Formula One and Indycar

Formula One racing has always been on tracks that include most of the features of ordinary motor roads, especially tight bends and moderate inclines, whereas Indy racing was for many years confined to special race tracks formed in an oval with banked curves at each end. Since 2005, however, Indy racing has increasingly included some events on road and street courses and these have come to predominate with only about one-third of races now taking place on oval tracks. In this respect, the two motor sports seem to have become more alike, but the contrast between Formula One and Indy racing on the oval track remains.

From a European perspective, sport in the USA in general seems to tend to the fast and spectacular, whereas Europeans, the British especially, take more interest in longer slower competitions with intermittent action. The contrast is perhaps most stark when comparing baseball with cricket. So it seems to be with motor racing, with the oval track in the USA allowing continuous near all-out speed, and the tight curves and chicanes of Formula One bringing the cars almost to rest, as, for example, at the Monaco Grand Prix event held annually around the narrow streets of the principality.

Indy racing on the oval track certainly presents a unique spectacle. The wide track allows several cars to race side-by-side and there is plenty of opportunity for overtaking. With the drivers maintaining almost flat-out speed, the race depends essentially on engine power. It all looks very dangerous, and this no doubt is the essence of its appeal. Crashes, when they occur, often involve multiple vehicles and are sometimes horrendous. Fortunately, with modern safety features, fatalities and serious injuries have been much reduced and this is an advance shared by Formula One.

Formula One is less visible to the spectator and the television viewer. Only at the start of the race can all the cars be seen together. For the rest of the race, the cars pass in and out of view in twos, threes and fours. Without a constant commentary it becomes impossible to know who is winning, as passing cars are soon found to be on different laps of the race. And whereas on the oval track the race leader is almost always in view, in Formula One the television cameras seem to ignore the leading car and concentrate instead on closely fought battles for fourth place or ninth place in the hope of recording a rare overtaking. Formula One presents a more difficult challenge to television, a challenge shared by Indy on-street races. For those who want shear spectacle on TV there is nothing to compare to the oval track.