Why the plight of F1’s small teams could benefit IndyCar

Formula 1 is in a state of flux as teams go bust and others teeter on the brink. Question marks hang over existing squads and their ability to survive beyond next season. Amidst such doom and gloom, how can such issues possibly benefit any other form of motor sport? For IndyCar, In a number of ways potentially.

Fresh talent

A significant advantage could come in terms of driver and engineering talent. As opportunities for both diminish in F1, the gradually more stable and economically viable IndyCar series grows in attraction. In recent weeks there have been signs that this is already happening; ex-Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne is reportedly looking seriously at IndyCar along with ex-Caterham and Marussia tester Alex Rossi.

Once more there is scope for IndyCar to blood drivers aiming for F1 and to provide a second chance for those that – not for lack of talent – have not made the cut. Taking the new Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing as an example, they have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in replacing road/street specialist Mike Conway.

Available talent from within the series already includes the likes of Oriol Servia, Sage Karem and JR Hildebrand. Potentially they can now supplement that with ex-F1 drivers like Vergne further enhancing the already high standard of pilot open to that squad. In some respects a continuation of this can only be a good thing for IndyCar.

(Very) deep pockets optional

Reducing grids in F1 will exponentially increase the sponsorship backing needed to secure a drive from already eye-watering levels. Admittedly the environment in IndyCar is not back at the level of the mid-to-late nineties just yet. In those glory days sponsorship backing for a ride was almost unnecessary but for 2015, in context, a driver could establish themselves with a good team for a fraction of the cost needed to bag a seat at the rear of the F1 grid.

Motor racing by definition loses many potential ‘greats’ because their personal backers/sponsors are not wealthy enough. F1’s position as the leading waster of talent will only be exacerbated as teams fall away and conversely could allow IndyCar to attract the drivers not willing to completely give up on open-wheel/single-seater racing.

Dreaming of Indianapolis

One of IndyCar’s many problems is that young Americans no longer wish to run Indy like Andretti or Hunter-Reay, instead aiming to be Earnhardt or Harvick at Daytona. Tackling that is for another day but there is still a core of young US drivers who want to reach the pinnacle of open-wheel racing, which is F1.

On paper the further reduction of opportunities might seem like a further boon for NASCAR. The opposite could actually be true as single-seater racers look to IndyCar as a more viable option to carve out an actual career as a professional racecar driver. Whilst all dream of reaching the top, eventually most drivers have to decide to either give up on the fantasy or earn a living. IndyCar can more readily offer that option and if American drivers fill more of the grid, and more of the podium places, that can only be good for the series overall.

New teams

There will always be teams wishing to step up and expand in to F1 – look at Gene Haas. Not content with another NASCAR title he is going all guns blazing for F1 in 2016. Far more teams fail than succeed of course and the astute, pragmatic team owner will not view reaching Formula 1 as an ‘at all costs’ objective.

The news that the British team Carlin Racing is entering IndyLights in 2015, with a view to a full IndyCar project, could be the tip of the iceberg. Successful in F3, Formula Renault 3.5, GP3 and GP2 Carlin look like a ready-made graduate to Formula 1. Instead they are taking the view that IndyCar in general offers better opportunities for their development (and a good bit less risky to boot). One team does not make a trend but as the barriers to entering F1 escalate ever higher, there is no reason not to think other teams in F1’s ‘feeder’ championships might look across the Atlantic.

IndyCar as a series should be considering these potential opportunities and doing everything it can to assist and facilitate for enhanced long term growth.

IndyCar as a series should be considering these potential opportunities and doing everything it can to assist and facilitate for enhanced long term growth.

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