While Josef Newgarden was celebrating wildly in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway victory lane having won the Indy 500, Marcus Ericsson was seething.
The Swede had come oh so close to back-to-back 500 wins but a late restart with one lap left saw the lead change hands… where have we heard that before? The 2021 Formula 1 season finale at Abu Dhabi (that no one ever brings up now…) finished in similarly controversial circumstances.
On that day, Lewis Hamilton led with one to go and was on course to become an eight-time world champion but the FIA opted to get the race under green as soon as possible, opening the door for Max Verstappen to overtake and claim his first world title.
The 2023 Indy 500 almost mirrored that epic conclusion but there are some key differences that have to be taken into consideration.
The F1 finale of 2021 saw the race director only allow cars between the two leaders to un-lap themselves in order to create that amazing one-lap dash for the title we all remember so well.
The rules, however, stated that either all or none of the lapped cars should have been let through before going green, to the annoyance of Mercedes. Had Michael Masi, the race director at the time, red-flagged the event and restarted with a couple of laps to go, they could have got their titanic battle without all the aftermath that ensued.
IndyCar has no such rule but Ericsson was not pleased with restarting the race without a warm-up lap – which would have taken them to the chequered flag without any chance of Newgardern overtaking him.
The IndyCar officials have no rule saying that there must be a warm-up lap after a red flag but they often choose to do one, as they did for the two previous restarts from a chaotic race.
In the interest of putting on a show for more than 300,000 people in attendance and millions watching around the world, IndyCar went straight to green and they were completely entitled to do so.
IndyCar nailed it
Ericsson is understandably annoyed that another Indy 500 win has slipped through his fingers but he will come to terms with the bigger picture soon enough.
Motorsport always has to be about the biggest show possible and IndyCar has been great at nailing that aspect with red flags late in races to try and ensure the race doesn’t end with a procession under caution. They got it bang on again here.
For what it’s worth, the Abu Dhabi finale of 2021 was, while highly controversial, perhaps the most memorable end to a season ever and looking back the best possible outcome was to go racing with one lap left, regardless of the winner, for the sheer memories it created.
Let’s face it, you would not remember that race at all had Masi not been flexible with the rules to create drama for you, the fans. While he was villainised by many, you could argue he is a big reason why F1 is now booming in popularity all around the world.