Note: The Writers’ Roundtable welcomes Eric Smith as its newest member starting this week. Eric joined Penske Entertainment to cover everything about INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a decade of writing content for Race Review Online, a motorsports website he founded.
Today’s question: Max Verstappen is dominating F1 this season with a record 16 wins. In the far more competitive world of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, how many wins by a driver in a season would equate to Verstappen’s F1 dominance this season?
Curt Cavin: My inclination was to say eight since that’s the most I’ve seen in my 30-plus years covering the sport. Al Unser Jr.’s 1994 season was magical even beyond the Mercedes pushrod engine creation that won Indy. Junior won exactly half of the races that year, with Penske Racing teammates Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy combining for another four wins to give Roger Penske’s organization 12 of the 16 wins. That was as dominant as it gets in this era of the sport. But I think the question here is what would it take for a driver to do something historic as Verstappen has done. To do that, I think it takes a record-tying 10 wins, matching the feats of A.J. Foyt (1964) and Al Unser (1970). Remember, Foyt won the first seven races that year and nine of the first 10. Big Al won five in succession at one point and 10 of 18 in all. That’s big, big stuff. That’s what it would take to turn the sport on its head as Verstappen has.
Eric Smith: My mind initially went to 10. However, just twice in the history of INDYCAR has someone reached that number, the last being 53 years adrift. Seems like a rather unfair accomplishment to ask for. That’s why you must look more recently to get a true comparison. If we go back to unification in 2008, the highest win total in a single season is six. Josef Newgarden has won nine times the last two years combined but never more than five trips to victory circle in a single season. Alex Palou is coming off a five-win championship winning campaign in 2023. There’s just far too much talent to win in the INDYCAR SERIES on any given basis here, and reaching eight wins in a single season will be borderline historical. It’s only happened…eight times.
Paul Kelly: This is sort of an apples-to-oranges comparison since F1 teams can achieve a level of superiority that NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams can only dream of because F1 teams build their cars, and there are twice as many engine suppliers as the two in INDYCAR. And it’s still a squash-to-carrots comparison in INDYCAR since there were more chassis and engine options in the era in which A.J. Foyt and Al Unser dominated. Max Verstappen is a generational talent in F1, but he also can thank the cars designed by Adrian Newey for his success. Max may go down as one of the greatest drivers in F1 history; Newey already is the greatest designer in F1 history. INDYCAR SERIES teams don’t have the luxury of finding an advantage through chassis design, so I think any driver who wins more than half of the races on the schedule will achieve a Verstappen-like feat. So, my magic number is nine in a 17-race season. And guess what? It’s not happening any time soon. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is just far too competitive for that kind of dominance.