Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why is IndyCar getting more interesting than F1? What could F1 learn from North America?

Current IndyCar and former Formula One and NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya has said F1 should copy American racing to re-engage fans. Actually, I must say my motorsports interest has been switching from F1 to IndyCar in the recent years, so maybe Montoya has a point.

Why I have started to get interested in IndyCar is that it offers better entertainment than F1. Actually, I preferred F1 when it didn't go too far with its attempts to be entertaining. Back then it seemed like American racing was the one going too far with attempts to make races more entertaining with excessive use of pace car, push-to-pass in IndyCar, or green-white-checker finish in NASCAR. But in recent years in F1, safety car rules have been changed to make safety car periods spice up the race more as well as the DRS is even more artificial than push-to-pass in IndyCar. The use of push-to-pass in IndyCar is in the driver's discretion plus one can use it also to defend, yet one can use it only ten times in a race. In F1, a driver can use DRS always when he is within one second of the car ahead in the DRS zone, yet one cannot use it to defend. That produces more exciting wheel-to-wheel racing in IndyCar as opposed to F1's DRS passes that can hardly be called overtakes. Another thing I dislike in F1 is the amount of tarmac run-offs. Tarmac is more forgiving compared to gravel, taking away challenge as going wide isn't punished the way it used to be. Instead going wide may even gain some time, leading to uncertainty if a qualifying lap is valid or if an overtake happened withing the track limits. In North America, tarmac run-offs are still quite uncommon with run-offs being mostly gravel or street circuits having no run-off between the track and the wall like in F1. IndyCar also provides more variety with tracks by having races on not only road courses and street circuits but also on ovals. Also, I dislike F1 having double points in the final race of the season. IndyCar also introduced that for this year but I prefer their system. They give double points in the 500-mile races of Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana which is the final race of the season. That makes more sense as they are the longest races of the season whereas in F1 the Abu Dhabi GP isn't any different to the other Grands Prix.

But what could F1 learn from North America in that regard? I think F1's overtaking aids have gone too far. Just introduce similar rules like with push-to-pass in IndyCar; first you try to overtake without push-to-pass, then if you are still stuck behind a slower car, you can use push-to-pass, yet cannot do it lap after lap. Of course, I am not sure that would make racing in F1 as tight as in IndyCar; also cars play a role here and I will return on that later. As for run-offs, there is no return to gravel in fast corners where it would be dangerous. But I think there shouldn't be tarmac runoffs in slow corners where gravel traps or grass wouldn't be dangerous. When it comes to oval racing, I think it is a nice addition to IndyCar but has no place in F1. Ovals haven't been a part of F1 excluding the series' early years when Indianapolis 500 was a World Championship race and the Monza circuit also included the oval section. Besides, given the high emphasis of safety in F1, it would be difficult to see F1 racing on dangerous ovals.

One major difference between F1 and IndyCar is F1 teams designing and building their own cars whereas IndyCar teams use single-make cars. The difference between IndyCar teams is which engine they use plus there will be different aerokits starting from the next season. The single-make chassis is obviously one reason for the tighter racing in IndyCar. And of course it means much lower costs. Then again, I think each team having their own car has become an essential part of F1 and is a part of the series' attractiveness as it is unique among single-seaters. In that regard, IndyCar will never be like F1, yet I would like it to be more like CART in the 90s with multiple different chassis and engine manufacturers. More manufacturers would mean more technical competition. But F1 shouldn't go for customer cars, each team having their own car has been a part of the series for such a long time. One aim of F1 regulations should be to enable tight racing but not to limit teams' technical freedom. That is challenging; too much freedom and the differences between teams can get too big. But too restrictive rules take away the attractiveness of technical competition in F1, even if that enabled tighter racing.

Montoya spoke about American series being more fan-friendly. I cannot speak a lot about the fan experience at the track as I have never been to a race. Also, I don't know about IndyCar's televising in its home market in the USA. In Europe, it is mostly a pay channel sport but so is also F1 these days. But a big difference is the use of the new media. F1's Twitter account is just links to articles on the series' website, IndyCar and NASCAR, on the other hand, tweet photos and videos on the series' Twitter accounts. Of course, teams tweet actively in F1 so there isn't so much need of an active series account. There is also a difference in the series' YouTube policy. F1 removes videos from YouTube in order to protect their material. IndyCar and NASCAR don't remove videos and even have own YouTube accounts, in order to promote the series. Exclusive TV rights may be a problem for F1 but their approach still seems outdated.

One more thing I prefer in IndyCar is how everything seems more relaxed there. It is hard to describe but I think there are less controversies in IndyCar than in F1. Maybe it is just because I haven't followed it as much as F1. Controversies obviously help to keep F1 in headlines between races but I am tired of them. And maybe it is that more relaxed attitude why tough racing leads to less complaining in IndyCar, making it more enjoyable to watch.

But to the main question, what could F1 learn from North America? I think completely copying North American racing wouldn't work. Not all existing fans would like American-style F1, and for people liking American-style open-wheel racing, there is already IndyCar. F1 has always been more about sport and less about show than American racing. That is what it should be like also nowadays, even though DRS, double-points final race, and proposed standing restarts are even bigger show elements than what there is in American racing. Also, F1 must not lose the aspect of technical competition that makes it special. F1 could copy some elements from American racing or other series as long as it doesn't lose its own nature. For example, I think DRS in the way it is used in F1 has not been a good addition whereas IndyCar-style push-to-pass would be an improvement. To retain the existing fanbase, F1 must retain its essence as well as improve the fan experience, e.g. with new media, to comply with the standards set by other series. A better fan experience would also help to get new fans. And American series could be a model of the use of new media.

1 comment:

  1. In USA, Indycar is mainly shown on NBCSN, which is a cable network and few races, like Indy 500 is aired on ABC