Formula 1 and IndyCar are two disciplines managed in a very different way. While F1 has always been the pinnacle of engineering excellence, with an emphasis on design and development, the US championship has prioritized equal opportunities, with lower budgets .
For European fans, IndyCar can seem complicated, and for audiences across the Atlantic, F1’s reliance on money and technology can be just as confusing. But by looking at the key differences, and what each championship does better than the other, it’s possible to appreciate the richness of high-level single-seater racing.
F1 or IndyCar: which has the highest top speed?
The maximum speed reached by IndyCar is around 380 km/h thanks to 2.2-litre V6 twin-turbocharged engines, while for a Formula 1 it is around 330 km/h thanks to hybrid engines 1.6L V6 turbocharged – although in 2019, Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Pérez managed to reach 360 km/h in Monza and Mexico City respectively. F1’s lower top speeds are explained by the priority given to downforce and cornering speeds in the regulations.
However, IndyCar’s superior straight-line speed does not directly mean that its cars are faster over a full lap. Formula 1 cars can accelerate much faster and are set up to waste much less time in corners. In 2019, IndyCar raced on the United States Grand Prix track, the Austin Circuit, which allowed direct comparisons to be made for the first time. Will Power took pole with a lap of 1’46″017 and an average of 185 km/h. Almost nine months later, in Formula 1, Valtteri Bottas set the best time in 1’32″029, 14 seconds faster and with an average of 215 km/h.
With such different approaches to motorsport, it is not really representative to only consider top speed. IndyCar emphasizes a level playing field, with all teams using the same Dallara chassis and having a choice of Honda and Chevrolet engines. By comparison, F1 currently has four engine manufacturers and each team develops its own parts. The competitiveness of the cars therefore varies considerably from the front to the back of the grid and budgets are affected in the fight for points.
How powerful are IndyCar and F1 single-seaters?
According to the official website, IndyCars make between 550 and 700 horsepower, depending on the power of the turbo. On the other hand, F1 engine builders tend to be quite tight-lipped when it comes to details of the current horsepower of their respective units. In 2019, Renault announced that it had reached 1000 horsepower with the internal combustion engine and hybrid systems, which suggests that Mercedes and Ferrari have also reached this magic number.
What assistance is available in F1 and IndyCar?
Since 2011, F1 has used the DRS system in an attempt to undo the aerodynamic disadvantage of following another car closely and encouraging overtaking. The system works by allowing cars that are within a second of the one ahead of them to lift a section of the rear wing in designated straight lines to create an opening that improves aerodynamic efficiency by reducing drag and allowing to go faster.
IndyCar introduced its « push-to-pass » system in 2009 to help increase the number of passes. Controlled by a button on the steering wheel, pilots can temporarily increase engine power to obtain approximately 40 additional horsepower. In 2017 the rules changed, giving each driver 200 seconds of extra power during the race rather than an allotted number of uses, which allows drivers to reverse if a maneuver fails. of overtaking without losing extra seconds of boost and deploying that time later.
What are the respective audiences of F1 and IndyCar?
As a predominantly national championship, IndyCar’s television audience is far lower than that of F1, which is global. In 2019, IndyCar achieved an average viewership of 5.45 million viewers per race across all affiliate channels of NBC, the series’ official broadcaster. In comparison, F1’s average viewership for the year 2019 was 91.5 million globally, with the highest cumulative viewership since 2012. However, viewership for both championships grew by 9% from compared to 2018 figures.
What is the difference between the qualifying formats of IndyCar and F1?
For all Formula 1 races, qualifying is divided into three sessions called Q1, Q2 and Q3. All the drivers compete in the 18-minute Q1 session, with the five drivers with the slowest times being eliminated at this stage. In Q2, the 15 others fight to achieve one of the 10 best times in order to access Q3. In the final session, the drivers compete for the fastest time to get as close to the front of the grid as possible for Sunday’s race.
IndyCar qualifying depends a lot on the type of event. For races on ovals, the drivers start one by one, and the average of their two timed laps constitutes their qualifying time. For the Indianapolis 500, qualifying is spread over three days, with each setting a time based on the average of the four laps completed on the first day. Those in the top nine repeat the process in the Fast Nine Shootout, and those below 30th place take part in the Last Row Shootout to decide the final grid.
For road and street circuits, drivers start in groups and results are decided based on their best lap. The field is split in two for the first segment, with the six fastest riders from each group moving on to the next segment of qualifying, and the others occupying the positions of 13th and above. The fastest 12 drivers then have ten minutes to complete a lap, with the fastest six advancing to the deciding Fast Six session, while the remaining drivers occupy 12th and 7th places on the grid. The bottom six have six minutes to set the fastest lap and claim pole position.
What are the differences between IndyCar and F1 racing formats?
For F1, the race ends when a distance of 305 kilometers covered is reached. This usually takes around an hour and a half, but there is also a two hour limit for each race in case of bad weather or long safety car periods. For IndyCar, it’s a bit more complicated. For oval races there is no time limit and all races are over distance, whereas for road or street circuit races there is usually a two hour time limit if the distance of the race cannot be reached – although there is a provision in the regulations which allows race management to change the time limit if necessary. That said, most races last around an hour and a quarter when run uninterrupted.
One of the biggest differences between F1 and IndyCar is where the races take place. While IndyCar only left the United States in 2019 to venture across the border, in Toronto, F1 criss-crosses Asia, Europe and even North America and from the South: from Australia in mid-March to Abu Dhabi in early December. F1 globe-trotting therefore has a longer season, both in terms of the number of races and the duration in calendar months.
In IndyCar, refueling is still an integral part of racing, which has been banned in F1 since 2010. F1 mechanics now change cars’ tires in around two and a half seconds, while IndyCar pit crews change tires and fill the tank with approximately 84 liters of fuel in less than ten seconds.
What is the difference between the F1 and IndyCar point systems?
In F1, points are awarded to the top 10, with 25, 18 and 15 points respectively for the top three drivers, down to one point for 10th. IndyCar, on the other hand, is much more generous in the allocation of points: the winner receives 50 points, the second 40 and the third 35, and points are distributed to all finishers, drivers classified between 25th and 33rd place receiving 5 points each. Points are doubled for the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale at Laguna Seca. Points are awarded from first to ninth place for the 500 Mile qualifications.
While F1 recently reintroduced a bonus point for the driver with the fastest lap of the race (provided they finish in the top 10), IndyCar goes even further in rewarding its drivers, with a bonus point for pole and leading at least one lap, as well as two points for the most laps led.
In F1, each constructor also receives points in the same format based on the finishing place of its drivers. In IndyCar, engine manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet compete, receiving the same number of points as their two best-placed drivers. In addition, the manufacturer who wins the race is awarded an additional five points, and an additional point is awarded to the manufacturer who achieves pole position.
The situation is slightly different for the 500 Miles, where two points are awarded to the manufacturer with pole position and one to whoever was fastest on the first day of qualifying. Engine manufacturers who reach the 2000 mile threshold are entitled to a bonus equal to the number of manufacturer points scored during the race.