Indianapolis 500, IndyCar, 2017

Why F1 will struggle to prevent Indy 500 clashes in future

2017 F1 season

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The FIA has begun efforts to prevent Formula One races from clashing with other motor sport events. But one championship was conspicuously absent from a meeting held on the matter last week.

The discussions were held on the same weekend Fernando Alonso had chosen to skip the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indianapolis 500. However the meeting held by FIA present Jean Todt only featured representatives from FIA championships: Ross Brawn (Formula One), Gerard Neveu (World Endurance Championship) and Alejandro Agag (Formula E).

Alonso’s widely-praised participation in the Indianapolis 500 led many to call for the schedule clash between it and the Monaco Grand Prix to be resolved so more F1 drivers could do the same in future. Yet there appears to be no appetite for this at the FIA’s end.

It’s not difficult to imagine why the FIA wouldn’t want to make accommodations with a championship it doesn’t organise. But the practical obstacles to preventing a clash between the two weekends are more complicated than they might seem at first glance. Especially if the goal of removing the clash is to allow more F1 drivers to race at Indianapolis.

Fernando Alonso, McLaren Andretti, IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2017
Pictures: Sato wins an incident-packed Indianapolis 500
The Indy 500 has always been closely tied to America’s Memorial Day commemorations. The Monaco Grand Prix’s position on the F1 calendar is not as fixed. As recently in 2010 it was held two weeks before the Indianapolis 500, but on that occasion the Turkish Grand Prix coincided with IndyCar’s blue riband event.

With Liberty Media already talking about the 2018 F1 calendar having as many as 21 races. With more likely to be added in future, it’s clearly going to get more difficult to avoid any clashes. And in the case of Indianapolis it would involving freeing up not just one weekend, but two in a row.

Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is held one week before the race. Any F1 driver looking to compete in the race would therefore need two consecutive race-free weekends at the end of May. The growing pressure on the F1 calendar already makes that unrealistic and it is only going to get worse in future.

It would require compromises on both sides to reach a situation where F1 drivers could compete at Indianapolis without compromising their F1 commitments.

For instance, IndyCar could move qualifying so it is not held on a weekend. But that would mean sacrificing television exposure which the championship badly needs. Another solution could be to allow guest drivers in the Indy 500 to race a car qualified by another driver, a practice which already takes place in other series.

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For IndyCar the incentive to avoiding a clash is that they might be able to draw more big-name drivers to their race in the future. That may include a repeat visit from Alonso, who still needs to add the race to his ‘tripe crown’ collection.

As Chase Carey pointed out, F1 would certainly prefer not to have its top drivers skipping races to compete elsewhere. It should also ask itself whether the sport is well-served by having the slow, processional Monaco Grand Prix on the same day as the Indianapolis 500, where the racing is usually better.

Alonso’s participation in the race was a great news story for both championships. It allowed motor sport fans to see a top driver, who for too long has been lumbered with un-competitive machinery, competing at the front of a race again.

Both series could benefit from resolving the clash between the races. But the obstacles may be too tricky to overcome.

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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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  • 41 comments on “Why F1 will struggle to prevent Indy 500 clashes in future”

    1. Ignoring the drivers for a minute, I think having Monaco and the 500 the same day is great as a viewer to make it the best weekend for motorsports on the calendar.

      The two races compliment each other perfectly – first you have the challenge of 20 cars scraping the barriers on, arguably, the hardest track of the year where every overatake is special then you have the widest, fastest track of the year with action everywhere but none of it really matters until the climax.

      1. I agree, its a really nice weekend for watching racing. From the viewers perspective i see no problem.
        From the driver perspective i dont really see a problem either, if one or two drivers from F1 go to Indy it just enhances moth events and filling up the entire indy500 field with F1 drivers like some people dream of would be ridiculous anyway.

        1. *moth = both

      2. I agree too. I would also like the Monaco GP to run to the same race distance as all the other races do (i.e. 305km). Whilst this does mean going near or pass the 2 hour limit, but frankly I think that rule is stupid anyway. Yes, I think the 2 hour rule should go as well.

        1. The 2-hour rule is primarily so that broadcasters know how long a slot they should expect to use for a Grand Prix. They tend to get annoyed if it is extended for no good reason. However, ramping up the challenge of Monaco could be a justifiable reason to enable that race (and only that one) to extend to, say, a 3-hour time slot (retaining the general 4-hour limit for how long the event can take including red flags). This is especially true if Monaco could be persuaded to hold its race on a different weekend to Indy.

        2. @ijw1, the Monaco GP has traditionally been a shorter race though – they dropped it to 250km back in 1968, which is actually a shorter race distance then than it is now (about 261km).

      3. Every F1 team has a reserve driver who, for most of the year, isn’t used. Why let the regular driver go to Indianapolis to race and have the reserve driver race at Monaco? So after the Spanish GP (or whatever GP is prior to Monaco) the regular driver does what Alonso did, which is to hope on an airliner and fly to Indianapolis, do some practice sessions, do the Qualifying, do the Race a week later, and then fly to Canada where they meet their F1 team for the Canadian GP. Meanwhile the reserve driver is able to justify their worth to the team by driving a car in a real race while the regular driver is able to show how good they are (or aren’t) by racing against a larger selection of equivalent drivers in much more equal cars.
        If this was done then the Team still get their Constructors Championship points (or not), and if their full time driver would prefer to squander some potential points for the privilege of driving in the Indianapolis 500 then so be it. Your only live once.
        This claim of a clash between events is exaggerated. Besides the difference in time zones, Indycar put a full video of their sessions onto Youtube where everyone can see it when they want to see it, while F1 prefers their races be restricted to an exclusive audience, and if you missed seeing it then maybe you’ll have the consolation that it didn’t rate very well in the F1Fanatic Rate the Race survey.

    2. Monaco does not properly reflect of what F1 is, which is bad for F1, since it’s more likely than not the first F1 race people might be inclined to watch. With the Monaco race becoming duller every year, this is pushing new potential audiences away. The history of racing at Monaco makes it the most recognized motor race of the calendar, but I feel it’s becoming more and more about the fluff around it rather than the race itself, sort of like the Royal Ascot is more about the hats than the horses.
      I propose to unlink The Monaco Race from the F1 calendar. Keep it as a separate race (perhaps under F1 rules, but without championship points) in which people can compete for a one-off, just like Alonso did in the Indy500. Have the Indy500 and The Monaco Race on the same pair of weekends and let it be a global motor racing interchange weekend.

      1. Would it still be regarded as a respectable Triple Crown Race?
        The way I see it, your idea is reasonable but they should do that for Indy and Le Mans as well. That way you’ll have the TC events all as one-off non-championship events. It’d probably make achieving a TC more attractive, and each individual event keeps it’s prestige.

      2. @sihrtogg Fully agree with your view, and I’ve thought of it before too.

    3. An alternative option, is to do what they did “back in the day” and only count the best 14 out of 16 races. So in a 25 race series, drivers could still “skip” 1 or 2 races, and still be in the Championship running.

      1. I think this is probably the best option.

      2. @ijw1 If you took away the worst 2 results from everyone last year, Hamilton would have won the Championship….

      3. I think thats bad. All that would do is just allow teams to pick out new engines and hoard penalties for a race that doesnt count. Hamilton was abusing the engine rules to heavily last year as it was.

        Also the F1 title contender absolutely shouldnt be doing Indy on the most important F1 week.

      4. @ijw1 I think that’s a terrible idea. Not only did it cause loads of confusion about the points situation at the time, but even decades afterwards some people hadn’t got their heads around it.

    4. These two events don’t clash directly due to the time difference, and yet people still make a too big fuss about this weekend clash. Same with the numerous times the Canadian GP and Le Mans 24hrs took place on the same weekend but didn’t directly clash due to the time difference of 6 hours between Montreal and France, but regardless, It’s more or less impossible to juggle all the dates as there are only a limited amount of weekends available and that many different sports events overall in a year.

    5. Another solution could be to allow guest drivers in the Indy 500 to race a car qualified by another driver, a practice which already takes place in other series.

      That is already possible because at Indy it’s the car that is qualified rather than the driver. However if the driver is switched post qualifying then that car is bumped down to 33rd starting spot.

      Been a number of occasions over the years where one driver has qualified a car only for another to run it in the race, Sometimes because the race driver wasn’t available to qualify the car & sometimes because one of the full time drivers didn’t qualify while an Indy only did & they simply wanted the full time driver in the field for points or sponsor commitments.

      That happened as recently as 2011 where Bruno Junquiera qualified an AJ Foty car only to be replaced for the race by Ryan Hunter-Reay who failed to qualify his own Andretti Autosport car due to that team really struggling at Indy that year. 2 years earlier Bruno had also had to give up his qualified car so that Conquest racing’s full time driver Alex Tagliani could start.

    6. How many of the current drivers have plans to participate in the Indy 500 during their active F1 career? Alonso can return to Indianapolis after his retirement. He should still be quick enough to beat Chilton and Sato then.

    7. Could you not bump the F1 season around a bit? Perhaps start the season with a race on New Year’s Day, move the F1 summer holiday into May, and finish mid October?

      1. ”Perhaps start the season with a race on New Year’s Day” – I don’t think that’s a viable option.

        1. @jerejj, I suppose that there was the 1967 South African GP, which was held on the 2nd January – they did intentionally shift the race from Sunday to Monday to avoid racing on New Year’s Day itself, but qualifying did occur on New Year’s Eve.

          However, that race does in a number of ways also support your position – because it was held quite soon after the 1966 season had ended, quite a few teams either turned up with old cars from 1966 (such as the Lotus 43 or the Eagle T1F), whilst Ferrari didn’t attend the race at all. It meant that the race was, even by the standards of the time, a somewhat shambolic affair.

    8. As a long time fan of F1 and Indycar, I must say I really like Monaco and the Indy 500 being run on the same day. If an F1 driver wants to compete at the 500, all they have to do is get permission to skip a race, or wait until they retire from F1 and do it then. There are precedents set for both.
      What I would really like to see is an Indycar champion given a chance to do an F1 race, say Spa or Monza. They could bring some new viewership from North America. How about James Hinchcliff, for example?

    9. Why not bump the summer break up to run mid-May to mid-June? The teams get their down time, and if the drivers want to go to Indy, they can. Screw the niceties that have it in August, it prevents European families from attending a race or two before school starts back in force. Moving the Canadian GP after the European season could also reduce team fatigue. F1 needs to quit acting like spoiled children here. Indy had the weekend first, and it’s a better race. Outside of the onboard footage to remind the viewer of the intensity of the driving, Monaco is the dullest race of the year to watch via TV, and F1 needs to treat it accordingly, meaning it can be moved wherever needed.

      1. @spdoyle17 The problem with Montreal is that it’s where it is on the schedule to try & get the best weather. Earlier/Later in the year the weather can be far from ideal for racing in that region.

        It’s the same with other races, Each region, Each location has a period where weather conditions are at there best. You don’t want to hold a race in a period where there is a higher chance of less ideal or more extreme conditions.
        COTA isn’t paired with Montreal for example because the heat in that part of Texas in June can be horrific & Montreal can’t be shifted to later in the year because that part of Canada can have some severe winter’s (It’s part of why the track breaks up some frequently, Big swings from hot to freezing).

        Additionally there is local events (As well as big worldwide events) to consider, Certain things that race promoters/circuit owners (And at times Broadcasters) don’t want to compete with. You don’t want to schedule the British Gp to clash with Wimbledon final weekend if possible, Or any race to clash with a world cup final or similar as that just guarantee’s you lose potential viewers.

        It’s easy to sit back & think of what the schedule should look like, But when you start factoring in some of the things I mention as well as some other considerations then it starts to become a lot tricker than you would think.

      2. @spdoyle17, as the Indianapolis 500 was originally held on the 30th May to coincide with Memorial Day in the US, that meant that it was not tied in to occurring on a weekend – in fact, in the past they would actually move the race to the 31st May if the 30th was a Sunday.

        It’s only since 1974 – after a change in legislation in 1971 meant that Memorial Day became the last Monday in May – that they changed to the current system of holding the race on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Indeed, nearly half of all of the historical Indy 500 races (47) took place between Monday and Friday, so the association you are referring to is effectively a fairly modern invention.

        1. @anon , Indy can’t be moved for weather reasons, (by late May severe thunderstorms can be reasonably expected enough to need a rain check day). Nor should it, because, this is something F1-first fans need to wrap around their heads, the event is older by nearly a generation. The only way it’s moving is if Sunday’s a rainout. Add to that Americans don’t get nearly the vacation time most others reading this do. I can flat out tell you that date will never budge because of that alone. I’ve traveled to one 500 & 2 GP’s there by car, and I can tell you, unless you’re willing to shell out for the closer parking spots, the traffic can become horrendous leaving, especially the 500. (Two out of three of those it took me until past midnight to get back into Pennsylvania, and by then I had four hours to go). Indy’s not moving its date, full stop. Monaco therefore, as the junior event with a more recently flexible date, needs to be moved.

          @gt-racer I know my weather and climate, I was a USAF forecaster for over a decade. I was thinking about the window too, how it was pushed pretty late in the 70’s, so obviously the 3rd-4th weekend of September is as cold as you could dare. I don’t know if COTA will be renewed, ideally Road America can get certified to host if a void needs filled in five years. Montreal & Road America could be on back-to-back weekends, (versus say COTA two weeks after Montreal, with Hermanos Rodriguez the week after COTA). However, the flipside is, by early October it isn’t heat that’s the factor too much for racing, it’s the fall severe storm season. Moving it up to Columbus Day Weekend might actually work there.

    10. Make an Indy GP or an American GP closely and make it run around the Indy 500.

    11. While the IndyCars sanctioning body would love another month of positive media attention and injection of world interest brought by Alonso(to be referred this point forward as the Alonso Effect), it’s not going to re-configure its schedule to accommodate more F1 guest drivers. Since its season is shorter with fewer races, it probably could do so but moving the 500 away from Memorial Day will not happen. Away from the recent Alonso Effect, there’s always the possibility of an American driver doing the Memorial Day double challenge: a NASCAR driver doing the 500 earlier in the day then going to do the Coke 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    12. The Indy track already does the 500 and a NASCAR Brickyard 500 race. It’s a 2.5 mile track. The infield can hold many of the great monuments of Europe inside. So, the answer is simple. Build a F1 track in the infield and you still have enough room to leave the 18 hole golf course intact. I not sure how we could get F1 drivers to stoop to NASCAR, but how about the new TC could be who wins the Indy 500, Brickyard and Indy F1 race???! The idea of an Indy F1 track thrills my soul.
      By the way, I grew up in Indy and I can’t imagine that race will ever be held on any other week but Memorial Day…barring rain, of course.

      1. Tommy Scragend
        4th June 2017, 17:25

        The idea of an Indy F1 track thrills my soul.

        Did you miss the years 2000 to 2007?

      2. Build a F1 track in the infield

        There’s already an F1 track on the infield. F1 raced on it from 2000-2007.

    13. ‘tripe crown’? 🙊

      1. Runners up get the liver crown followed by the kidney crown.

    14. The racing is in no way “better” at Indy, and I say that as someone who has not just attended the Indy 500, but actually had pit lane and even pit wall access during the race. It’s just a hell of a lot more random. I’d still rather watch Monaco of the pair. At least I know that when a pass happens, it will be hard-fought and not just “Yawn, there’s another drafting pass. They’ll swap back again in a moment now that he has nobody else close enough to draft.”

    15. And they should not avoid the clash.

    16. It’s pretty simple .The triple crown was there because there were not as many F1 races back in the day . I don’t see to many people here talking about Indy drivers doing the Monaco GP . How about Lewis gives his Mercedes to Tony Kannan for next years Monaco and Tony gives him his Indy Car . As if that would happen .
      Having full time Indy drivers stand aside during their premier race for an F1 driver to just fly in and try his hand is a bit rich . Gone are the days of Moss , Clark and Hill when you could pick and choose your races .Either commit to a full season or dont drive.

    17. Why not make the Indy 500 part of the F1 championship like it used to be? Imagine what an event that would be. And instead of a calendar “clash” we can have a real one!

      1. @vjanik As great as that would be (to see F1cars/drivers on a superspeedway) i doubt Indy would want their ordinary drivers pushed out in favour of 20 F1 drivers making an one race jump in. It would effectivly turn Indys most(only) prestigious event into an F1 event.

        It would however be very interesting to see Mercedes bargaining for an Honda engine :)

        1. @rethla Agreed that this is far fetched. But i dont think it would make it an F1 event. All Indy 500 drivers would take part, and we would see cool rivalry between the series (rather than ignoring each other).

          Whether they would all use Indycars, or F1 teams would make a one off car, or whatever, you could probably fit both the regular Indycar field, and the F1 grid into one race. There would probably have to be less one-off entries but these details could be resolved.

    18. “Another solution could be to allow guest drivers in the Indy 500 to race a car qualified by another driver, a practice which already takes place in other series.”

      Or you could just slap us race fans in the face and tell us we wouldn’t notice the difference.

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