If the Monaco Grand Prix exemplifies Formula One – being a street race among the casinos and hotels enjoyed by high-rolling millionaires and movie stars, beside the shimmering Mediterranean Sea – then the Indianapolis 500 sums up America’s IndyCar series. It’s a gruelling 500-mile marathon around the 2.5-mile oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the Midwestern plain. And such a test attracts an estimated 300,000 fans, keen to share the experience live.
The glitz and glamour of F1® is reflected in the budgets of the leading teams. Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren each spend more than €400m per season testing, developing and running their cars on sinuous tracks. It’s in sharp contrast to the IndyCar teams that can spend a twentieth of that amount, a sum that might just cover the lavish hospitality budgets of their F1® counterparts.
America takes on the world
The difference in budget is partly explained by the fact that Formula One is an international sporting circus that criss-crosses the globe, setting up camp from Baku in Azerbaijan to Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. In 2016, 22 cars from 11 teams competed at 21 circuits – a huge logistical feat – with more than 400m fans tuning in to watch the show.
The IndyCar series in contrast is an American affair based purely in the US. The 2016 calendar featured 16 races with 24 cars on the grid – apart from the Indy 500, when 34 cars are running at the so-called Brickyard – at blue-collar raceways in the likes of Texas, Sonoma and Pocona. Its
popularity is growing, with more than half a million followers engrossed by the wheel-to-wheel action.
While the cars in the two open wheel racing series look almost the same, any similarity is skin deep; below their gleaming sponsorship liveries they are very different animals – a difference that reveals a huge contrast in the ethos and histories of the two sports. The F1® car is bespoke while the IndyCar rival comes off-the-shelf.