The 'Formula 1' problem that cannot be ignored in IndyCar

IndyCar is deemed the most competitive racing series in the world, yet Formula 1 is arguably in a better place when it comes to the battle at the front.
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Road America, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Road America, IndyCar / Gary C. Klein / USA TODAY

IndyCar fans so often criticize Formula 1 for its lack of passing and competitive action at the front of the field, and while some of it (as in any sport) comes down to dislike toward the driver and team doing the dominating, a lot of times those complaints are justified.

Formula 1 can, at times, be downright lackluster.

But the cold, hard reality of it is that, right now, aside from the Indy 500, IndyCar is even less competitive at the front.

Unless you drive for Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, you're not coming out on top during an IndyCar race weekend, barring something totally unforeseen.

Those two teams, which have had a stranglehold on the championship since 2013, have combined to win the last 11 races, whereas three Formula 1 teams have won since last month alone.

And yes, I'm counting St. Petersburg as a Team Penske win, because Josef Newgarden was the driver who took the checkered flag and stood atop the podium. Stats can be crossed out and asterisks can be placed, but nothing is ever going to change that. Arrow McLaren and Pato O'Ward haven't done that in almost two years.

While officials were right to strip Newgarden of the victory, everyone knows that he would have won the race even without the push-to-pass scandal. You're kidding yourself if you don't.

This whole situation would, by definition, be something that fits the description of "unforeseen".

Team Penske have three proven contenders in their cars, including two two-time champions and two Indy 500 winners. Scott McLaughlin, who is simply a five-time race winner, has proven to be just as competitive pretty much anywhere; he just doesn't have the IndyCar resume of his teammates.

Chip Ganassi Racing is basically a tale of two teams: the champions and the newcomers. Scott Dixon and Alex Palou are weekly contenders and championship favorites who have combined to win four of the last six titles, while none of the other three drivers have ever competed full-time before.

How did the start go at Road America, with Linus Lundqvist and Marcus Armstrong, both of whom do have podium finishes this year, in the top three as Chip Ganassi's top two qualifiers? Asking for Colton Herta and Andretti Global.

Bottom line, it has been more than 10 months since a driver for any other team stood atop an IndyCar podium. Andretti's Kyle Kirkwood won on the streets of Nashville, a circuit which is no longer on the schedule, in early August.

As much as we all want to see Andretti Global and Arrow McLaren run up front, there is simply no "big four".

For a series deemed the most competitive in the world, one in which there are supposedly "12 or 14 drivers who can win on any given weekend", it's still the haves vs. the have-nots. And in year number seven of the current aero package configuration (five if you count the aeroscreen as a significant change), there are very, very few "haves".

At the moment, even Formula 1 is providing a more compelling battle among teams at the front of the pack.

Take the Canadian Grand Prix. Max Verstappen, who has led to much criticism toward Formula 1 since he has been dominating races left and right over the last few years, won that race in what was inarguably the third quickest car throughout what was an uncharacteristically poor weekend for Red Bull.

Granted, the race had a few twists and turns when it came to the weather and safety cars, but there were three or four drivers from three different teams in the battle for the win throughout all 70 laps. At various points throughout, it looked like the winner would be either McLaren's Lando Norris or Mercedes' George Russell.

In Canadian Grand Prix qualifying, those three drivers were separated by 0.021 seconds for the top three spots. In IndyCar qualifying at Road America, there were three teams in the entire top eight.

Even in another year of what has become the "Verstappen era", three teams (McLaren, Red Bull, and Ferrari) had won the last three races heading into Montreal.

When is the last time an IndyCar driver took a victory for the third fastest team on the grid? Better yet, when is the last time a team other than Chip Ganassi Racing or Team Penske was the team to beat?

The Formula 1 driver standings feature three teams in the top three. The same cannot be said for IndyCar.

The race at Road America saw three contenders, all from the same team. Nobody else was in the same time zone. If that happens in Formula 1, where there are only two cars per team, the race is deemed a bore, and IndyCar fans dunk all over the series on social media.

Just look at literally any Red Bull 1-2 finish from the last three years.

IndyCar's saving grace at Road America was the fact that it was Will Power, who hadn't won a race in more than two years, who ended up leading the dominant Team Penske trio. So even during a Formula 1-esque race, IndyCar still managed to add to its somewhat misleading "six winners in seven races" tally.

But why is IndyCar exempt from the same thing that generates seemingly endless criticism for Formula 1?

When you look at how great the Indy 500 was, it makes the series' continued avoidance of other big ovals even more baffling. It's like they've resigned to trying to outdo Formula 1, and now they can't even do that, because you have, at most, a handful of drivers capable of winning – which happens to be the standard in Formula 1.

Regarding the lack of ovals, Texas Motor Speedway put on the best race since Auto Club Speedway in 2015 last year, and IndyCar removed it from the schedule.

What an absolutely brilliant way to maintain fan interest.

In the two races following what was an epic Indy 500 last month, amateur-level driving has been the main thing keeping IndyCar races even remotely entertaining.

Clean passes on a Detroit street track totally unsuitable for IndyCar were few and far between. At least in Monaco, the Formula 1 drivers (most of them, anyway) knew better.

And is 47 (out of 100) caution laps on Monaco-level-tight streets really "entertaining"? The text I got during the race stating that "this is like watching 12-year-olds in go-karts" seems a lot more accurate.

From the start of the Detroit race until the first totally green flag lap at Road America (almost 20% into the race), more than half of the racing was led by the pace car.

Sure, there is still more overtaking in IndyCar than there is in Formula 1. But to be fair, the Formula 1 midfield has always been competitive as well, and I'm not quite sure how many people tune into IndyCar races just to see who is running 14th.

In that regard, there is little to no difference between the two series.

Canada saw Esteban Ocon go from 18th to ninth place in an Alpine that has been arguably the slowest car on the grid this year. Road America saw Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal go from 24th to 10th, one of his best showings of the year.

One of those impressive drives took place in a series where you supposedly can't pass. The other took place in a series which is considered the most competitive in the world.

I've been an IndyCar fan and covered IndyCar longer than I've been a Formula 1 fan and covered Formula 1. And, like most fans who watch both, I still prefer IndyCar, and I'm the last person who is going to encourage somebody not to watch or attend an IndyCar race.

Having said that, this double standard is getting especially old in a season that has seen IndyCar produce very little parity, all while Formula 1 continues to do what everybody has been led to believe it can't.

There are eight tracks left on the IndyCar schedule. Only one of them produced a non-Penske/Ganassi winner last year, that being the streets of Toronto, where Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Christian Lundgaard scored his first career win. He beat out Palou in second place to end the Spaniard's three-race winning streak last summer.

The most recent winner at the Milwaukee Mile was a team that no longer exists (KV Racing Technology, 2015), meaning that the most recent (active) winner there is also Team Penske (Power, 2014).

It's almost like the NFL. All you ever hear about is how anybody can beat anybody, yet barring something totally unforeseen, everybody has a pretty good idea of who the Super Bowl champion is going to be.

Gone are the days when Dale Coyne Racing would randomly show up and dominate a race weekend, or at the very least, pull a strategy masterclass out of their hat and end up on top of the podium.

And now there are more than a half dozen other teams that have either never won or haven't won in several seasons separating IndyCar's slowest organization from the very, very distant top two.

Next. IndyCar driver change confirmed for the rest of the 2024 season. IndyCar driver change confirmed for the rest of the 2024 season. dark

There are 10 total races remaining on the 2024 schedule. How many of them will be won by a team other than Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing?