ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Of the four rookie drivers among the NTT IndyCar Series line up of drivers for the 2022 season, two are from the Formula One ladder system in Europe.
Callum Illot and Christian Lundgaard join Romain Grosjean in North America this season, all three of whom have put Formula One aspirations on hold to race in another top series, which many say is trending in the right direction.
It’s a noticeable trend for European drivers who are finding it more and more difficult to secure an F1 ride. Many see this trend as IndyCar starting to rival Formula One in stature on the international stage.
Still, even IndyCar drivers admit that F1 is the ultimate goal for most aspiring drivers.
“Obviously Formula 1 is the pinnacle when you look at the level of money and television coverage around the world that it has,” said Team Penske driver Will Power. “So if you’re a young driver, it’s somewhere you would love to go and have experienced that series. But as far as competing and competition and parity, there’s no other open-wheel series in the world like INDYCAR. It is more competitive than Formula 1, not because the drivers are better but simply because the cars are all exactly the same.”
It’s worth noting that IndyCar is not a “spec series”, which means each car is built the same down to the last lug nut. Power said in IndyCar any given driver can win. Whereas in Formula One you are more likely racing your teammate or for a particular position in the race based on your car’s build and performance.
“For me when you’re young obviously you want to try everything, and Formula 1 is the middle of the world,” said Meyer Shank driver Helio Castroneves. “However, again, if you’re not in the right team you’re not going to be in the right position to even finish in the points. At IndyCar it’s completely different because the rules are able to allow your talent to show.”
In Formula One, one team, Mercedes, has won the last eight constructors championships. Mercedes has also won seven of the last eight world driving championships. Lewis Hamilton won six of those seven titles
The IndyCar season championship has been exchanged back and forth between Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske for the last nine years, but those titles have been spread over five different drivers: Scott Dixon (4), Josef Newgarden (2), Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Alex Palou.
The one thing we’ve neglected to acknowledge up to this point is the fact that in many cases the big deciding factor on where a driver ends up is how much money they bring to any one racing operation. An example is Oscar Piastri, who won the Formula 3 title twice in a row and then Formula 2 World Championship, yet he was passed over by F1 teams for other drivers in the ladder to fill spots on the Formula One grid.
“Yeah, Oscar Piastri certainly deserved to be in Formula 1,” Power said. “And then not to be in Formula 1, to me the system is sort of broken. Why? Why do they spend all this money to run something like F2 and you win the championship … and not get a Formula 1 seat?”
Thus lies IndyCar in waiting for these drivers. Castroneves believes that this along with the continued diversity of racing circuits — meaning ovals and street circuits — other than established road courses, like in Formula One, could be what brings IndyCar racing back to the level of competition it was considered to be before “The Split” in 1996.
“Because of the different styles of tracks, with ovals, with short ovals, with street courses, you definitely blend so many different talents,” Castroneves said. “Now, with Penske Corp taking care of the series, hopefully now with the pandemic just passed over, I do believe IndyCar can concentrate to becoming what it used to be 30 years ago, 40 years ago.”
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