Formula 1, or F1 to those who don’t have the time to waste on syllables, is ‘undoubtedly the greatest auto racing sport in the world.’ Well, that is not exactly my opinion, but the opener to a lengthy conversation I engaged in recently with a dear friend by the name of Rich. This same friend is someone that I trust very much, who knows their sport, and, most importantly, has almost always been open to being proven wrong.
Statements such as these typically succeed the sinking of a number of beers and generally occur around the meeting place of a barbeque grill or any other alternative masculine meeting point. While I am also aware of many ladies who enjoy auto racing (and no, I have never met Danica Patrick), such discussions have almost always been a man thing where I come from.
When I asked my buddy to explain why F1 is the greatest motorsport in the world – and to justify his uncharacteristically Euro-centric view on things – I was surprised at just how much Rich struggled. I mean, if you are going to herald the greatness of F1 over every other motorsport, surely you can provide a compelling argument to let the rest of us know why right?
And thus, a conversation was born. Well, kind of. We discounted NASCAR – as awesome as it is – to focus on F1’s greatest open-wheel racing competitor, IndyCar. By the end of our discussion, Rich convinced me to write about the main differences between F1 and IndyCar.
Well, here goes…
First things first: the cars. Every logical comparison between F1 and IndyCar surely starts here. I mean, this is auto racing and the cars are kind of the main attraction of the sport for most.
Let’s take a look at the cars, starting off with the IndyCar:
Comparisons between both cars – and the F1 and IndyCar championships in general – are nothing new. In short, there are things to love and admire about both cars but there is no real way of measuring these two iconic brands against each other. In order to do that you would need the opinion of someone that has raced in F1 and IndyCar, right?
Well, as luck would have it, there have been a few drivers to have competed in both sports. Most recently, former two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso took part in the Indianapolis 500 and opened up on how he thought both cars compared:
“You know, they ask you if you are ready inside the car, you say yes. You switch on the car, and you go. They put fuel, tyres, and you go,” Alonso told ESPN. “While in Formula One, it takes maybe six minutes to fire up the car, because they need to check, re-check.” “Here is just more raw,” he added.
Everything is more racing. It’s definitely faster and different. But at the end of the day, we all started in go-karts. We all started in the small categories that probably we miss that kind of feeling when you get to Formula One and you have everything under control, you know, every single millimetre or every single tenth of a second.
“Here it’s more driver input, you know, in different phases of the corner or different runs.”
Personally, I’d be inclined to listen to someone who has raced in both championships rather than making my own mind up…
As you might already be aware, IndyCar uses ovals, street courses, and Speedways as part of the championship schedule. F1, on the other hand, does not use oval tracks, with many of the shapes of the courses looking very different to one another in more ways than one. Rather than the uneducated, “Hey, IndyCar drivers aren’t as good on a variety of tracks because they never turn left” argument, any gentleman of sports would appreciate that these are, well, two different sports.
Just as the cars and tracks differ, the progress that is made on designing the best vehicles – whether it is in F1 or IndyCar – is directly proportionate to the task/s at hand. In other words, an F1 car has been designed to race F1 courses while an IndyCar has not. Those tasked with designing the ultimate cars in America’s greatest open-wheel racing series are not focusing on winning the Monaco GP.
A common complaint of the F1-centric fan is that the oval courses in IndyCar create an environment where things like passing are not important. To the average F1 fan that has grown up watching the sublime machinations of Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, or Lewis Hamilton will probably not be able to get their heads around auto racing without such components being amiss.
However, if you ask IndyCar fans why the likes of Mario Andretti, A.J Foyt, or Rick Mears were so good, an F1 fan is likely to scratch their heads at the answer. Many comparisons can be made between F1 and IndyCar, but you must always keep in mind that they are not the same sport.
Put simply, the F1 championship takes place on street circuits and tracks around the world while IndyCar is limited to tracks, ovals, and Speedways in the United States. As such, it is no surprise to learn that F1 is favored around the world, given that it is truly an international series rather than one centered in one particular region. While many in North America could care less, that’s just how it goes.
Anyway, when it comes to F1 stages are called “Grand Prix” races. These occur everywhere from Britain to Italy, and India to Brazil. All Grand Prix races contribute to the F1 Drivers Championship and Constructors (we will cover this below) Championship. The points system works differently to IndyCar and is based on a completely different setup.
While F1 has some historically relevant races like Silverstone and the Monaco GP, IndyCar racing has what is arguably the greatest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500.
Given that the race has been a fixture of world sports since 1911 – and that it occurs on what is one of the most challenging tracks in the history of auto racing – it is widely regarded as the most important fixture in racing by many.
The Indy 500 is beyond legendary and is as American as apple pie. Everything from drinking of the milk and the famous “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines” call are famous around the world. Fans tune in from every continent on the globe to witness the historic occasion and to watch those superfast cars do their thing. The “Great American Race” might not be part of F1, but make no mistake, it is still watched from a distance with great envy.
This is one of the most important differences between F1 and IndyCar. The former features the absolute who’s who in European finesse, from Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, and Renault. Many of the original constructors in the early days of F1 are staples of the modern-day championship, which certainly adds a sense of historical relevance to F1, and this is something that is embraced by fans.
Of course, every fan of Formula 1 has memories of watching their favorite drivers crossing the line of their championship-winning race, or standing on top of the podium with a Cheshire cat grin on their faces. I certainly recollect watching who I believe was the greatest to ever do it, Michael Schumacher, blasting around the track with such aplomb in the legendary red of Ferrari.
When compared with IndyCar, well, there is no comparison. There are effectively two manufacturers in the series competition with each other, Chevrolet and Honda. Rather than having the variety and history of F1, IndyCar can appear to be a little parochial from those who live outside of the United States. This is certainly a common reason for our European and Asian cousins to look down their nose at Americans.
However, there is something quite nice about keeping things simple. IndyCar will always be a sport that was built on the foundations of American ingenuity and the good old USA in mind. So, it is easy to see why many American fans shrug their shoulders at the idea of multiple constructors in a racing series. Then again, you could argue that the snobbery across the pond is kind of justified. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you love.
Ok, there is definitely no comparison here. Regardless of what anyone tries to tell you, there is no way in hell that IndyCar can compete with F1 when it comes to revenue. For example, when payment details were released in 2018 for the previous season, Ferrari was confirmed to receive the largest share of Formula 1’s prize money. The kicker was that they didn’t even win the championship.
£715 million was shared between all 10 teams, consisting of race hosting fees, broadcasting rights, track advertising, and much, much more. When you consider the jaw-dropping amount of cash being throw around on advertisement and other commercial areas, you start to realize just how far the span of F1’s money-spinning machine reaches. Compared to other motorsports, it is astounding.
A major part of what makes the revenue and income in F1 so eye-watering is the commercial success of the championship around the world. Many of the largest global conglomerates know that their names and brands will be broadcast across every single continent, in hundreds of countries across the 3rd rock from the sun. There is so much money involved in this sport that it would be an injustice to subtlety to compare its revenue to IndyCar.
Then, there are the salaries. As anyone with even the most basic understanding of economics will understand, the more a company or enterprise makes, the more will be demanded by the stars and pioneers that help to make it big. As is with the case of the Lewis Hamilton’s and Ferrari’s of F1, they make enough money from exterior sponsorship and endorsement deals to survive as they are.
Put it this way: F1 generates more revenue for each event is hosts (Grand Prix) than any other sport on the planet. And by some distance, I might add. The average amount generated per race is just under $230 million, which puts it ahead of IndyCar. Now, this isn’t to say that IndyCar is small in comparison, as the next biggest earning sport per event is the NFL, which generates just under $25 million per game. Yes, you read that right.
So, given that F1 essentially makes 10 times the amount of money in one single event when compared to “America’s Sport,” it is not difficult to surmise that it is in a world of its own when it comes to making money. Whether you are the NFL, the NBA, MLB, or IndyCar, you are coming nowhere close to the world’s most popular auto racing sport when it comes to revenue.
To take you back to the conversation with Rich – the one that was the inspiration for this blog – I had no idea just how much difference there is in the revenue earned in F1 and IndyCar. That being said, I don’t make the money myself (I wish I did), so this doesn’t exactly make me look at either sport differently.
Regardless of what your preferences are, surely you can agree that both F1 and IndyCar are awesome championships. In this day and age, where comparisons are encouraged rather than consequential, can’t we just appreciate two things as they are? I mean, I don’t want to come across like a hippy, but surely each and every individual with even the remotest understanding of sportsmanship can do that?
If only life was that easy. Given the nature of how an F1 car and your American open-wheel car share similarities, comparisons will persist a lot longer than my words will. Then again, I’m not really trying to change the world here. I am simply imploring everyone reading this to give both F1 and IndyCar a chance.
Ok, while F1 may be more awesome than IndyCar in one department and IndyCar so supremely amazing to F1 in another, comparing both is a wasted exercise in oxygen mismanagement. There are too many differences and not enough similar criteria in order to argue a case for one being better than the other. Even with the five most distinct differences above, you have to agree this to be nothing less than the truth.
The key to overcoming the constant bickering between F1 and IndyCar fans is understanding that we don’t have to compare. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and, at this point, I am certainly inclined to believe him.
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