As Paul di Resta's options for an F1 race seat in 2014 slowly dry up, an intriguing alternative has emerged: taking over Dario Franchitti's place in IndyCar.
Such a move would not be unprecedented. In fact, the 2013 IndyCar season featured three drivers with F1 race experience: Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson. And the year before, Giorgio Pantano, Rubens Barrichello and even Jean Alesi (for one race) drove in the American series.
Franchitti, who is retiring following a massive accident in Houston in October, is di Resta's cousin. He has had an incredibly successful career in the United States, winning the IndyCar championship four years in a row, from 2007-2011, and the Indianapolis 500 three times. No doubt Franchitti's team, Chip Ganassi Racing, would listen to its former driver should di Resta express interest in making a move.
So far, though, di Resta has been non-committal. According to ESPN, he would prefer to remain with the Force India team in F1, saying:
They know what I'm capable of here, they know what I can deliver. I feel like I'm an asset to the team but I can't make the decision for them, and I have to respect their decision. I've said all along I'd love to be part of it.
But the second half of the 2013 season has certainly not helped him in that quest. After finishing in the points in seven of the season's first eight races, he has only scored twice in the past 10, including five consecutive races where he failed to see the chequered flag.
Still, di Resta has scored two more points than he did last year and is sitting 10th in the championship heading into the final race in Brazil. More importantly, he has outscored his teammate, Adrian Sutil, 48-29. Recently, Force India team principal Vijay Mallya hinted to ESPN F1 that Sutil would be back next year.
Di Resta has also outscored the other drivers still looking for a seat next year, including Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado. Whether those results are enough to secure an F1 drive remains to be seen. Either way, his prospects have significantly regressed since the end of the 2012 season, when he was in the mix for a Ferrari drive.
If he is not offered an F1 race seat, IndyCar may be the 27-year-old Scot's best option for driving in a competitive environment in 2014. However, di Resta has expressed concerns about the safety of IndyCar, according to The Guardian. Aside from his cousin's career-ending accident, there have been six driver fatalities at CART/IndyCar events since the last F1 driver died on the track.
In addition to safety concerns, di Resta will also have to consider the fact that drivers moving from F1 to IndyCar have experienced mixed success. Sato has won only one race in four seasons and has never finished higher than 13th in the overall standings. Barrichello did not finish on the podium in 2012 and Bourdais, who won the Champ Car title in four consecutive years before moving to F1, has only been on the podium twice in three seasons since his return.
Justin Wilson has been a notable exception to this recent trend, having won seven Champ Car/IndyCar races since leaving the Jaguar F1 team at the end of the 2003 season. With four podiums in 2013, he finished sixth in the IndyCar standings.
Going further back, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell all found success in the U.S. following their F1 careers. Andretti won the CART championship in 1984, two years after his final F1 race. Fittipaldi did it in 1989, almost 10 years after leaving F1, and Mansell won the F1 World Drivers' Championship in 1992 and the CART championship the next season.
One challenge for di Resta to overcome, should he decide on a move to IndyCar, is his lack of oval-racing experience. He will also need to accept that a move to the U.S. would likely end his F1 career—with the major overhaul to the regulations next year, teams will not be in the market for a 29-year-old who has been out of the sport for a year, come 2015.
Therefore, if di Resta does feel that he still has a shot at a top-tier F1 drive, he could consider a role as a test driver in 2014 if a race seat does not materialize. With the return of in-season testing next year, at least he would have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a current F1 car. And that would leave him in a decent position when the driver carousel inevitably starts to spin again.
Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @TheParadeLapF1