IndyCar is currently one of the most exciting motorsport championships in the world.
It’s had the same chassis since 2012, so of course there’s an element of gear parity that blends in with the big teams using their larger resources wisely. But ultimately, you can’t predict a winner on any given Sunday.
The cars themselves are powerful and difficult to handle. They’re unpredictable and boisterous, and when you tame one, you’ve defeated an evil beast. If you can’t get used to driving with oversteer, you’re in for a rough ride.
Then there are the unusual strategy calls you have to factor in on yellow, which can also take a race win through no fault of your own.
And what about the variety of tracks? You have to master short ovals and 2.5 mile speedways, street and city courses. That’s all with – at least in 2022 – a test day before the start of the season. Not two three-day tests. ONE test day!
All of these things ensure that the champion – and each of the riders in the top five, usually by year – deserves the highest praise given what they’ve accomplished and the rider standard they’ve surpassed to get there reach.
For these reasons in particular, it’s easy to see why IndyCar’s young stars are associated with Formula 1, the pinnacle of motorsport.
Pato O’Ward – through his McLaren team in IndyCar – and Colton Herta through his team Andretti and now also through his junior deal with McLaren have them firmly in the picture.
But is the reason they can shine in IndyCar the real reason F1 is wary of giving them a fair chance?
Our description of IndyCar and its difficulties also means that it is difficult to show consistency.
Comparing average results in F1 and IndyCar is skewed by the fact that IndyCar also counts retirements as classified positions and field sizes vary from race to race. But comparing the stats of the 2021 series champions is still instructive: Max Verstappen’s average result in the F1 races where he took the checkered flag last season was 1.4. The corresponding score of his IndyCar counterpart Alex Palou was 5.0. And even Verstappen’s 1.4 was inflated from his ninth place finish in a damaged car in Hungary!
Where F1 has been much more stagnant in terms of finishing position – as in, you tend to end up close to qualifying and people going back to front was rare – IndyCar drivers can win one week and the next Finish 17th and still lead the championship or avoid hitting the panic button.
What F1 teams know is that any driver who reaches the position where they are seriously considered for an F1 seat is exceptionally fast. Look at some of the talent that has fallen by the wayside even in recent years, that was fast enough to make it but just couldn’t convince F1 teams that they had the whole package, or the circumstances did not go their way.
This brings us back to consistency. Of course, F1 teams need to see impressive results, but above all they need consistency, that ability to perform reliably under pressure in the tightest of moments.
In IndyCar this can be so difficult because sometimes your team just doesn’t quite get through, you get a bad strategy call or your car isn’t quite in the window like the competition and you spend the weekend chasing it.
And sometimes in the pursuit of excellence, or even just mediocrity in this case, you crash and try to get the most out of it, like Colton Herta did on his in-lap for his second pit stop last weekend at Long Beach.
Even epic consistency in IndyCar’s current halcyon days may not be enough to convince an F1 team. After all, why go after a stranger in a championship that has a penchant for throwing completely random outcomes?
Most F1 teams have a junior driver that they have on their books who has been working on their simulation for years and who mostly impresses in F2 using the same tracks as tire supplier F1. That’s before you consider the summer carousel and any driver that might become available. Take Sergio Perez as an example, who got his first real big break well into his 30s at Red Bull.
There is no easy solution for IndyCar to change this, and becoming a more unified racing series like F1 would be disastrous for IndyCar. Arguably its best attribute is fun and entertaining racing, almost always delivering the right champion throughout the season, but with the ability for surprising David vs. Goliath storylines. It’s the perfect mix, as opposed to two drivers winning pretty much every race in a 23-race season exclusively.
It just means that F1 teams – who really can’t be expected to know the inner workings behind the scenes of every IndyCar driver and team – are looking at a series that makes it difficult to trust the results and a driver Giving confidence upside down end positions.
Luckily for Herta, there’s a feeling that Andretti’s F1 dream team will come true in 2024, he has a shot there. If not, it will be extremely difficult to convince McLaren that he is better than Daniel Ricciardo, if he even gets the chance to try.
What doesn’t help with these odds is making a second unforced mistake while winning races on street courses in less than 12 months. This only adds to the “these results are a bit unusual” attitude an F1 team might have.
What would help would be to know that Herta faced so much adversity last season that he still deserved his chance and that at 21 he’s still ironing out some of the kinks George Russell and Mick Schumacher put on one similar game had ages in F2 before reaching F1.
Context is gorgeous.
I still think IndyCar drivers shouldn’t waste time dreaming about F1 based on some of the reasons explained here and more. They should focus on building a brand and a dynasty in the US where they can have successful and lucrative careers, rather than risking a move to Formula 1 on an uneven playing field for the drivers they face in such a tight political arena There is no world competition at IndyCar.
But that aside, it would be so cool to see one of the top five drivers in the series get a chance to prove that – while results can be shaky – the series has real talent that F1 could be under pressure for consistent basis.
We know IndyCar drivers are fast, but wouldn’t it be great to know if they could do that against Charles Leclerc every week under pressure?