State of the Championship: Dixon Maintains Early Edge

The season has started and that means The Single Seater’s championship simulations are running. Things are pretty similar in the simulation as last season. We simulate each remaining race using our Elo ratings, add up the points earned in those races, and add them to how many points drivers currently have in the championship. We run these simulations “hot” so drivers can gain or lose Elo rating points during the simulations which allows for more variation in the outcomes and reflects the truth that we don’t know everything about driver performance and it might change as the season goes on.

The remaining races are simulated 1,000 times and then we add up how often each driver finishes in each place in the championship. The sim will be run after each race and the results are on the accompanying stats page here.

After two races, Scott Dixon holds the early lead for projected winner with a 76% chance of winning the title. He sits two points off Alex Palou in the points championship, and Palou, Power, Dixon, and Herta are all really close in the points table right now. 76% might seem unreasonably high for only being two races into the season, but Dixon has a significantly better Elo rating than the next best driver (1973 vs. 1903 for Newgarden) and much larger gaps to the rest of the main championship contenders. Over the course of the remaining 15 races, this Elo advantage is projected to help Dixon stretch out a lead and put him in a good spot for a seventh IndyCar title.

Of course, it is still early on, and the numbers change quite a bit in these initial simulations. After the first race, Dixon had about an 82% chance of winning the title, so that’s a -6% change in just one race. With that said, I don’t think 76% is too far off the right number. One of the strongest parts of Dixon’s driving is that he is very good under pressure and does not make mistakes. He finished every single race last season which is almost a necessity to win the title these days.

A 76% chance for Dixon also means there’s a 1 in 4 chance he does not win the title, of course. The other drivers who finished first in the championship in at least one of the 1,000 simulations were:

  • Newgarden (17%)
  • Pagenaud (6%)
  • Rossi (1%)
  • Power (<1%)
  • Rahal (<1%)
  • Bourdais (<1%)

If Dixon doesn’t move into the championship lead soon, his chances of winning will continue to decline. If that happens, the big question will be who would be the one benefiting from that. Herta seems like a prime candidate to break into the championship projections winner circle soon. He currently sits fourth in the points with 62 points, but his Elo rating of 1651 prevents him from truly being a contender in our projections just yet (he finished in second place in 1.1% of our simulations). Despite a strong third place finish in the points last season, he still had some up and down races which hurt his Elo rating and chances at competing for the title. His deviation in finishing position of 5.6 compared to Dixon’s 4.0 in 2020 says a lot about his consistency as a young driver. With that said, if he continues to perform well this season he will quickly continue his climb in both the points table and Elo rating and I could see him with a good but outside shot at competing for the title at the end of the season. I might be wrong, but I think we’re probably a season away still from seeing Herta as a championship favorite.

I’m curious to see what you all think about these projections/championship odds, so let me know in the comments your predicted winner or even better some percentage breakdowns of your most likely championship winners.

Header Photo: Chris Owens/IndyCar

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