Is Formula 1 a Better Competition Than the IndyCar Series?

Scott MitchellContributor ISeptember 18, 2013

Is Formula 1 a Better Competition Than the IndyCar Series?

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    Formula One race winner Juan Pablo Montoya is heading to IndyCar after more than six years racing in NASCAR.

    At 37, the Colombian is likely to be past the peak of his powers. So there is an automatic suggestion that by choosing IndyCar to make his single-seater return, the series is inferior to F1.

    IndyCar is fantastic—it is America's premier single-seater series after all. But it is a domestic series and runs to limited regulations.

    So which is better, F1 or IndyCar? As with any kind of series comparison, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. There is also a serious amount of personal preference that can go into to different areas—what you perceive as competitive, fair or reputation, for example.

History

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    Even taking into account IndyCar's dual-heritage with the Indy Racing League (established 1996) and ChampCar (which had its inaugural season in 1979), F1 has the American series beaten hands down.

    Since 1950, the Formula One World Championship has run under the same moniker (although it did not initially take in races outside of Europe, save for token appearances at the Indianapolis 500).

    Of course, it's not entirely fair to suggest top-tier American single-seater racing didn't emerge until the final quarter of the 20th century.

    The American Automobile Association was established in 1904, sanctioning national championships until the early 1950s and the United States Auto Club took over until the 1979 split, which birthed ChampCar.

    However, if we're to incorporate every iteration of each type of racing, Grand Prix racing can be traced back to the end of the 19th century. Ultimately, this is a victory for F1.

     

    Formula One 5

    IndyCar 4

     

    Scoreboard

    Formula One 5 IndyCar 4

Tradition and Prestige

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    This area is one in which F1 and Indycar are inseparable.

    The Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 make up two-thirds of global motorsport's unofficial "Triple Crown" (the other being the Le Mans 24 Hours).

    One race, of course, does not make a championship. But for every Suzuka or Silverstone on the F1 calendar, IndyCar's schedule boasts Sao Paulo and Long Beach.

    They are both top dogs in their respective disciplines. F1 is considered the pinnacle of single-seater racing, so you might think that doesn't make sense.

    But IndyCar incorporates oval racing as well as road courses, so it could be argued is unconventional by generic single-seater means. You can't mark it down for that. 

     

    Formula One 5

    IndyCar 5

     

    Scoreboard

    Formula One 10 IndyCar 9

Reputation

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    Not quite a tie this one, but it's mighty close and is just one thing which gives F1 the edge.

    F1 attendances, as well as those of IndyCar, are huge. Fans adore each series, so that's not going to decide anything. What is the decider in this.

    As a (largely) domestic series, IndyCar has proven remarkable at keeping its reputation so high, as every iteration of America's top single-seater competition has done for decades.

    But ultimately, Formula 1 is a truly global world championship. It takes in races in Europe, North and South America, Australasia, Asia and the Middle East. IndyCar takes a trip to Brazil and north of the border to Canada.

    That's the key difference. IndyCar is operating as an international series contained for the most part within one country—much like the British Touring Car Championship in the 1990s.

    Take a look at who competes in IndyCar—European single-seater champions, F1 podium finishers and Le Mans front-runners. It attracts drivers from Japan, Italy, Britain, Australia, Spain, Brazil and other countries, so its prestige is undeniable. It just lacks that little bit in comparison to F1.

     

    Formula One 5

    IndyCar 4

     

    Scoreboard

    Formula One 15 IndyCar 13

Cars and Racing

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    F1 cars are at the cutting edge of motorsport technology and push the boundaries of technological design. Each team designs its own chassis and interprets the rules to best suit the ultimate design. Budgets are huge, and no stone is left unturned in the pursuit of development.

    Indy cars, on the other hand, are much less developed. Each team has the use of the same Dallara chassis, which does not carry the same sort of funding as F1 operations. That in itself places greater emphasis on the job of the team and the driver, while one of F1's greatest criticisms is that it is so dependent on the performance of the car.

    That means it's difficult to mark this fairly as they both service different purposes. F1 is all about man and machine and technological challenges. IndyCar on the other hand is about creating a fairer and cheaper playing field to maximise driver and team input.

    For that reason, this is out of 10: Five points available for the car's technology and five points for what impact they have on the racing.

    For that, F1 undeniably takes the technology crown 5-3. But IndyCar's rules, in this writer's opinion, do much more for the quality of racing. That, ultimately, is what motorsport is about. F1 cars might be remarkable examples of technology, but that's to its detriment on occasion.

    IndyCar takes the prize here, in a mirror result of the technology scores, because global motorsport's in a sorry financial state. It's a superb testament to the championship that it retains its reputation while keeping costs down and racing competitive. 

     

    Formula One 8

    IndyCar 8

     

    Scoreboard

    Formula One 27 IndyCar 25

Drivers

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    You might take the view that the spread of Formula One's drivers has weakened in the past few years, or decades. 

    Sure, the sport's increasing dependence on finding investment—though it's never been a cheap discipline by any stretch of the imagination—means those with bigger pockets of money than pockets of talent can make their way onto the Grand Prix grid.

    But it's impossible to argue that those at the top of the sport are not truly world-class drivers, among the best racers in the world—of any discipline.

    Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have earned the right to be spoken of in the same regard as Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda and Sir Jackie Stewart. However, there is an ever-increasing concern over the prospects of F1's best potential talents, with more than ever considering careers in the United States.

    That's because there are truly high-quality drivers on the upper echelons of IndyCar. Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, even at 38, is proving the 2013 IndyCar benchmark ahead of twice-champion Scott Dixon. 40-year-old Dario Franchitti is a multiple title winner.

    Maybe there's a question mark over their reputations outside of the States; ultimately those who have flirted with F1 have done so with below-par teams. Is age a factor, too? Those who try to succeed in F1 past their early 30s tend to do so with little success.

    Take Sebastien Bourdais, for example. Four times a ChampCar title winner, his transition to F1 was ultimately very unsuccessful (even if he was axed in haste) and he struggled to score points in an uncompetitive Toro Rosso. Justin Wilson, IndyCar race winner and a Formula 3000 champion no less, also struggled in F1.

    He's since returned to IndyCar, where this season has heralded his best return with three podiums.

     

    Formula One 4

    IndyCar 4

     

    Scoreboard

    Formula One 31 IndyCar 29

The Results

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    FINAL SCORE: Formula One 31 IndyCar 29

    Formula One and IndyCar are fantastic racing series, and each championship offers something that is very unique and very professional to the world of motorsport.

    IndyCar has a mixed history and is the offspring of various iterations of top-level American single-seater racing. F1's is more concrete and stable (though not without its dramas). 

    In terms of prestige, both can lay testament to being right at the top of open-wheeled racing. But it's for different racing reasons, and, ultimately, only one is a truly global racing championship.

    F1 wins this battle, as well it should given its reputation, coverage, fanbase and income. It stands as a great mark of IndyCar's own efforts that the final result is as close as it is.