finish 4th and 5th in Formula 2 (an amateur feeder series) during that same time that you’re racing as a professional and be more than qualified for a super license (having 50 points overall) is frankly baffling.
I understand that the hierarchy and pyramid structure of Formula One, formula two, formula three, etc. is important to promoting your in-house development programs, but the incredible discount shown to professional racing in IndyCar is eyebrow-raising at the very least. The FIA does have a rule that allows them to grant a super license if a driver has at least 30 points and is unable to otherwise qualify due to situations of force majeure, but they have never exercised this(and simply “not having enough points” isn’t force majeure), and it is obvious they did not plan to with Herta.
I don't have the answers as to what would be a more appropriate award of super license points, but it is apparent that there is a negative bias that needs to be corrected within the rules. Especially as Formula One gains popularity in the United States and teams continue to look to drivers from the US to capitalize on this added interest, the disadvantage drivers have by participating as professional drivers in IndyCar needs to be remedied in some way moving forward. While the hopes for Herta in 2023 are dead on the vine, the FIA needs to be cognizant of these developments and issues with their current implementation of the super license system and work towards a “better” remedy.
Zachary Bryson is a graduate of Wake Forest University with a B.A. in Economics and a Minor in Entrepreneurship. He is currently a JD candidate at Elon University School of Law, Class of 2023. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @ZacharySBryson.