Friday, September 7, 2012

Differences between IZOD IndyCar and Formula One: A Basic Primer

Indy car of Rubens Barrichello, former F1 driver
Photo credit Lisa Janine Cloud
For the last three years fans have looked to Skirts and Scuffs for their NASCAR news. In an effort to expand our coverage and continue growth, we've invited Lisa Reese to join the S&S team as our Formula One correspondent. A long-time fan of F1, Lisa will bring our readers race recaps and news on the happenings of this global sport. Please give her a warm welcome. 

By: Lisa Reese

Formula One and IZOD IndyCar series have one main thing in common: open-wheel automobiles that might look similar to those who do not follow racing closely. But from the auto itself, to the circuits they race on, the differences are vast.

Global vs. national. Let's look first at the biggest difference and that is audience. F1 is international with races taking place across the globe. The highlight of the F1 season is, to many, the Monaco Grand Prix with other races taking place in Asia, North and South America, the Middle East and, of course, Europe. IndyCar racing is generally localized to the Americas. While F1 has raced in the U.S., it has not enjoyed the success it has enjoyed elsewhere for various reasons I will get into at a later time. This year, however, the U.S. once again has a dedicated F1 track in Austin, Texas at the newly constructed Circuit of the Americas and has signed a 10-year contract with the debut scheduled this November. It will be interesting to see if this will garner more support from American viewers for F1 than in years past.

Ovals vs. street circuits/road courses. F1 cars drive on circuits designed specifically for their cars or, in some instances such as the previously mentioned Monaco Grand Prix, street circuits. They never drive on ovals or super speedways. The exception to this was when the U.S. Grand Prix was held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where a road coarse was built over half the track to accommodate the F1 series. IndyCars race on road and street courses, but also on ovals and super speedways. Though drivers hesitated to run high-speed ovals after the death of Dan Wheldon at the mile-and-a-half Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the 2011 series finale, INDYCAR made adjustments to the aero package that made drivers more comfortable on ovals.

The cars. Lots of differences here, but I will briefly describe some of the main ones. F1 cars use gasoline, though in a blend mixed specifically for racing. Indy cars use ethanol. The weight of an F1 car is lighter than that of an Indy car with the minimum requirement of 1410 lbs, including the driver. Indy cars have a minimum requirement of 1,565 lbs. with the driver, but minus 18.5 gallons of fuel. One gallon of fuel weighs 6.6 lbs. Not much difference there unless you factor in the fact that there is no refueling in F1 so the car gets lighter and faster as the race goes on and fuel must be calculated with extreme accuracy.

The brakes can be different between each series with F1 employing the lighter carbon fiber brakes only, while Indy cars may take advantage of the same (and do so on super speedways) but still use steel brakes on other ovals.

There are many more differences between both autos but the last thing I would like to emphasize is technology. Formula 1 cars are the most technologically advanced race cars in the world today with costs nearing or going over one-half billion dollars per car for the season. The auto is then retired and new car is developed, tested and made ready for the next season.

The use of onboard telemetry, communication engineers and IT experts enable each team in the pits to know exactly how the car is handling at any given time on the circuit. F1 cars use Kinetic Energy Recovery System (or KERS) which, in simple terms, stores mechanical braking energy to a battery and that energy can be released upon demand. F1 also uses the drag reduction system, or DRS. IZOD IndyCar doesn't. This technology is driver-activated just like KERS and closes a flap on the rear wing which reduces drag to create downforce on the car, making it particularly useful in cornering. There are many more differences but these are just a few of the more notable ones you might hear about when watching your first Formula One race.

Starts. Formula One begins their race on a starting grid from a dead stop. Here again technology comes into play as transponders in each car notify officials when the cars are in place. Five red lights go on, one second apart, and when that fifth light goes on it activates a jump start system. When the lights go out, the race is on. IndyCars make a moving start behind a safety car.

Ground effect. To put it very simply. ground effect has to do with the aerodynamics of the car and all the elements that create downforce. Downforce translates to grip, which makes the car hug those curves and stick to the track. This effect is very different for F1 and Indy cars and for good reason. F1 tends to limit the effects of ground effect while INDYCAR does not. To a large degree, running banked ovals vs. a street course or dedicated F1 circuit require entirely different types of downforce. Indy cars need that grip to stay off the wall while driving at high speed on banked ovals. F1 cars mainly need grip in the curves, the turns and for overtaking.

Turbo charge. Indy allows it. F1 does not.

This is just a small sampling of the many differences between Formula One and IZOD IndyCar racing. They are both exciting and, in my opinion, entirely different to watch- each with its own pluses and minuses but each equally engrossing. Try tuning in to the next Formula One race coming up this weekend, Sunday, September 9, for the Italian Grand Prix at the legendary Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, simply known as Monza to F1 participants and fans.

Monza is a lightning-fast circuit and low-drag aerodynamics will factor heavily into handling. With Fernando Alonzo, current leader of the Drivers Championship, taken out of the race on Lap 1 of the Belgian Grand Prix, the front of the championship field has tightened. Sebastian Vettel is just 24 points behind Alonso. Expect to see a sea of red among spectators because Italy is the home of Ferrari and fans will certainly be out in force supporting their own. 

8 comments :

I'm new to these divisions so thanks for the primer. To me, they all looked alike :)

The cars are actually dramatically different in appearance if you look closely. Big difference is Indy cars are "cleaner" aerodynamically. F1 cars have all kinds of small aero fins and shapes.
Description of the DRS is incorrect, the element is opened up to REDUCE drag and thus go faster. This is only allowed in predetermined ares of the track and also within a specified distance from the car in front.

Great primer, just in time for Memorial Day weekend racing. Thank you.
And a really informative blog, love it.

Yeah Al is correct, in addition DRS was not created as a way to close the flaps and create more downforce, it was actually created to make the cars go slower and handicap them, so in the select zones cars can open the DRS and attack the aerodynamically handicapped cars.

Opening the DRS and propel the cars an extra 20kph.

Watching my first F1 race today. Solid NASCAR fan but didn't know much about F1 until I read these posts today. Thanks to all of you! I may just become a fan watching this Monaco race todsy.

DRS was not created to slow cars down, it takes a previously non-movable piece of the rear wing and simply reconfigures it as a flat plane, this in essence reduces the effective size of the rear wing which reduces drag, doing this also removes a substantial portion of down force on the rear of the car and would make the car pretty useless in the corners. DRS and KEYS where two technologies developed to aid overtaking because F1 cars are extreamly difficult to pass, which makes races boring to many. Both of the technologies are usually used togeather to make passes down designated straits or DRS Zones, and DRS can only be used by a car less than 1 second behind the car ahead of them.

KERS not KEYS :)(Kinetic Energy Recovery System)

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