Felix Rosenqvist is taking over Oliver Askew’s seat at Arrow McLaren SP for the 2021 season. The 29 year-old Rosenqvist is moving from the team that helped Scott Dixon win another IndyCar title, Chip Ganassi Racing, to a team that has done some restructuring in the past year as the combination of McLaren and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and hired two young drivers. Rosenqvist finished eleventh in the championship in 2020, just ahead of his teammate Marcus Ericsson by fifteen points. In a year where Dixon won the championship, both of his teammates would have liked to put up better performances for themselves too.
Askew did not get a renewed contract for the 2021 season after scoring 195 points in twelve races and finishing nineteenth in the championship. The 23 year-old did miss both of the Harvest GP races due to a concussion, but with Patricio O’Ward finishing fourth in the points standings and just six points out of third, those extra two races would not have helped Askew compete with his teammate in the points standings. O’Ward out-qualified Askew ten times out of twelve and out-raced Askew nine times out of twelve. At just 21 years old, O’Ward is two years younger than Askew and looks to be the driver with the most potential upside for AMSP in the future.
With O’Ward locked in for 2021, it was then up to the team to compare their options, and in this case that was keeping Askew for another year or going out and getting another driver. With two very young drivers on the team for 2020, I’m not surprised they chose to go with someone with a little more racing experience to perhaps aid the development of O’Ward along a little further. Rosenqvist has only been in the IndyCar series for two years, but has experience also in Indy Lights, the SportsCar Series, Formula E, and endurance racing. All of that experience could have definitely played a part in their decision to grab him for 2021.
And of course there’s also the stats. Rosenqvist has an Elo rating of 1602 compared to Askew’s 1469, meaning that Rosenqvist would be expected to beat Askew in a race about 68% of the time. When you compare Rosenqvist’s rating to O’Ward’s, you get an expected winning percentage of 40% for Rosenqvist, a much more even matchup.
In 2020, Rosenqvist led Askew in all of the major regular and advanced stat categories. He led in average finishing position (12.3 vs. 15.9), average starting position (9.6 vs. 15.0), average track position (11.7 vs. 14.0), adjusted passing efficiency (-0.1% vs. -1.1%), top five percentage (20.0% vs. 12.2%), and average extra positions (-0.5 vs. -2.2). The one category where Askew did best Rosenqvist was in race starts. He retained his starting position on 50 percent of race starts in 2020 compared to just 42 percent of starts for Rosenqvist. It’s also important to note that although Rosenqvist consistently beat Askew in these stat categories, he wasn’t at the top of the pack in any of these rankings himself. That said, you would rather have someone who is consistently trending towards the better side of the stat line rather than the other way around.
To put all of this in a visual perspective, here is a radar chart that shows the rankings in a selection of different stats between Rosenqvist and Askew. Being closer to the outer edges of the circle is better for all categories.
ATP: average track position, AEP: average extra positions, Adj. Pass Eff: adjusted passing efficiency, Top5 %: top five percentage, ASP: average starting position, AFS: average fast speed. Full glossary available here.
From a strictly analytical point of view, it seems like a great choice for AMSP to separate from Askew and bring in Rosenqvist who will be more on the level of O’Ward, consistently challenging his teammate and hopefully making both of them faster. O’Ward is still a very young driver in IndyCar, so having someone with more racing experience, even if it’s not a ton in IndyCar, should be helpful. Of course we don’t know anything about the price of driver contracts these days, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how AMSP valued Rosenqvist as a driver and how that compares with their evaluation of other drivers and O’Ward. Perhaps they overvalued him compared to other options out there, but without actual contract details we can’t tell that one way or the other.
Overall, I think this transaction was a good one for AMSP and O’Ward. AMSP gets a statistically stronger second driver to balance out their young team, and O’Ward gets an experienced driver to aid in development and competition. For Rosenqvist, he really opens up the opportunity to challenge and be a number one driver after being somewhat out of the spotlight behind a generational driver in Dixon. It could help his career prospects down the line to be the top driver at AMSP, though I don’t think that’s a given. If I had to guess who will finish higher in the championship next season, I would have to stick with Elo and give the nod to O’Ward.
Askew is a driver who teams should feel comfortable trying out again in the future, too. He wasn’t particularly consistent and wasn’t able to really take the fight to his teammate on the track this season, but he is an Indy Lights champion and I’m confident he will get another shot at an IndyCar seat, even if it doesn’t end up being a full time one in 2021.
Header Photo: James Black/IndyCar