Former F1 driver, team boss and IndyCar legend Bobby Rahal has named three IndyCar drivers who he believes, with the right car underneath them, could fight for the big prizes in Formula 1.
The 69-year-old Indianapolis 500 winner has been a familiar face in the IndyCar paddock since the early 1980s and has seen the likes of Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve swap American open-wheel racing for F1.
But as interest in the sport hits new heights in the United States, could any of today’s IndyCar stars become Formula 1 megastars and take the fight to Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc? According to Rahal: yes, as he pointed to three IndyCar talents who he feels have the potential to compete at the highest level.
The first name on Rahal’s list was IndyCar’s youngest ever winner, 22-year-old Colton Herta, son of IndyCar legend Bryan Herta.
Herta is now part the McLaren stable and is expected to be given the chance to drive their MCL36, perhaps even during an FP1 session, at some stage this season.
Speaking to Beyond the Grid, Rahal said: “I think Herta has got a lot of potential. He’s very young and he’s got a lot of runway ahead of him, he’s going to be around for a while.”
© Joe Skibinski/IndyCar
Rahal also named fellow McLaren youngster Pato O’Ward, who this month put pen to paper on a new deal with the team that will see him remain in IndyCar until 2025.
Big things could follow for the young Mexican, 22, who finished a close second behind Marcus Ericsson during this season’s Indy 500.
“I know he’s tested the McLaren and I think he’s special, pretty special,” said Rahal. “If you give him some time, I don’t know the situation with McLaren, but they’ve done a good job as of late. He has an opportunity there.”
© Arrow McLaren SP
However, IndyCar’s big star of 2021 was Spanish talent Alex Palou, who claimed the title in only his second season.
Palou started his career in Europe, racing in Formula 3 and Formula 2, but made the switch to IndyCar in 2020 and has since won big prizes with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Rahal said: “He has been pretty impressive, really outperforming Scott Dixon, who is really the yardstick.
“He’s done well on all circuits and now that he’s with a great team, that helps tremendously. Still, I think he’s done a very good job.”
© Chip Ganassi Racing
Rahal: Let’s face it, they’d need to be in the best teams
But like any young driver chasing race wins in F1, Rahal says all three would need to find a way into one of the best seats to stand a chance of winning races – and to do so they must fight off intense competition from the likes of Oscar Piastri and Nyck de Vries.
He said: “I think, let’s face it, whoever it is, they would have to go into one of the best teams [to win], into a Mercedes or a Red Bull. The technology is so advanced that unless you have everything behind you it is going to be difficult to show [your talent].
“I think any one of those young guys, if you put them in a good car and give them some time, I think they could do really well.”