DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.
“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.
I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, ‘Man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull?’ ”
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It probably would look a lot different than the 2023 season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen. The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.
Along with tying Senna’s mark for titles this season, Verstappen seems poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.
“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably would win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”
Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory. Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport each have visited victory lane in 2023 with Arrow McLaren certain to join them at some point.
Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars leading more than 95% of the laps.
The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series. While F1 teams have virtually autonomy to build their cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization. Teams all use the DW-12 chassis, whose development has been maximized over the past 13-plus seasons.
Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar because driver talent can be a bigger determinant in results.
“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”
Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion said its appeal doesn’t stem from being competitive.
“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).
“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne, we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”
Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars. The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. This is spec. Really the only things you can change is dampers and engine differences between Honda and Chevy.
“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”
Qualifying might be the best example of how tight the series. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.
Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with that Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).
While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.
“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there’s 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.
“If you want the ultimate drivers series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”
Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.
“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.
“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There’s so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”