Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Ishani Aziz
Since its introduction in 2015, the Formula 1 Super License system has been a very controversial addition. It has been mired with problems: great drivers not finding a way in, not so great drivers acquiring one, and the gray areas in the acquisition process which make for a system that is not well-liked by fans, team owners, or drivers. The super license system is in massive need of an overhaul.
Let’s begin by talking about a recent stir-up: Colton Herta and AlphaTauri/Red Bull. For about a month, IndyCar driver for Andretti Autosport, Colton Herta has been linked to an AlphaTauri seat for 2023. Herta has achieved many accolades in his short, yet fruitful time in motorsport. The 22-year-old has seven IndyCar wins, including a best of P3 in the championship (2020), a 2022 24 Hours of Daytona LMP2 victory, and has even had moderate success on the European feeder series ladder. Herta certainly has what it takes to be in Formula 1, not to mention now, when the sport is in need of an American poster boy. He’s proved himself time and time again, racing against and beating talents such as Scott Dixon, Scott McLaughlin, Josef Newgarden, and Alex Palou just to name a few. So where are his shortcomings? Simply put, Herta has but 31 of his required 40 super license points as of (or after) the 2022 IndyCar season.
The problem therefore, isn’t Herta’s lack of talent in obtaining the super license, but rather that the tantalizing nine-point gap. The super license points to non-FIA series is ultimately what prevents Herta from a well-deserved F1 debut.
If the points distribution given to Formula 3 is compared with IndyCar, the winner of the latter championship gets more points than of F3 (40 compared to 30). However, moving down the rest of the top 10, it gets less logical. In F3, P10 awards two super license points, but IndyCar awards just one. By this definition on paper, Aleksandr Smolyar’s P10 in F3 this season is worth more than Colton Herta’s P10 in IndyCar. While Smolyar is a deserving driver, his experience and accolades cannot be compared to Herta’s abilities.
Even still, the super license system has not even guaranteed the best drivers getting into the sport. F1 being the pinnacle of motorsport, has still succumbed to the money behind drivers in the past, namely Nikita Mazepin and Nicholas Latifi, both of whom would not have withstood the super license system. The FIA seem to have lost the purpose of the system itself, and it no longer seems to be the clearest pathway through motorsport.
A recent example of the feeder ladder granting perhaps too much was Gianluca Petecof in 2020. From 2018 to 2020, Petecof climbed through F4, Formula Regional, and other tests to a point where he was eligible for a super license despite being just 18 years old and having never driven anything faster than a Formula Regional car. Before the merge with Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula Regional European (an official FIA feeder series), granted 25 points. Keep in mind, this was a series where only six cars raced the full season, three of which being way ahead of the field because they were Premas. Petecof acquired that 25 points in the 2020 championship. In contrast, in the Formula Renault Eurocup, a non-FIA-sanctioned feeder series with many competitive cars and drivers, only handed out 18 points to the 2020 champion Victor Martins. By that rationale Petecof is more equipped for F1 than Victor Martins despite Martins beating figures such as Caio Collet, Lorenzo Colombo, David Vidales, and Alex Quinn.
The contradictory nature of the super license system is abundantly clear, and urgently needs to be reviewed by the FIA. The longer the FIA keep these inflated numbers on their feeder series and keep the lowered points on non-FIA sanctioned series, the less talent we’ll actually be seeing flow through the ranks. As Alexander Rossi simply put on social media: “Ultimately these past decisions, whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”