As Formula 1 surges across the US, IndyCar hopes to keep pace

For decades, May in motorsport in the United States has focused on a single event: the Indianapolis 500, one of America’s oldest sporting traditions and the crown jewel of the North American based IndyCar racing series.

But that usual scenario flipped this year as Formula 1 kicked off the month with its maiden Miami Grand Prix, an extravagant spectacle that served as the World Series’ release party in the United States, attracting A-list celebrities. A and America’s highest television. ratings never obtained for a live Formula 1 race.

On the surface, IndyCar drivers hailed the success of Formula 1. “If you love F1, then you’re going to love IndyCar,” said two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. said on Twitter. “Seeing the rise in popularity from the F1 side is so positive for open-wheel racing as a whole.”

But could this really be a case of the rising tide lifting all boats, or is Formula 1 threatening to steal some of the limelight – and fans – from IndyCar?

Drivers ahead of Indianapolis 500 on Sunday weren’t sure.

“To be brutally honest, it could be a potential threat like that,” said Helio Castroneves, a Brazilian IndyCar driver who won his record-breaking fourth Indianapolis 500 last year. But Castroneves, who attended at the Miami Grand Prix with several other IndyCar drivers, said he saw the Formula 1 momentum as a positive sign.

“I think all the hype around Miami is contagious,” he said. “There are so many people telling me that they love Formula 1 and now want to come to Indianapolis, so I don’t think it will put our fans at risk. It will just educate more people about racing.

Both Formula 1 and IndyCar are open-wheel racing series, but there are key differences between them. In Formula 1, teams produce unique cars from scratch to exacting specifications, with drivers competing on road circuits and street circuits around the world. Big budget teams like Mercedes and Ferrari often dominate.

In IndyCar, competitors drive nearly identical cars, with races held on a mix of oval tracks, road courses and street circuits mostly in the United States. Parity is a feature of the series.

Decades ago, IndyCar – then known as Championship Auto Racing Teams – enjoyed mainstream success in the United States with notable drivers including American driver Mario Andretti and Formula 1 world champions Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell. In 1996, however, an ownership dispute caused the series to split into two rival leagues, leading to a sharp decline in interest and allowing NASCAR to become the nation’s premier motorsport.

“This split caused a lot of drama, and no one knew who to follow or where to watch the races,” said Juan Pablo Montoya, a Colombian driver who won multiple races in IndyCar and Formula 1. In 2008, the series split. is reunited. under the IndyCar name and in 2020 was bought by American entrepreneur and racing magnate Roger Penske.

Montoya said the new ownership, combined with the growing popularity of Formula 1 in the United States, had made drivers optimistic about the future of IndyCar.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum in IndyCar right now,” Montoya said. “And if you like Formula 1, the next closest thing to the United States is IndyCar, where the racing is very competitive and anyone can win any week, so I think everyone will benefit from the F1 success.”

Next year, Formula 1 will host races in three US metropolitan areas – Las Vegas; Austin, TX; and Miami – the most of any country. Zak Brown, an American who is the managing director of McLaren Racing, a British team that is one of the most famous in Formula 1, believes the added exposure will have a positive impact on all of American motorsport.

“Imagine how many new people have turned to Formula 1,” Brown said, adding that the US market is now a priority for McLaren – so much so that the company has started investing in an IndyCar team, Arrow McLaren. . PS, in 2020.

“People have just been to the Miami Grand Prix and they loved it,” Brown said. “Now we have one of the biggest races in the world happening soon after, so that just increases the visibility of the Indy 500 and IndyCar, not hurting it.”

Some industry analysts are more skeptical. Jon Lewis, professor of sports media at Northeastern University and founder of Sports Media Watch, a blog that analyzes weekly sports rankings, is not convinced that the success of Formula 1 in the United States will translate into more American interest. wide for motorsport.

“I suspect a lot of new Formula 1 viewers aren’t so much into the racing as they are into the Netflix show,” Lewis said, referring to the streaming service’s Formula 1 documentary series ‘Drive to Survive’. which partly fueled the sport. increase in popularity. “And F1 turns its races into these glittering, celebrity-filled events. With IndyCar, you don’t even necessarily know where they’re racing from week to week.

Dennis Deninger, a former ESPN producer and professor of sports communication at Syracuse University, said IndyCar and Formula 1 may ultimately have to work together for the two to find sustained growth. In particular, he noted that Formula 1 should consider adding an American IndyCar driver to continue its expansion in the United States, while IndyCar could attract new viewers and gain popularity by inviting Formula 1 drivers to participate. at select IndyCar races where scheduling permits.

“Just imagine if Charles Leclerc or Max Verstappen were racing in the Indianapolis 500,” Deninger said, referring to this year’s top two Formula One drivers entering Sunday’s race in Monaco. “It’s rare that you see two separate series have such synergy, but this kind of cross-promotion between the two would work to everyone’s advantage in the long run.”

As for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Castroneves is optimistic that it will attract significant attention, in part because he will be looking to make history by winning it for a record fifth time. And he hopes new Formula 1 fans who enjoyed the Miami Grand Prix will tune in to watch.

“I believe IndyCar has the best competition of any racing series,” he said. “There’s a certain magic to the Indianapolis 500. The history and the lore – you just can’t replicate them.”

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