In the introduction to the sublime documentary that bears his name, Ayrton Senna affirms that there are no purer car races than karting, where neither money nor politics manage to alter the competition as it happens later, ‘in crescendo’, as that an aspiring professional driver is approaching Formula 1. The IndyCar championship is also trying to flee from this interventionism, which this Sunday crowned Alex Palou in Long Beach (California) as the first Spanish champion in history. “F1? The dream I have is to stay here for many more years and be a champion more times. It’s incredible to be the first in something, ”said the running back from Chip Ganassi, after hugging Ramon, his father. In his second season in the contest and based on a brutal regularity, seasoned with three victories that fell like blows, the runner from Sant Antoni de Vilamajor (Barcelona), only 24 years old, did that, at least for many hours, in many homes in Spain will articulate the same questions: What is this about the Indy?
As much as the inexperienced eye finds several similarities between a car of this discipline and one of F1, the technology that both models incorporate is enormously distant, and the same happens with the budgets of the teams. Before the entry into force of the budget limit in the World Championship for this course, established at 124 million euros, the most powerful structures (Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari) exceeded 400 million annual spending, 30 times more than what they inject one from Indy (about 25 million annually). Most of this difference responds to the development of both prototypes, and, in turn, also in their performance.
Until 2019 it was very difficult to make a direct comparison between an F1 car and an Indy one, but the incursion of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), in Austin, offered a golden opportunity to cross the data. Will Power achieved the ‘pole’ in that event with a time of 1 minute and 46 seconds, 14 seconds more than what Valtteri Bottas needed to win the first place on the grid of the United States Grand Prix.
- Alex Palou conquers America
The engines of both options are also very different. The Indys incorporate 2.2-liter V6 biturbo engines that yield a power that does not exceed 700 horsepower, while the power units of the F1 are hybrids, also turbo and V6, but smaller (1.6 liters). Last year, Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari acknowledged having already surpassed the 1,000 horsepower barrier. This contrast has a direct influence on acceleration (F1s are 30% more efficient in this parameter), but not so much on top speed, an aspect in which American cars surpass Europeans by about 15 kilometers per hour. That’s basically because of the importance F1 places on downforce, which makes its prototypes much faster in corners.
The format and technical specifications are a key element when it comes to understanding the equality that exists in Indy, compared to the scarce that occurs in F1, where Mercedes accumulates seven consecutive doubles since 2014. While the teams of the American contest share the same chassis (Dallara) and choose between two possible motorists (Chevrolet and Honda), each F1 team manufactures the vast majority of the vehicle’s components, and then equips it with one of the four available engines (Mercedes, Honda, Ferrari and Renault). This directly contributes to the large differences between the performance of the most powerful formations, and those that are less so. In the 16 stops of the 2021 calendar, up to eight different winners have accumulated, something that in F1 seems impossible at the moment, in which Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen star in a frenetic but closed pulse.
Another differentiating aspect is the radius of influence of both championships. While Indy focuses on the United States – it has only come out to race in Toronto – F1 is a global competition, with big prizes in Europe, Asia, America and Oceania. That directly impacts television audiences, of 5.4 million viewers on average in 2019 (Indy), which in F1 multiplies by almost 20 (over 90 million per race). Indy’s visibility in Europe is concentrated on specific events such as this Sunday or the Indianapolis 500, the most iconic event on the entire calendar, held in the most famous oval in the world and which, in addition to recognition for the winner (Palou finished second), it also gives him twice as many points as in one of the 15 other appointments.