Super Swede Felix Rosenqvist’s 2021 results read more like an IndyCar version of a rap sheet. He’s 16th in the championship after four races with a 21st, 12th, 13th and 16th on the board.
The 2019 rookie of the year’s move to Arrow McLaren SP from Chip Ganassi Racing was supposed to be a breakout decision where he emerged from Scott Dixon’s shadow to lead this team poised for a breakthrough.
Obviously that hasn’t been the case. A crash in the pits in the first practice of the year at Barber was a sign of things to come and then he spun while in the spots to make it to IndyCar’s version of Q2, the top 12. Bringing out a yellow flag that affects a competitor means you forfeit advancing to the next session as per IndyCar rules. Then he was caught up in a crash during the race.
At St Petersburg – where he had qualified third for his IndyCar debut in 2019 – he was 17th on the grid and did well to move forward to 12th.
Texas was the real kick between the legs, though. With qualifying washed out the order was set on the championship standings, ensuring he started at the back. Still he fought forwards and was in the top five when a wheel came off just after leaving his pit box.
Then, in race two, he had to swerve to avoid fellow Swede Marcus Ericsson having exactly the same ‘wheel off in the pitlane’ problem, and going onto the grass cost him time and a top five when track position was vital. It all added up to 13th and 16th places for Rosenqvist on a weekend when his team-mate Pato O’Ward took third and then a breakthrough first win.
All in all, you might expect Rosenqvist to be down in the dumps. But a cheery, laughing and generally extremely upbeat driver spoke to us earlier this week.
“Speaking from pure results it’s pretty obvious that I’m not happy with my start,” Rosenqvist tells The Race in an exclusive interview.
“There’s been a few mistakes on my side and there’s been a few mistakes as a team and I think we maybe haven’t had the greatest of luck either.
I wonder if you know,
How they live in Tokyo.
If you seen it then you mean it,
Then you know you have to go.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) April 17, 2021
“Anyway, I feel like even if the season has been very tough so far, it’s still early. There’s a lot more races this year than last year so I think you have some chance to fight back a bit better than you had last year.
“Overall man, I’m so happy in the team. I feel like I’m super happy with the move I’ve made here. This is a team that’s on a mission and as you saw in Texas with both cars, we’re not here to play around and we’re hungry for wins.
“It was good that Pato got the win there. That was really a breakthrough for the team and when you start winning, there will be more to come from both cars.
“There are a lot of positives, we were super good in Texas and we were in the running for a podium in both races so that’s very good.”
It’s a similar position Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi finds himself in at the moment, one spot ahead of Rosenqvist in the standings. Sure, both drivers have made errors, but each team has too and it’s not like either is lacking any pace. It’s much harder to bounce back in these situations when you’re slow and have a slow car. That’s not the case for Rosenqvist or Rossi.
The incidents at Texas certainly summarise Rosenqvist’s season well. But there’s no hint of any worry in the #7 car camp.
🎶 You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel. 🎶
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 2, 2021
“It’s fun when you’re not me in that scenario, to watch it!” laughs Rosenqvist about the wheel-off issues. “It’s good fun and it makes for good racing but it was a shame for sure.
“I’ve been in this scenario before when you get a tough start and things are not going well but you just have to fight through and move on.
“I think it’s easier to do that when you’re with a team that is a good group, it’s a positive group, it’s a hungry group and everyone on this team is just ready to go and do some damage during the month of May.
“And that makes it easier to move on.
“I wouldn’t say that everyone’s like, sad faces.
“Obviously we all know what we lost in those races. I think it also can trigger us to do even better. We’ll fight through and we’re all good to go.”
Ultimately Rosenqvist agrees one of the upsides of the situation is that the team can gel closer together through the adversity it presumably will overcome.
At least at Texas the actual on-track performance and pace wasn’t the issue, but Rosenqvist has been caught out by the nature of the Arrow McLaren SP car when it comes to turning right as well as left.
“We have, I think, one of the hardest cars to drive in the paddock, but it is damn quick if you get a lap together,” O’Ward told The Race last week.
Ultimately the AMSP set-up creates an extremely lively rear end and to tame it, you need lightning quick hands and for that style to be second nature. It also means the car is sometimes harder on its tyres than its rivals.
Rosenqvist said it was “tough for me to adapt to the car”, and when asked about O’Ward’s comment, he told The Race: “I wouldn’t go into any details [on what is tough] but it’s definitely, I think what Pato mentioned, it’s one of those prima donna cars.
“You just have to get it completely right to get the lap time out of it but when you do it’s super fast.
“So we’re trying to increase that window a little bit and to make it a bit better over a race distance as well.
“It’s definitely interesting, it’s the same chassis [as the other teams] but whenever you get the chance to try different cars you realise how different the philosophies are but at the end of the day, it’s still very tight.
“I guess it’s more like the old school thing like, whatever suits you the best, whatever gives you the most confidence is going to give you the best package in the end.”
The team are aware of this, and both Juan Pablo Montoya, who will drive the car this weekend on the Indianapolis road course ahead of his Indy 500 comeback, and O’Ward have acknowledged it’s being worked on. A car philosophy is not just something that can be changed overnight though, especially during the covid era where testing has been tricky.
“They’ve been super open to it and I think they’re just happy to get more input,” says Rosenqvist of the likelihood of the car philosophy being changed to suit him.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 2, 2021
“You have to give Pato credit, he came in pretty much as a rookie to the team [for 2020] and he’s not expected to know things he can’t know.
“So I think he’s done a brilliant job to just get on with it, and that’s definitely his biggest skill to just drive the shit out of it, speaking clearly, and just get on with it.
“And then we, the old boys, me and Juan Pablo, we’re the complaining group! No, not really.
“But it’s definitely interesting how it’s been that kind of dynamic and it’s something that team is taking in and absorbing. I definitely think it will make us stronger in the in the long run.”
Ultimately it’s fine for Rosenqvist to be upbeat about the situation, but he does need to start putting the results on the board. His team-mate is second in the championship and has secured an F1 test with McLaren through his Texas win.
The last thing Rosenqvist needs is to become a number two driver at Arrow McLaren SP, as that certainly felt like the case at Ganassi last year with Dixon, the team’s long-term talisman.
Speed has never been Rosenqvist’s issue though and we know he’s every bit as quick as O’Ward.
Now’s the time for consistency and putting strong results on the board, especially as many of his rivals who have had tough starts will be looking to do the same, and will capitalise if his poor form continues.
Next up is the Indianapolis GP where he scored his first IndyCar pole (above) in 2019, so there’s cause for optimism. Certainly, Rosenqvist doesn’t appear too worried right now.