Start, Indianapolis, 2007

Why an F1 return to Indianapolis would make a lot of sense

2020 F1 season

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It’s almost four years since Liberty Media arrived on the scene and ponied up the dough – eight billion dollars of it – to buy Formula 1.

The sport’s new American owners made one of their goals for the championship clear from the outset. They wanted to realise the untapped potential of the US market by adding at least one more round to the championship.

A street race in Miami has long been the goal, but progress towards one has proceeded at a crawl. After several attempts, the promoters were forced to abandon their original plan to secure a downtown site for the race.

Their current plan involves holding the race in the car park around the Hard Rock stadium. Even this more realistic scheme has met stiff local opposition. F1 took the extraordinary step of urging fans to lobby the city’s politicians to back the plan. Finally, signs began to emerge that the plans would become reality.

Then came the pandemic.

Planned Hard Rock Stadium F1 circuit for 2021 Miami Grand Prix
Miami’s F1 plan has hit another obstacle
For obvious reasons, no form of racing circuit has suffered more than temporary tracks in city centres. F1 has cancelled its races in Melbourne and Monaco, while Hanoi and Baku look doubtful. All of IndyCar’s city races have been called off and Formula E’s all-street-track calendar is on hiatus.

F1 originally pencilled Miami in for a race in 2019. That date slipped to 2020, then 2021, and it would be no surprise if it fell further behind.

F1 already has one home in America – the superb, purpose-built Circuit of the Americas. It and the nearby city of Austin are a superb match for the sport.

But it’s not hard to see why Liberty wants at least a second race in a vast, valuable market of over 300 million people. So where can it find a ready solution to its need to expand the calendar?

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The answer may come from Roger Penske, the former racing driver and gigantically successfully racing team owner whose Penske Corporation purchased the IndyCar series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. He has invested heavily in facilities for teams, spectators and media at IMS.

Start, Indianapolis, 2005
F1 disgraced itself at Indianapolis 15 years ago
Penske is keen to offer more racing at the venue best known for the Indianapolis 500. NASCAR already races on its oval, IndyCar holds extra rounds on its road course, and Penske wants to use the latter for sportscars as well.

He has also talked about bringing F1 back to the track. But F1’s 2000-2007 run at venue was a chequered (or perhaps that should be ‘checkered’) affair.

It was embarrassing enough when the Ferrari drivers staged a botched ‘photo finish’ in 2002, leading to Michael Schumacher accidentally handed victory to his team mate. But three years later F1 disgraced itself with a farce of a race. The Michelin-shod teams withdrew en masse following a spate of tyre failures on the banked final corner, the sport wasted a 48-hour window to reach a workable compromise, and fans were left with a ‘race’ featuring just half-a-dozen cars.

Roger Penske, indyCar, 2020
IMS owner Penske wants F1 back
The latter scenario is no longer a threat as the road course layout has been revised and no longer includes the banking. Other improvements to the configuration have been made since Lewis Hamilton won F1’s last race at the venue 13 years ago. The viciously tight double hairpin in the middle of the track – surely one of the worst corner combinations ever seen on purpose-built F1 track – is gone.

The more general problem F1 faced at Indianapolis was establishing itself at a venue which already hosts both America’s greatest race and its most popular form of motorsport. But if Liberty Media wishes to make F1 a success in America, it has to be prepared to take on this kind of competition. And, to be fair to them, they have proved to be much more proactive at promoting the sport than their predecessors, running fan festival events in cities including in the USA.

Indianapolis is the only FIA grade one circuit in America besides COTA, and Penske has indicated it could hold a race as early as next year. If the championship is looking for a turn-key solution to add a second US race in the short-term, a return to the Brickyard is the more realistic option.

Compared to the Sisyphean endeavour of making a street race in Miami happen, knocking on Roger Penske’s half-open door would certainly be the easier way for Liberty Media to tell its stockholders its F1 American expansion plan is happening.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 28 comments on “Why an F1 return to Indianapolis would make a lot of sense”

    1. Counterpoint: the race was garbage. It would hurt the reputation of F1 in the US to use that awful infield section.

      1. Dont forget the farce of race at the peak of tyre war which didnt help the cause either.

      2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        11th June 2020, 13:15

        Trying to use more of the oval is the key to making a GP there unique and attractive.

        I’ve posted this before, but here it is again, my suggested layout running anticlockwise.

        Can anyone explain why this wouldn’t be possible or desirable?

        1. Don’t you mean clockwise, like F1 used to run?
          Because anticlockwise you’d have the back straight lead the cars at full speed to a banked corner.

          Overall not a bad layout, F1 needs to use some of the oval bits to make it unique and challenging even if they have to put a slow corner before to make the corner usable and not have another ‘2005 fiasco’.

          1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            11th June 2020, 16:45

            Of course yes.. clockwise, well spotted sir.

        2. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk you’d be taking out interior service roads which are meant to be used for marshalling and medical access, which is not exactly inconsequential.

      3. It at least allowed passing. It’s a better track layout then much of the track layouts.

      4. Still blaming poor racing in F1 on the circuits, eh?

        Other cars can race there well and provide interesting events – it’s not the circuit.

    2. It’s been improved a lot, meaning there are a choice of layouts F1 could use.

      Roger Penske is someone who F1 would be foolish to ignore.

      1. This. F1 lives in a bubble, bluntly ignoring legends of other motorsports. Sometimes at their own peril.

      2. definitely not the fools they are dealing with in Miami!

      3. I would love to see F1 back at Indianapolis with the banking. Now F1 has spec tyres which are designed for steeper banking in the Netherlands, they would cope, no?

        1. The tyres haven’t been designed for banking.
          They are merely raising the minimum pressures to reduce sidewall stresses.

    3. What’s missing from this article is the fact that it would likely be more accessible for a lot of fans. Plane travel in the US is expensive and often takes a long time with the connections we have. A “north us gp” relatively close to large population centers would be helpful for fans who can’t make it to Austin and don’t want to go to Montreal. Ticket prices were also very cheap the last time around. If they can bring in 200k to a race, they can keep the prices low.

    4. I’m up for trying F1 at Indy again. I wasn’t a huge fan of the track back in its 2000-07 period (although the final banked turn did promote some great slip-streaming opportunities), but I have really enjoyed watching the last couple of Indycar races on the modified version of the road circuit there.

      Is that because Indycars are able to race closer together, or because the modified track encourages closer racing and more overtaking? My guess would be both. But there’s only one way of finding out – let F1 cars loose on there.

      Turn 1 is tighter which it needed to be. I always thought that the 2000-07 chicane was a carbon copy of Barcelona ie a flowing right-left that doesn’t involve heavy braking.

      The back straight has been lengthened and the left-hander at the end has also been tightened, so that is another place that will encourage overtaking more. This part then goes straight into a right-left; combine this with the preceding left turn and it encourages switch-back moves. I’ve seen plenty of them in Indycar.

      The downside to the new circuit is that it swaps the final banked turn (Turn 1 on the oval) for a tight infield section. So that is the cool slip-streaming opportunity lost.

      Overall, I’d be happy to see F1 back there.

    5. I think this sounds like a more sensible option in the U.S. rather than a race around a car park in Miami. This would almost certainly be poor. However, what about the idea of F1 returning to Long Beach? I believe this idea was mooted recently. This circuit has quite a good reputation I believe?

      1. In August 2017, after a study was completed and after discussions, the switch to Formula One was rejected. The city council voted unanimously to continue the event as part of the IndyCar Series.

        From Wikipedia… Unknown for how long this decision stands. Apparently Long Beach only holds races for one category, either F1 or Indycars.

    6. Another reason why a race at Long Beach is a non-starter is the whole basis of this article – street circuits are currently not the way forward for any series currently which is why the only F1-grade circuit in the US is the best option – Indy.

    7. How about somewhere new in an area that F1 should explore. Long Beach success in the past shows that temp circuits when done right can be exciting worthy of this level of racing.
      So why not the Pacific Northwest of North America? Why not create a new street race through the hills of Seattle down to the waterfront and utilizes the Seattle Center as a base for the teams to stage themselves. The drops in the hills around the Pike Place Market would be amazing to see.
      This area is vibrant and is the world market place for Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks.
      There is a lot of money here and the visuals around Seattle are stunning with nearby massive Volcanos and has an established fan base unrealized. More than 10 million reside here and it’s an untapped area of immense race potential.
      Indy would be cool again ( with changes )
      But the whole package is here already and once established would make fans forget about going back to Indy again.
      Somebody tell the FIA. There is a place waiting for Formula One Greatness

      1. I’m guessing you haven’t lived in Seattle long. This is about the last thing I would want to happen in Seattle and I think most residents would agree. What a disaster.

    8. Racing at Indy is 1000x more preferable than a parking lot in Miami.

      It would be super cool if they could organize IndyCar’s road race to support the F1 Grand Prix. That would surely draw a lot fans.

    9. F1 at Indianapolis makes sense. I like the idea.

      But they need to re-do that infield track. Even with the tweaks they made for MotoGP and then Indycars, it is still horrible. Knowing that the 500 takes place there, it’s like the contrast between both events couldn’t be worse…

    10. For quite a while now I have been fantasizing a night race at Daytona 24h course. Wishful thinking, I know, but if we are to take another race at the US, there are better options than current ones that are worthy of applying for FIA Grade 1.

      Though I must say, compared to the former, current Indianapolis doesn’t seem that bad.

    11. Terry Stahly
      12th June 2020, 1:09

      Personally have a home in Fort Lauderdale I would love to see Miami but I only live two hours from Indy in the summer also. I race Vintage and love the Indy Road Course is a 2.0L Alfa but I find the Indy cars running there boring. A venue like Watkins Glenn or Road America is far more suited to an exciting F1 race.

    12. I thought the problem in 2005 was the new surface which utilized diamond grinding, leaving it with grooves along its length, and not the banking. Bridgestone were prepared because they knew all about it from Firestone and their data.

    13. watkins glen we need

    14. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      18th June 2020, 16:00

      test

    15. So my last F1 race was the tyre fiasco race… I had not missed a race until that ended F1 for me. Most of the cast of characters that caused it are gone or dead. Jean Todt was also a part of it but seems to be very fair since taking over the helm of FIA. I would attend and I think the racing was better than given credit for. The tire solution for banking is simply have a test prior allowing for changes should they need too. I also think F1 is going to shorter sidewalls and larger diameter wheels which might solve all problems anyway. I would give it another shot but man what they did last time was criminal. I had a family of five and it was a disgrace what Whiting, Todt & Mosely did to the fans half from around the world. Also if the drivers are kneeling during my nations anthem please don’t come here.

      Otherwise I’m a former F1 fan and believe in second chances.

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