Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who is Tops--Formula One or IndyCar?

When it comes to open wheel racing, the two pinnacles of the sport are Formula One and Indy Car. But which is better? It’s a tough question as it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. These racing pedigrees have grown up apart so they're more like cousins than brother and sister. But forgetting the differences, which is the better series?

Simon: Personally, I’m split when it comes to Indy Car and Formula One. Hands down, I think Formula One is the pinnacle of the sport. Technologically speaking, there's no beating the cars. The cars are frightening state of the art. Seeing what an F1 driver has to do behind the wheel, I’m astounded that any human can pilot these machines. From a romance perspective, Formula One wins again. It’s a global series having traveled to every corner of the world since its inception. The races still take place in some of the most glamorous places in the world or compete at some of the best tracks on the planet. It’s only been in the last couple of decades that Indy Car has ventured outside of North America, making it a provincial affair.

Where I think Formula One does fall down is in the competitiveness. It’s been a while since I attended a Grand Prix event, but from the races I did attend, not all F1 cars are made equal. TV coverage has a habit of making the racing look closer than it is. In person, you can tell the difference between the top teams and the also-rans. The engines aren't as refined. The handling is a little more ragged. So only a handful of the field has a realistic chance of winning. Combine this with the problem that several of the Grand Prix tracks have few overtaking possibilities; Formula One can be a little processional at times. That’s where Indy Car wins for me. There are top teams who dominate the sport, but the racing is a lot more open. For any given race, it’s very hard to predict who can win—even during the race. Things change all the time. The cars haven’t reached the limits of the circuits so there's always room for overtaking on the track. Hand on heart, some of the most exciting racing I’ve seen in the last couple of years has been from watching the IRL.

If I had to put one series in the winner’s circle over the other, I would have to give it to Indy Car. I’d want to race in F1, but I’d go watch the IRL.

Tammy: Much as I'd like to argue with you, Simon, I can't. Formula 1 is amazing technology. What I like the most about it is the spectacle. I feel the same way watching F1 as I did watching Wills and Kate get married: astounded at the pageantry and expense and hoopla. But I have to be honest, I rarely watch a race. For the most part, they're boring. But what's exciting about F1 is the stuff in between the races, and Mr. Crazy himself: Bernie Ecclestone. You never know what he's going to say next, but you know it's mostly going to be absurd and offensive.

On the other hand, IndyCar ... well, I'm not a big fan of ovals. I do like it when they're on the road or street courses, and I like that the series is more accessible (to fans, to team owners) than F1. But Indy on ovals ... also dull and without the constant passing that makes NASCAR on ovals mildly interesting. As I've said before, I don't really get ovals, so the prevalence of ovals makes me downgrade Indy. Honestly, if you'd asked me this last season, I'd have voted F1, because as overblown and egocentric as that series is, it's more interesting to watch and the technology is there. This season, IndyCar's been a lot more fun to watch, even if it is partly because of the gimmicks the new CEO is introducing.

But, you know, this is asking me to pick the lesser of two evils. Open-wheel just isn't my first choice. And can you explain to me why the Indy drivers are complaining so much about double-file restarts? I get it's dangerous, but so is their regular job driving those cars! F1 at least does double-file starts.

Simon: I’m not quite sure what the complaint is over double file re-starts. It could be the danger thing. Not necessarily because it’s dangerous to the driver, but to your position. Double file re-start increases your chances of a shunt that will kill your race—and who needs that risk? It could be that your position isn't as well protected because the guy right behind you is now right next to you. It could be the reverse. With a single file re-start, you do have a nice shot at overtaking the guy in front because there's a lot of open space around. It’s harder to do when the cars are bunched up double file. Personally, I don’t like pace cars and re-starts. I drove in a time where they yellow flagged the corner while they got the cars out of the way. The nice thing about that was that the racing continued and you maintained your lead over the car behind and did lose it with the re-start. A race was only stopped when if a car was stuck on the track.

What do you think? Formula One or IndyCar?


  1. I'm not a huge F1 fan, but it wins by default. It's the premier form of motorsport, after all. The sad thing, though, is the long, slow fall of pro open-wheel racing in the U.S. I'm not even sure which third-rate TV network now shows IndyCar racing, and I don't care. Plenty of fine drivers in the series, and the cars are beautiful and compelling, but ... nobody cares (except about Indy, of course). Maybe this'll change someday, and the pendulum will swing back toward open wheel. I hope so.

  2. I hear you that no one cares--except about Danica because she's hot (or something). I think part of the reason it's become boring to the average race fan here is that the engines and cars are all the same. It's harder to follow an essentially spec series. Add that to a majority ovals ... snooze.

  3. I'm going to be controversial and say I don't think F1 is the premier motorsport anymore. Yes, the cars are amazing and they race in exotic locations - but as you pointed out they don't race. They drive a convoy.

    Indy cars in the US have never recovered from the CART vs Indy car battle in the 90s. That happened at the same time as the rise of NASCAR. Thus the best American car drivers all migrated to NASCAR. Drivers like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon would have been in Indy but there just wan't any real circuit for many years.

    Danica has brought excitement not just because she's attractive. She has real talent - but has never had consistent great equipment. Has she managed to be in a Ganassi car - she probably would have won more races. It's not quite as bad as Sarah Fisher - who I think had more natural talent - but never could find a sponsor.

    Anyway - since the question is Indy vs F1 - I'm still going to take Indy over F1 because of the Indy 500. I know it's only one race but it's still a huge challenge and even the best drivers have failed to win it - Andretti or Kanaan. I mean Kanaan TWICE drove up the entire field in this year's 500 - that's probably the most spectacular driving I've ever seen in the 25+ Indy 500 races I've ever seen. It will be forgotten because he didn't win, but it was still impressive.

  4. I hear you, Mark. Both Simon and I agreed at the outset that we were both torn over the question. We both had some good reasons for each series. After considering more this weekend, I think that Indy fundamentally appeals to me more because it's more accessible--and as an American, I like that more than the elitism of F1. I guess my opinion could still change!

  5. This article is strange. Simon begins with objective arguments (F1 is technically superior in virtually every to IndyCar, true) then launches into a spiel about his own personal and subjective preference for watching IndyCar. Then concludes IndyCar is better. Why not just entitle the blog: "Which do we like watching more: F1 or IndyCar?" and spare as the rambling nonsense.

    The subjective section of his argument assumes that more overtaking is better. This is purely subjective. I for one enjoy the anticipation of the more meaningful overtakes in F1. Probably my most enjoyable F1 experience ever was the 2005 Monaco GP where Mark Webber chased Fernando Alonso lap after lap trying to overtake on the one corner of the track that allowed it to finally succeed and win his first podium.