IndyCar and Formula One offer some of the most exhilarating spectacles in the field of single-seater racing. The racecars and contest format of both racing categories appear similar at first glance, although there are plenty of differences that have helped each scene garner its own millions-strong loyal fan following.
How is Formula 1 different from IndyCar?
The main difference between Formula 1 and IndyCar is apparent in aspects such as their racetracks, locations and car specifications. Oval tracks are a distinguishing feature of IndyCar races, which are held solely within North America; while F1 is a global racing scene that forgoes oval tracks for mixed circuits.
According to Romain Grosjean, the biggest difference is that in F1, everyone has a different car, whereas, in Indycar, everyone has almost the same car (the teams are just allowed to change a few pieces like suspensions).
What is Formula 1?
The Formula One category is at the pinnacle of the racing scene set by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). It showcases highly customized vehicles and features some of the best motorsport talents in the world.
F1 teams spare no expense to construct the sleekest racecars. They are permitted to create and use different chassis designs to offer better downforce, aerodynamics and handling. Partly due to this cost, the category only features ten teams of two drivers each.
Formula One Grand Prix events take place in mixed circuits distributed around the world, making use of public roads in Singapore, Monaco, Montreal and other locations.
What is IndyCar?
IndyCar – officially known as the NTT IndyCar Series – occupies the most prestigious place in the field of North American single-seater formula racing. Because of its regional scope, it is considered the North American analogue of Formula One.
With around 30 drivers and 13 teams, the barrier of entry to IndyCar is much lower. Using the same chassis design for each racecar is a major factor for why running an IndyCar team is far less expensive than an F1 team. However, each team is still allowed to modify a car’s suspension, braking and other systems.
The Indianapolis 500 serves as the highlight of the IndyCar series, in which thirty or more cars can compete. This event takes place on an oval track, as do many other IndyCar shows.
Differences Between Formula 1 and IndyCar
The chassis of an F1 racecar is highly customized. Formula One teams place a heavy emphasis on designing a carbon-fiber chassis that provides the strongest aerodynamics, and can likewise modify other parts, i.e. for braking and suspension.
The groups that build F1 chassis are called Constructors, and compete in their own championship to determine the best designs of the year.
This contrasts starkly with IndyCar, which has mandated the use of the same chassis design for all racecars as a means of leveling the playing field.
Formula One racecars enjoy a reputation for being among the planet’s fastest land vehicles, and with a record speed of 397.36 kph set by Valtteri Bottas in 2006, such a reputation is well-deserved.
However, the average running speed for most F1 races is 260 kph.
F1’s North American competitor is no pushover in this metric either. The fastest IndyCar speed ever recorded was achieved by Eddie Cheever in 1996, with his vehicle hurtling at 380 kph, only marginally close to Bottas’ record.
An F1 vehicle would likely overtake its IndyCar rival at the start of the race should the two compete against each other, as Formula One racecars boast better acceleration.
IndyCar vehicles can leap from 0-100 kph in roughly three seconds, which is an impressive feat. An F1 car would reach the same speed from a full stop in around 2.6 seconds. The gap between their speeds will probably increase over time thanks to an F1 vehicle’s heavier reliance on aerodynamics.
Cars from both racing categories sport V6 turbocharged engines.
IndyCar vehicles use a 2.2 L twin-turbocharger system that runs mainly on ethanol-derived fuel and outputs an average of 700 HP.
F1 cars have a considerably stronger 1.6 L single-turbocharger engine. It consumes unleaded fuel to power out around 1000 HP on the racetrack.
The two categories also place strategic value on the use of different tires.
IndyCar racers have access to three main tire designs: a primary and alternate design, and one to drive in the rain. Only one type can be used in oval tracks. The sole manufacturer of tires for IndyCar events is Firestone, with their Firehawk series of tires.
F1 drivers make use of more tire designs: five slick variants are available, on top of an intermediate design for somewhat wet tracks, and a dedicated wet weather design. Three of the slick variants are used in each race. Pirelli enjoys exclusive rights to produce F1 tires.
Oval tracks are distinctly prominent in IndyCar events, challenging drivers to put out a consistent speed and rely on strategic plays to win on predictable terrain. Other circuit types include road courses with left and right turns, street circuits and combined road courses.
Formula One eschews oval tracks entirely, opting for road or street circuits, or races in permanent facilities. Most of its events’ circuits feature a variety of turns and curves. A driver’s skill and reaction time can lead to victory, defeat, or wreckage.
Compared to Formula One, IndyCar events take place on a much smaller scope.
F1 events are held around the world, and are especially beloved in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
IndyCar enjoys a lot of international prestige as well, but much of its following is concentrated in North America – where events take place.
As a general rule, Formula One races must be concluded within two hours. Races that breach this time limit are decided during the next full lap.
IndyCar’s premier spectacle – the Indianapolis 500 – is fairly longer, with audiences expecting to enjoy around three hours of racing action.
IndyCar has a sprawling roster. There are currently 13 teams; each is able to field as many as five to six drivers. Approximately thirty drivers are currently part of the series, although this number regularly varies. All teams are listed below.
- A.J. Foyt Enterprises
- Andretti Autosport
- Andretti-Bryan Herta Autosport
- Andretti-Steinbrenner Autosport
- Arrow McLaren SP
- Chip Ganassi Racing
- Dale Coyne Racing-HMD Motorsports
- Dale Coyne Racing-Rick Ware Racing
- Ed Carpenter Racing
- Juncos Hollinger Racing
- Meyer Shank Racing
- Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
- Team Penske
FIA’s F1 series currently features ten teams, with two drivers acting as teammates during each event. Their lineup currently consists of the following teams.
- Red Bull Racing
- Haas F1 Team
- Alfa Romeo
- Aston Martin
Formula One is much older than IndyCar; the F1 series has run for seven decades since its standardization by the FIA in 1946, and subsequent debut in 1950. IndyCar’s current iteration was only launched in 1996.
However, the legacy of IndyCar stretches way back to 1909, with its flagship event Indianopolis 500 having kicked off in 1911.
Pit lanes with safety cars
The pit lane is always open in Formula One unless otherwise stated, allowing drivers to gain time when pitting during a safety car.
In IndyCar, the pit lane closes when a safety car appears, giving a driver who has just pitted a significant advantage.
Comparison Chart: Formula 1 Vs IndyCar
|0-100 kph: 2.6 s
|0-100 kph: roughly 3 s
|COTA lap record
|1.6 L single-turbocharger unleaded engine @ 1000 HP
|2.2 L twin-turbocharger ethanol-based fuel engine @ 700 HP
|Road, race and street courses
|Similar; as well as oval tracks.
|Regional (N. America)
|Usually 3 hours
|10 teams of 2 drivers each
|13 teams, as many as 5-6 drivers each
|1946 (debuted 1950)
|1909 (current version launched 1996)
How are Formula 1 and IndyCar similar?
The most apparent area in which Formula One and IndyCar are similar is that they are both racing categories for blindingly-fast single-seater open-wheel formula racecars.
The two categories value aerodynamic chassis designs, turbocharged engines that can reliably output more than 200 kph for hours at a time, and the ability to accelerate to that speed in a handful of seconds.
IndyCar and Formula One are also similar in the level of prestige they enjoy in the motorsport world, with fans coming in to enjoy the marvel of the vehicles’ speed, as well as the skills and strategies employed by each team of drivers.
Formula 1 vs IndyCar: Which is Faster?
Although the two categories’ vehicles are specialized for ultra-fast racing, Formula One’s record top speed barely edges out that of its competitor IndyCar.
In 2006, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas clocked in his vehicle at an astounding 397.36 kph. This decisively beat IndyCar’s own record set a decade earlier in 1996, when Eddie Cheever pumped his car up to roughly 380 kph.
When pitted against each other, most viewers would expect an F1 car to surpass an IndyCar vehicle, as its stronger engine and better aerodynamics would only make it faster on average over time.
How many laps are there in the Indy 500?
Contrary to what the name suggests, the Indianapolis 500 pits its drivers to complete 200 laps around its oval track to achieve victory. The track itself is 2.5 miles long.
Following this fact, the “500” in the Indy 500’s name stems from the entire course taking about 500 miles overall to finish from the first to final lap.
F1 and IndyCar are two titans of the single-seater motorsport world. The key differences between Formula One and IndyCar are evident in car specifications, race formats and scope.
Thanks to the competitive element of customizing each chassis for optimal aerodynamics, F1 racecars sport higher top speeds and acceleration times than their IndyCar counterparts, all of which employ the same chassis design.
Although it is not a reflection of their performance, F1 also has more tire options than IndyCar.
F1 racetracks take place all over the world, utilizing streets, public roads or permanent tracks. On top of these options, IndyCar also makes prominent use of oval tracks that emphasize consistent and strategic driving.
On average, Indianapolis 500 events last about an hour longer than F1 circuits, which have a hard limit of two hours.