Formula 1 and IndyCar are often compared to one another. This is mainly because of the fact that the cars look similar. However, there are some other important factors that we need to consider that sets these two series far apart.
F1 is neither better nor worse than IndyCar, as they are both very different motorsports. While F1 is a global sport, made up of different teams that manufacture their own cars, IndyCar centers on American tracks in spec racing cars. Both motorsports have their advantages and disadvantages.
IndyCar and Formula 1 are both giants of the world of motorsport. Both have their own unique fanbases, but many motorsport fans enjoy watching both. There are different factors to consider when comparing F1 and IndyCar, since they are not as similar as many people would think!
Is F1 More Prestigious Than IndyCar?
Prestige has always been one of the factors that draws fans and drivers to Formula 1. It’s considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport, which has helped it to also gain the reputation of being one of the most prestigious sports in the world.
We often see many celebrities attending F1 races, and although the same happens with IndyCar, Formula 1 sees much more high profile celebrities on more occasions, and to a larger global audience. The Monaco Grand Prix is the most notable event, almost being synonymous with Formula One.
Formula 1 has long been classed as an elitist sport. Before Liberty Media took over the sport in 2017, it was nearly impossible to get behind the scenes access to the sport, which made it much more prestigious in a sense, just as a result of the small number of people that could see what went on behind closed doors.
The sport was closed off to many people, with limited social media presence and strict broadcasting rules. While this turned many fans away, it added to the prestige and glamour of Formula 1 and made it the infamously out of reach – and out of touch – sport that it was known to be. But that has since changed.
Formula 1 Travels Worldwide
One factor that adds to the prestige and glamour of Formula 1 is the fact that the series travels around the world. This factor is important for the sport as it allows Formula 1 to gain traction in a wide variety of different markets across the globe.
This means that more people are exposed to Formula 1 than they are to IndyCar, which is a huge advantage for F1. However, in the US, IndyCar is much more popular than Formula 1, which gives it an advantage on home soil.
Formula 1 also has the advantage of being broadcast worldwide, whereas IndyCar is more focused on being broadcast in the States. You can watch IndyCar elsewhere, and with much more ease nowadays, but it’s still very much US-focused. This means that you’re much more likely to see Formula 1 in the news all over the world as opposed to IndyCar.
Monaco Grand Prix vs Indy 500
Both Formula 1 and IndyCar are host to two of the biggest events in the world of motorsport. Between the two branches of motorsport, they host the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500, both of which are well known and revered by drivers and fans. Along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, these two events make up the Triple Crown of Motorsport, which has only been achieved by Graham Hill.
The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most challenging street circuits on the Formula 1 calendar. With modern Formula 1 cars outgrowing the tight and narrow circuit, it has become difficult for drivers to master this circuit. It also sees regular visits from celebrities and billionaires as the race runs through the Monaco harbor between the yachts, casinos and hotels.
Just like the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 is an annual event that is one of the biggest in the world of motorsport. At the Indy 500, the cars can reach 220 miles per hour and stay close to that speed for the duration of the race. The thrill of speed and danger is what has made the Indy 500 so special over the years.
However, it has not drawn in as many billionaires and celebrities as the Monaco Grand Prix has over the years, and while both are undoubtedly major events, the Monaco Grand Prix wins out here in terms of overall prestige. In terms of which is more prestigious or more difficult to win, that’s another issue altogether.
There have only ever been two people in history to win both the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500, one being Juan Pablo Montoya (still racing in IMSA) and the other being Graham Hill, who died in 1975. There is no doubt both are extremely hard to accomplish, and this is not the article to discuss which one is better or more difficult!
Drivers & Teams
Formula 1 is known for having the “best drivers in the world”. The sport has gained this reputation over the years thanks to its prestige and elite nature, and just how tough the competition is. All drivers have likely dreamt of racing in Formula 1 at some point in their career.
On top of that, Formula 1 drivers are celebrities in their own right. They are internationally known, participating in marketing events, and of course races, for the entire world to see. Be it through their sponsors, social media channels or other personal ventures, F1 drivers are truly on a global platform.
IndyCar drivers though are not as well-known across the rest of the world. They might be well known in the US, but the lack of exposure in other countries means that many people are unaware of them and what they do. This is no indication of how talented these drivers are, but it’s just a consequence of the sport not being as globally appreciated as F1.
Is F1 Harder Than IndyCar?
F1 is not necessarily harder than IndyCar, but it’s very hard to compare the two. Both sports require major concentration from the drivers at all times, along with a massive amount of driving skill and strategic planning. Both F1 and IndyCar are therefore very challenging motorsports.
IndyCar and Formula 1 are both extremely physically demanding and the drivers are athletes who have prepared their entire careers to race in either one of these series. Formula 1 drivers are exposed to more G-forces and more G-force changes compared to IndyCar drivers. This is mainly due to the aerodynamic advantage that Formula 1 cars have, allowing them to corner much faster than IndyCar.
However, IndyCar does not have power steering, whereas Formula 1 does have power steering. This makes the IndyCar slightly more difficult to drive in terms of the steering. However, Formula 1 has power steering because of the extra G forces the drivers are under, and the sheer amount of downforce means the cars would be very tough to turn if they didn’t have it.
In terms of the cars, both are incredibly fast. Formula 1 is faster than IndyCar around a lap, which could arguably suggest the cars are inherently slightly more difficult to drive. IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward did a Formula 1 test drive for McLaren in 2021, and his feedback was that the cars are much faster and more difficult to drive than his IndyCar.
IndyCar is still a challenge though, and a large part of the difficulty for Pato was undoubtedly just not being used to the increased G-forces. IndyCar drivers have to train hard and prepare to race against one another. Without power steering, drivers’ arms can fatigue much faster in IndyCar.
Formula 1 is what all racing drivers aim to be race in at some point in their career. This means that the best drivers tend to naturally gravitate towards Formula 1. Drivers need to progress through a series of junior categories and score enough points for a Super Licence before they can compete in Formula 1. This alone is a challenge. Super Licence points are very difficult to accumulate.
To give you an idea of how difficult this is, a driver needs 40 Super Licence points in order to qualify for an F1 seat. Winning the IndyCar title gives a driver 40 points, meaning they could switch over to F1. However, finishing second in IndyCar gives a driver 30 points, meaning they will need to finish fourth or higher the following season in order to qualify for their Super Licence.
While any circuit in either Formula 1 or IndyCar can be challenging, Formula 1 travels around the world to some of the best circuits across the globe. This makes the sport more difficult not only for the drivers, but also for the teams who need to navigate the logistical nightmare.
Formula 1 only races on specific circuits that meet their requirements. There’s a strict list of factors that they consider in their grading system, and all tracks must meet the FIA Grade 1 requirement if they are to host a race.
IndyCar on the other hand doesn’t require Grade 1 status (for example, Road America is FIA Grade 2), but it still races on some extremely difficult circuits and street races that really challenge the drivers. IndyCar also races on some oval tracks, which present a unique challenge for the drivers as concentration on the cars around you becomes even more important.
Is F1 A Better Competition Than IndyCar?
F1 could be considered a better competition than IndyCar simply because it is a World Championship. Formula 1 travels across the world to different countries where drivers battle head to head on different circuits. The IndyCar championship on the other hand is exclusive to the United States.
However, in terms of the competitiveness between the drivers and teams from a neutral fan’s perspective, IndyCar has fared much better than Formula 1, especially in recent years. In Formula 1, Mercedes have been the dominant team since 2014, while IndyCar is much more evenly matched.
For example, in 2021 there were 9 different IndyCar race winners out of 16 events. That meant almost every second race was won by someone different (16/9 = 1.8). In the 2021 F1 season however, there were only 6 unique winners in 22 races (22/6 = 3.7). That means, in the 2021 F1 season, F1 races were less than half as likely to be won by a new winner than IndyCar races.
IndyCar drivers have recently criticized Formula 1 for being more of a teams’ championship rather than a drivers’ championship. It’s true to an extent, with a big focus being on the different teams and the cars they are able to build.
However, this is arguably a good factor for the competitiveness of Formula 1. With teams building their own cars, they are more inclined to progress their cars in order to beat the competition, whether they have good drivers or not.
While IndyCar is largely a spec series with most of the cars being the same or similar with minor tweaks, F1 forces teams to strive for the smallest of competitive advantages. So, IndyCar is arguably more competitive in terms of which drivers can win races, but F1 puts more of a focus on the team competition.
Is IndyCar Safer Than F1?
IndyCar is not necessarily safer or more dangerous than F1. Both Formula 1 and IndyCar have their risks and dangers that the drivers face every time they get into the car. In this sense, both of the sports are dangerous, and you can’t really set them apart from one another.
However, there are other factors to consider when it comes to the safety of the sports. Safety has become a top priority in the world of motorsport as a whole, and it is now taken very seriously both in Formula 1 and IndyCar.
As such, we have seen many technological and safety advancements in both Formula 1 and IndyCar in recent years. This has been done to ensure that both of these cars have effectively become the safest high speed vehicles on the planet for their drivers.
Both Formula 1 and IndyCar have had their share of incidents, and it shows just how dangerous motorsport can be. Formula 1 has had 52 deaths in its history (since the first World Championship in 1950), with the most recent one being Jules Bianchi in 2015. Out of 1,057 events (as of February 2022), there has been a death rate in F1 in terms of total events of 4.92%.
IndyCar, however, has had nearly double that of Formula 1, with 95 deaths in total since 1905 (IndyCar has come in various forms since then). The most recent of them was Justin Wilson in 2015. That’s 95 deaths out of 2,007 events, for a death rate in terms of total events of 4.73%.
While we need to bear in mind that some of these deaths didn’t occur during an actual race (some were in tests for example), it’s clear that both are almost just as dangerous as each other from a strictly death/event standpoint. However, it’s also worth considering that the majority of the deaths in both sports happened in the 20th century.
The two sports have drastically improved in terms of safety since then, and so now there is very little between F1 and IndyCar in terms of safety.
Ever since the incidents in 2015, both IndyCar and Formula 1 have begun to push for change in their cars in order to make them safer for drivers. The results have been a great success for both series.
Formula 1 implemented the Halo, which has already saved several lives despite being heavily criticized by drivers and fans alike when it first came around. The Halo gives the driver’s head better protection without adding a canopy or enclosing the cockpit.
IndyCar took a similar approach with the Aeroscreen. The Aeroscreen is essentially a large windshield that has been placed in front of the driver and it is able to deflect any oncoming debris away from the drivers’ helmet, while also having a frame that is able to withstand more than 15 tons of weight.
IndyCar vs F1 Popularity
Formula 1 has been the most popular form of motorsport for decades. The fact that the championship travels around the world draws in spectators from different countries and different markets, which is a huge benefit for Formula 1.
Moreover, the sport is growing in popularity in the US thanks to the Netflix series Drive to Survive, and regular racing in the country too. Formula 1 has also been improving their social media and marketing ever since the Liberty Media takeover, which naturally boosts its exposure across all markets.
IndyCar on the other hand is a domestic series, and it’s in a challenging time zone for much of the world who would like to watch the races (the same thing applies for US viewers of F1 races of course). IndyCar is also strict with their broadcasting rights, meaning that many other countries around the world are not able to watch the races. This means that IndyCar is even more limited to the US.
Monaco Grand Prix
To compare the popularity of F1 and IndyCar, we can once again go back to the Monaco GP and the Indy 500. The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the biggest events on the Formula 1 calendar, drawing in millions of viewers from around the world.
The Monaco Grand Prix draws in over 100 million viewers from around the world each year. In 2021, just over 900,000 people tuned in for the Monaco Grand Prix in the USA, which is a lot considering the race took place in the early morning for US viewers.
This was the highest US audience for an F1 race in 2021 outside of the US Grand Prix. This shows that the Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most popular events, but is it bigger than the Indy 500?
The Indy 500 is one of the fastest races of the year, with the cars keeping up an average speed of up to 190+ mph for the entire race distance. It’s not just a big event for IndyCar fans, as it also brings in fans of other motorsports – and non-motorsport fans too.
The 2021 Indy 500 saw an average viewership of 5.58 million people, a far cry from the 100 million of the Monaco Grand Prix. However, this is mainly due to the fact that the race is held at an inconvenient time for the rest of the world.
While it’s a usual Sunday afternoon race for Americans, much of the rest of the world was watching the race in the early hours of Monday morning, which mean that worldwide viewership numbers take a big knock. This was also the highest viewership numbers for the Indy 500 in five years.
However, in terms of total worldwide viewership, F1 beats IndyCar by a landslide. Per race, IndyCar saw an average viewership in 2020 of 1.027 million people. In the same year, F1 saw more than 87 million people tune in to each race.
F1 is not better than IndyCar, and nor is it worse. Both of these motorsports are very different, and both are very challenging for teams and drivers alike. While F1 is a global championship, IndyCar is based in America, so F1 is naturally more popular, but both are still very entertaining to watch.