MotorsportThe view from the stands

F1 versus Indycar — Which is better?

Is it about the tech, the money, or the show?

I can hear it now. In the battle of F1 versus Indycar, obviously F1 is better. Big money, big teams, big hospitality suites. More tech, more races, more superstar drivers. Several engine manufacturers. Races around the globe. All teams build their own superfast cars.

Indy cars are all the same. A spec series, for God’s sake. Only two engine manufacturers. Grade B drivers. Old-school tracks, oval tracks or crappy street circuits. One continent, two countries. Big freaking deal, right?

Let’s examine that

I’ve been following F1 since 1967. I was just a kid. The first race I saw was Monaco on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Lorenzo Bandini crashed horribly and died in a flaming wreck. Who won? I don’t remember.

The Monaco I do remember was the 1970 race, wherein Jochen Rindt relentlessly chased down Jack Brabham for the lead. Brabham stuffed his car into the hay bales at the last corner on the last lap. Rindt sailed by for the win. It was breathtaking.

I also remember the Spanish GP when Gilles Villeneuve held up a train of cars while using his turbo-engined Ferrari to keep all at bay. Was it a great race? Maybe not, but it was really exciting.

There you go. The last two GP races that thrilled me. It should be noted that it was the age of F1 “kit cars”. Any team could purchase a Cosworth engine and Hewland gearbox and build a potential race winner, or just buy a car from someone else. Drivers came and went depending on budgets and team whims, not to mention tragedy that was a regular thing on courses such as the Nurburgring, the old Spa and others. Mario Andretti would occasionally show up and kick butt. You know, a Grade B American driver. Right?

On the other hand, at the Indy 500, Mario Andretti raced his Hawk backup car after his Lotus failed spectacularly in practice. He won the race and got that world-famous kiss from Andy Granatelli. I vividly remember that.

Did Enzo Ferrari ever kiss one of his drivers? I doubt it. Enzo’s cars killed many drivers though and his namesake team is still too chicken to run at Indy.

Fast forward to now

Until this year, budgets in F1 reached obscene heights of upwards of $400 million. Lots of cities would love to have that kind of budget. This year, F1 teams have to subsist on only $145 million for a season. How ever do they do it? 

F1 tracks blow. Monaco is a kart track with a view. Baku is a bad joke. Herman Tilke-designed tracks remind me of vanilla ice cream. No flavor. Spa is nice, unless it rains.

What does all that money get us? One team and/or driver dominates just about every season. Nobody else really stands a chance. Oh sure, the technical boffins go on and on about the new widget or the new cutout in the floor. Does any of that money or any widget improve the show? Not one bit. The races are still super boring as a select few vie for a win. Hamilton takes most of them anyhow. Eighteen people to change tires? Two second pit stops are not impressive to the fans who sit across from the pits.

All the drivers hate each other. Hate. Even drivers in the same team hate each other. And most of the teams get most of their parts from another team. Sounds almost like spec racing to me.

And the Sky announcers suck as they yell at you on every lap. If I want yelling, I can talk to my wife. It’s auto racing, not football (soccer to us Yanks).

The superiority of American racing

In Indycar, sanity has reigned for several seasons now. After the ugly manufacturer body kits were jettisoned, svelt Dallaras give us close racing where any team or driver stands a chance to win on any given day. Think Dale Coyne’s team. On money that wouldn’t cover the hospitality budget of a F1 team.

In the battle of F1 versus Indycar, we have Roger Penske. Eat it Ferrari and Red Bull. Penske does far more with sane amounts of money and presents world-class teams in every series. We have Michael Andretti and his many teams. His teams win all over the place too. As do Chip Ganassi’s teams.

Every time an ex-F1 driver comes to America to race, their eyes are opened really wide. Why? All of the drivers in the series speak to each other. Ask Fernando Alonso if he would have done so well at Indy without help from the entire Andretti driver corp. Ask Romain Grosjean about the reception he’s gotten in America. Michael Andretti got the cold shoulder in Europe while trying to match Ayrton Senna in his first and only season. His reward was getting dumped right after his first podium at Monza. Nice.

All those ex-F1 drivers really like our old-school tracks too and are wowed in their admiration of the racing cathedral in Indianapolis. I’ll bet F1 would love to be back on the streets of Long Beach. I’ll also bet some F1 drivers would soil themselves on the Texas oval.

Our TV announcers speak to the audience as if they have brains atop their necks. They seem to be enjoying the thrust and parry of the races as much as we do.

About F1 versus Indycar — what am I trying to say?

F1 is all hype and little more. Indycar is all racing and a good show. If Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen have any balls, they’ll come over here and show us how good they are. I think they are at least as good as Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta or Pato O’Ward. Or Rossi, Palou, Hunter-Reay, Sato, Veekay and Harvey. Or Helio.

Alas, Lewis and Max have the money and social media. Small balls.

And I haven’t been to an F1 race since 1980.

F1 versus Indycar? Indycar wins hands-down.

The Indycar schedule can be found here.

More racing car fun can be found here.