If you’re new to motorsport, you might think IndyCar is similar to Formula 1 but the reality is they are very different. From the regulations and the cars, to the calendar and the tracks, there are clear differences between the two categories.
On paper, IndyCars and F1 cars look very similar because they are both single-seater, open-wheel machines.
They both drive on permanent race tracks or street circuits and are incredibly quick. But, that’s where the similarities between F1 and IndyCar come to an end.
F1 vs IndyCar: The cars
F1’s technical regulations are a lot more open than IndyCar‘s rules, so there is freedom for design and innovation such as Mercedes almost ‘sidepod-less’ 2022 car. But in IndyCar, the aerodynamic regulations mean everyone has the same car design.
IndyCar only have two engine manufactures Honda and Chevrolet across their 27-car field whereas F1 currently have four engine manufacturers, which are Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault, that are shared across the 10 teams.
Whilst F1 have been using a V6 turbo-hybrid engine since 2014, IndyCar still have a V6 twin-turbo engine, but they are set to introduce hybrid technology from 2024.
“The only part which you can create, design or update in IndyCar are the dampers,” said former F1 driver and current IndyCar Andretti driver Romain Grosjean. “That’s the difference between the big and small teams.
“Damper budgeting is really big. At a bigger team, you try to generate as much grip as you can from the dampers. In F1, you create your own car and copy what the others are doing great.
“The beauty of IndyCar is all of the settings, such as the roll centre, geometry, dampers and springs. You can really make a car to your liking, so you love driving the car and it fits your driving style.
“Whereas in F1, you have to adapt with what you’ve got. It’s dominated by aerodynamics. So if the base of the car is understeer, like the Haas would do during my five years there and you don’t like it, you have to drive around it.
“I think Daniel Ricciardo is a really good example. He’s such a talented driver, won races, did really well at Renault, went to McLaren and struggled a lot just because the car doesn’t suit his driving style.
“Changing your driving style is a challenge. It’s not easy. You can do it and adapt, but it’s never going to be 100 percent natural and that makes it tricky.”
F1 vs IndyCar: The calendar
F1 is a world championship that visits five continents over 23 Grand Prix, whereas IndyCar‘s events are all held in the United States, apart from the race in Toronto, Canada.
IndyCar have previously been to Brazil, most recently in 2013, and have gone overseas to Europe during the CART era in the 1990s and 2000s.
The IndyCar season usually starts in late February and finishes relatively early in September, so the 17 races are compressed together. F1‘s schedule traditionally runs from March until the season finale at the Abu Dhabi GP in November or December.
F1 vs IndyCar: The tracks
F1 have long not raced on ovals, whereas one of IndyCar‘s biggest attractions is oval racing. Around a quarter of the IndyCar calendar is made up of ovals, including the Indy 500, with the rest of the schedule featuring a mix of street circuits and road courses, which are permanent race tracks.
IndyCar visit some of the best tracks in America such as Road America, Laguna Seca and Long Beach.
Most of the F1 schedule feature permanent race tracks such as Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Suzuka, with the addition of street tracks like Monaco, Singapore and Jeddah.
Are Indy cars faster than F1 cars?
The cornering speed of F1 cars is significantly faster than an Indy car due to the extra downforce an F1 car has, therefore on permanent race tracks F1 cars are much faster.
However, Indy cars are faster on ovals as they can reach speeds in excess of 230mph, whereas F1‘s current generation of car have a maximum top speed of 210mph.
Two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso enjoys the challenge of both sports, but was a fan of the instant readiness to go out and compete in IndyCar when he made his debut at the Indy 500 in 2017.
“In IndyCar, they ask you if you are ready inside the car, you say ‘yes’,” Alonso told the press. “You switch on the car, and you go. They put fuel, tires, and you go.
“While in Formula 1, it takes maybe six minutes to fire up the car, because they need to check, recheck. There is so much technology there, electronics, the hybrid system that needs to be linked with the combustion engine, the brake by wire, and many things that slow down every run or every feel that you may have on the car.”
F1 vs IndyCar: Tyres and fuel
F1‘s tyre supplier is Pirelli, and has been since 2011. On race weekends, the teams have three compounds to choose from, plus an intermediate and wet tyre.
Firestone have supplied IndyCar since 1996, with two tyre compounds on hand for the road course events which are referred to as reds (soft tyre) and blacks (hard tyre). On ovals, there is just one tyre compound.
IndyCar has refuelling, something that hasn’t been in F1 since 2009. This means the pit stops are longer and the strategy is slightly more complicated. In F1, refuelling is currently banned to save fuels and pit stops take around 2.5 seconds compared to IndyCar‘s 7-8 second pit stops.
When a safety car comes out in IndyCar, the pit lane is closed so a driver who has just pitted before a full course caution, as it’s known in America, can have a big advantage.
In F1, the pit lane remains open at all times, unless stated otherwise, so drivers who pit during a safety car can gain time.
Push to pass vs DRS
In IndyCar, there is a system called push to pass which provides an extra 60bhp to the car when activated. Each driver gets 200 seconds of push to pass to use during a race, and it can be used at any time.
Drivers will use push to pass to defend and attack, and in some ways it’s more fair than F1‘s overtaking aid equivalent, DRS.
DRS can only be used when a driver is within one second of the car in front at DRS detection points around a circuit. This gives the driver behind the chance to open up their rear wing in the DRS zone, which is usually at the longest straights on the track, so the drag reduces, therefore increasing their straight line speed so an overtake can be made.
Are F1 drivers better than IndyCar drivers?
It’s hard to compare F1‘s driver line-up versus IndyCar‘s grid, although F1 is generally seen as having the best drivers in the world, at least at the front of the field.
That said, a driver like Chip Ganassi‘s Scott Dixon has made a name for himself over the last 20 years and has never raced in F1. Alonso and Grosjean have done very well in their IndyCar outings, but were not able to immediately win or qualify on pole position.
Both series have some outstanding talent and some F1 drivers such as Red Bull‘s Max Verstappen have said they wouldn’t race on ovals in IndyCar.
Colton Herta, the youngest IndyCar winner at 18 years old, is a name to keep an eye on because he was very close to joining F1 in 2021 and could be part of Andretti’s plans to enter F1 in 2023.