IndyCar and Formula One are two of the top open-wheel racing series in the world, but other than that the two have very little in common.
As Fernando Alonso prepares to race in the 101st Indianpolis 500, he will have to get used to more than just racing on an oval if he wants to get one step closer to winning the triple crown. IndyCar has a very different race format from F1 and presents unique challenges with regards to everything from strategy, to car setup.
During the Indy 500, racecraft arguably will be the biggest adjustment for Alonso, who’s spent his entire life on road courses. Oval racing, especially at Indy, involves a lot of racing in traffic, something he’s said he’ll need to get used to. In addition to forcing you to alter your line from one lap to the next, this also alters the ways in which racers are able to overtake.
Other ways in which the series vary are more nuanced, but significant nonetheless.
The race start in IndyCar is rolling and, at Indy, it’s three-wide. Grand Prix use two-wide staggered grids, and drivers have to do a standing start.
F1 races are short, sprint races that typically last between 1 1/2 and 2 hours, with drivers making one to three pit stops depending on the race, track conditions and numerous other variables. IndyCar races vary in distance, time and number of stops depending on whether they’re run on a superspeedways, tri-ovals or road courses.
Pit stops themselves are points of differentiation between the series, starting with the fact that IndyCars lift themselves off the ground with airjacks, while F1 teams manually lift their cars. In F1, they take around 3 seconds, whereas IndyCar stops involve refueling, so they last roughly 8 seconds.
Both series race on slick tires, though F1 uses tire blankets to warm its Pirelli rubber, while IndyCar forces drivers to get their Firestones up to temperature themselves. Pirelli produces five dry weather compounds, of which it brings three to each Grand Prix, and two wet weather compounds. Firestone has a lot less offerings, with just two compounds for dry races and one for wet.
Alonso recently said his McLaren strategists provided him with data from past Indy 500s to help him prepare. But they told him he needed to ask his Andretti Autosport team members why they made certain strategy calls.
It might seem odd for F1 engineers to need help comprehending the data they’re looking at. However, with so many subtle differences between the two single-seater categories, it’s no wonder they didn’t have all the answers.
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