The RACER Mailbag, February 23

The RACER Mailbag, February 23

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, February 23

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Q: If Toyota does enter one of its brands as the third engine manufacturer in 2024, do you think there’d be a push to get IndyCar back to Japan? Toyota fought tooth and nail to get the Japanese GP to go to Fuji when it started its F1 program; would it use its track to get IndyCar international again?

Rikki, UK

MP: I do. Considering how the idea of Toyota (through a sub-brand) returning to IndyCar came from the mothership in Japan, and how there’s a tie-in with wanting to use the same motor in Japan’s top open-wheel series, Super Formula, it would be strange to think of a big new program commissioned out of Japan without some component involving a home race at some point.

Q: I have a question about what you think the best way to rank Formula 1 greats across the history of the sport. In F1’s first 10 years, the average number of races was 8.4. In the past 10 years, the average number of races was 19.9. In addition, the number of points awarded has changed several times since 1950. Clearly, raw numbers such as races won, poles, laps led and points are not valid methods of comparison. My suggestion for comparison would be percentage of races won. Using this metric, the top three F1 driver are: Fangio (47%), Ascari (41%) and Clark (35%). By comparison, Schumacher (30%) and Senna (25%) lag behind. In addition, both Schumacher and Senna were involved in several incidents where they crashed out their championship rivals.

Also, while Fangio and Ascari were both great professional racing drivers, many places in the early F1 fields were filled with rich, playboy drivers who were talented amateurs at best. I would submit that Jim Clark drove against seriously accomplished professionals who won across the spectrum of motorsport: Moss, Hill, Brabham, McLaren, Hulme, Gurney, Andretti. I would submit that Clark is the greatest F1 driver of all time.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this, and thanks for your time!

Bob Isabella, Cleveland, OH

MP: I’ve always rejected the mathematical approach with all-time rankings. It’s like trying to apply a formula to decide which food tastes the best or which band made the best music. How on earth can an equation do a better job of ranking what I’ve seen firsthand or heard, etc.? Numbers don’t account for nuance, nor do they speak to style, talent, difficulty, or any other human factor that played a critical part in why one driver had more or less of something than the other.

The NBA just honored its 75 greatest players during last weekend’s all-star game. Transport any of today’s players who made the list back to George Mikan’s 1950s era with the Minnesota Lakers, and our current greats utterly destroy the legends of old. Different times, different skills, and different rules.

If there’s any area of rankings that I place value in, it’s listening to the old drivers, owners, or reporters who saw Moss, Hill, Brabham, Clark, etc., and all the greats who’ve followed, and hearing what they have to say.

CHRIS MEDLAND: I think you highlight why it’s always so tough to define, because people can’t agree on the method of ranking let alone whether the results are then trustworthy.

Personally, I think you’re on the right track, because it’s the combination of success and results but allied to wider skillset across regulations, and that really tough thing to pinpoint which is just gut feeling.

We’ve all seen drivers pull out incredible performances that do nothing for their actual stats but stick in the mind. Of the modern crop, think Hamilton holding off Alonso in Indianapolis as a rookie more than one of his dominant wins in later years, or Verstappen in the wet in Brazil when he was only third.

It’s impossible to compare champions across eras. For starters, the cars that Clark drove were absolutely tiny. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images

Mario’s my favorite driver because of the different disciplines he raced and won in, and how regularly he did it, but that’s also me being romantic because it’s something that isn’t replicated at the top level anymore.

To be really boring though, I’d argue there’s not a GOAT in F1, and there’s not in many sports. Because the world evolves so quickly – be it directly related to the sport itself or not – that the environment and challenges these athletes face change rapidly.

For example, the Senna and Schumacher crashing point you mention is a valid one, but they raced in a time when contact with a rival was far less dangerous than it was for Clark, Fangio and Ascari, and the sport so much more professional that the demands and pressures were different. I’d say neither Senna or Schumacher would drive the same way if they were racing in the 1950s and ’60s.

So many drivers would probably be completely ill-suited to the sport in a different age compared to when they were great, but the main thing is they were all great.

Q: Let me preface this by saying I am a fan of the amazingly talented Colton Herta and Andretti Autosport has done many great things for the sport. However, it has been nearly 10 years since Andretti last won a championship in IndyCar. To win a championship you need amazing consistency which is a prerequisite in F1. When I think of CART/Champ Car/IndyCar drivers that go to F1, I think of Villeneuve, Zanardi, Montoya, da Matta, and Bourdais. All of these men dominated the sport prior to making the flip. Even Pato has tempered his expectations about going over the pond. It really seems like Andretti is forcing this move.

I would much rather they focus on an IndyCar championship. I really would celebrate a Herta championship (or Rossi). If this was Ganassi trying to get Palou to F1, I wouldn’t have written in because Alex has hit the pinnacle of IndyCar racing and Ganassi is a championship organization. For the past nine years it really has just been Penske versus Ganassi. And if Andretti is not careful, they no longer will be in the Big 3 of IndyCar with McLaren and Rahal doing everything they can to be in that conversation while Michael seems focused across the pond.

I wish everyone luck, but I think they need to take a deep breath.


MP: Michael wanting to become an F1 team owner is not the same as Colton wanting to become an F1 driver. I know Herta has an interest, but he’s not a slave to Michael’s business decisions, and if he doesn’t like what he sees, I can’t imagine he’d give up on IndyCar. And if Michael were to give Colton an ultimatum of moving to F1 or losing his IndyCar seat and Herta didn’t want to go, Penske, Ganassi, and all the other big team owners would sign Colton in a heartbeat.