For over 50 years the top level
of international motorsports has been Formula One. Although the Indy
500 has always been the biggest race (since 1911), long ago Formula One
surpassed the popularity of Indy Car racing. Until CART made a
concerted effort to break out into the international racing scene, the world
was always looked upon as F1 territory and Indy Car racing viewed purely a domestic
series. However, race fans around the world have begun to take notice
of CART, and naturally the comparisons started.
The F1 crowd has always looked
down their noses at Champ Car/Indy Car racing, perhaps they felt
threatened. Maybe it was because Indy Car racing grew up out of the most powerful nation in the world, the USA. Maybe it's just
human nature, but people like to take pot shots at the leader. Perhaps it is
because F1 drivers have enjoyed better success in Indy Car racing than the
For years F1 drivers would come
to America and cherry pick its greatest race, the Indy 500. However,
it never was possible for American's to cherry pick a 'big' race
in F1 because there isn't just one big race; you had to win the entire series and the world championship, a
difficult feat indeed. Very few drivers have successfully competed in both CART and F1.
Generally drivers have enjoyed more success moving to CART after a successful career in F1, rather than the other way around.
Three exceptions in recent years are 4-time CART/IndyCar champion (65, 66,
69, 84), Indy 500 winner,
and Daytona 500 winner Mario Andretti, who won the F1 World Driving
Championship in 1978 driving for Lotus; 1995 CART champion Jacques Villeneuve, who won the 1997 F1 World Championship driving for
Williams F1; and 1999 CART champion, and 2000 Indy 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya who has already achieved one win and
numerous poles in his rookie F1 season.
Are F1 drivers better than Indy
Car/Champ Car drivers? Are F1 cars better than Champ Cars?
Perhaps that question will never be answered as long as CART and F1 are two separate
series played before a worldwide arena, but I decided to do a comparison of
the two series, one the pinnacle of open wheel racing in Europe, the other
the pinnacle of open wheel racing in North America, and let you decide which
Philosophy of Competition
F1 is there to show what is possible of a car manufacturer or a car builder. How far they can go with it,
how much technology you can put into a car.
CART is more about the sport of racing. There's less emphasis on
technology and more emphasis on driver ability and teamwork
regulations in F1 are more geared toward producing the fastest car man
can create. In CART, the philosophy is more about getting the
most out of a far more restrictive rule book, where races are won and
lost on the race track and not in the design shop. In F1, the teams do everything in their power to find performance gains, constantly pushing the
performance envelope higher, almost at an exponential rate. CART's regulations are relatively static and competing CART teams purchase engines and chassis from third party
manufacturers where there are escalation caps for costs. There is less research and
development in CART.
However, each F1 team is required by the rulebook to design and development all aspects of their car. Very few elements of the car are purchased from third
parties. This leads to greater innovation and diversity in the technology applied in
F1. F1 has a total of 12 teams/car manufacturers competitively working on different solutions, compared with the 2 chassis and 3 engine suppliers in CART. This
higher level of technology development in F1 requires larger teams with a
wider range of diverse skills (to design, manufacturer, test and race
the cars), and much larger budgets. Whereas a top 2-car CART
team spends no more than $20 to 30 million per year, a F1 team can
spend upwards of $200 million.
wise, modern F1 and Champ Cars are defined by their chassis. Both share the following characteristics:
- They are single-seat cars
- They have an open cockpit
- They have open wheels -- there are no fenders covering the the wheels
- They have wings at the front and rear of the car to provide downforce
They position the engine behind the driver's compartment
(called the cockpit), and drives the two rear wheels only. The
transmission sits behind the engine and directly forward of the rear
wheels in a transverse arrangement. Both have front and rear
wings for downforce that can't be adjusted by the driver during the
race. In fact the driver can't adjust any surface of the car
from the cockpit. Electronic measurement and data telemetry
between the car and the pits is used to monitor and control car
performance. Both use similar suspension geometries, i.e.
pushrod actuated shock/spring combinations that lay horizontal in the
car. Both use 4-wheel disc brakes with a set of calipers and
brake pads per wheel
In a sport where designers go
through great pains to shave 5 or 10 lbs of weight from a car, an
overweight Champ Car with driver weighs 1750 Lbs, some 400 Lbs more
than a F1 car with driver
Car racing started out as strictly an oval racing series, the cars
were constructed to deal with the higher speeds and G-forces that are generated on the banked oval
circuits. With driver and fuel, Champ cars weigh approximately 800kg (1750 Lbs), some 200kg (400+ Lbs)
heavier than F1 cars. F1 cars race only on
road circuits, and don't crash into concrete walls too often, hence do
not have to be as beefy so-to-speak.
Champ cars are slightly longer and wider but have close to the same wheelbase.
Because they are lighter, F1 cars are generally more nimble - quicker
around corners, especially tight ones. This is primarily due to lower weight,
but also to the fact their engines are V-10's that rev up faster, which helps
them get up and out of a corner quicker. Champ Cars excel on the fast ovals. They have the advantage of additional traction and downforce because they employ ground effect aerodynamics in their underbodies and run on slick
tires, both currently banned in F1. Champ cars use slick tires,
F1 cars grooved tires (to limit cornering speeds). F1 allows
expensive carbon fiber rotors on all circuits, CART only on high speed
ovals (to reduce un-sprung weight) for better braking performance coming
into pitlane from a very high speed. In F1, both team cars must have the same
sponsor and look the same. In CART, sometimes the cars are
decked out in the same livery from the same sponsor, but many times
each car carries a different sponsor. F1 is very conscious of
appearance and promoting the 'team' concept (like in most sports where
the entire team wears the same uniform).
racing series, the engines used in both series are 4-cycle internal combustion power plants. Both engines are in a 'V'
configuration and employ multiple intake and exhaust valves per
cylinder. Both engines use
high grades of Aluminum and other exotic metals, but F1 is a lot more
lenient in that regard. The engines and transmissions are
stressed members, meaning they are like an extension of the
chassis/tub, with the rear suspension mounted to them and transmitting
torsional, shear and bending forces from one corner of the car to the
other. Fuel and air are
delivered by means of fuel injection systems that are controlled by
sophisticated computerized engine management systems. In F1,
engine manufacturers are more aligned with specific teams, and in some
cases, such as Ferrari and Toyota, the team produces both the car and
the engine. In CART all engines are leased from the three
(formerly four) engine manufacturers (or at least they
will be leased up through 2002. The rules after that have yet to
Both engines are water cooled with the water and oil
radiators mounted in the sidepods of the car.
engines are limited to 2.65 Liter capacity, F1 3.0 Liter. Champ cars are
limited to 4-valves per cylinder, F1 cars 5. F1 cars run on low-lead
high-octane gasoline (petrol), whereas Champ Cars run on high-octane
Methanol. Champ car engines produce up to 900HP, F1 engines
currently up to 850 HP. However, because Champ Car engines are
turbocharged , they would produce well over 1,000 HP if not for almost
annual reductions in turbocharger boost pressure, i.e. the the force
by which the air and fuel mixture is forced into the combustion
chambers. F1 engines are naturally aspirated, meaning the air and fuel
is not forced into the engines, but sucked into the cylinders by the
vacuum that is created when a piston is in a downward stoke while the
intake valves are open. The HP
output is similar from both engines, but the Champ cars do it at a
lower RPM (16,500 to 17,000 RPM) than F1 engines which peak at around
18,500 RPM. Because F1 cars have 10 cylinders to a Champ Cars 8
cylinders, the mass of the F1 engines pistons and pushrods are
smaller, hence they can rev faster and higher (ask any engine
designer, the lighter the pistons the higher they can rev them w/o the
pistons/rods/crank self destructing). In CART the fuel tank can hold a maximum of 35 US gallons, while in F1 onboard fuel capacity is theoretically
unlimited. It's up to the design team to determine which is more
important, the added weight of carrying more fuel, or the reduction in
the number of pit stops afforded by a bigger fuel tank.
transmissions in both cars sit just in front of the rear wheel;
centerline in a transverse configuration. There is no
limit to the number of forward gears on either car and both must have
a reverse gear. The exception to this being that CART does not
require a reverse gear on oval tracks. F1 transmissions
typically have 7 forward gears and Champ cars 6 or 7. The driver
never uses the clutch on upshifts in either series, but in CART some
drivers do use it for downshifts. Both cars are capable of
standing starts, but a F1 car has what is called launch control, to
help get the car off the line with a minimum of wheel spin.
||Gear shifts in
CART are done semi-manually. The gearbox is a sequential unit
where the driver shifts by pulling back on the gear shift lever each
time he wants to go up a gear, and forward on the lever to shift down
a gear. Champ cars do employ shift-without-lift technology
meaning a driver never has to lift off the accelerator while changing
gears while up-shifting. A sensor on the gear shift mechanism knows
when the driver is pushing or pulling on the lever and it sends a
signal to the cars engine management system to reduce power for a
split second between gears. Did you know that F1 transmissions
are so sophisticated they shift themselves? It's more than just your
regular automatic transmission though. The cars go out on
Friday, pass a beacon transponder at the S/F line (which synchronizes
everything) and do a few laps in anger with the driver shifting the
transmission with the paddle levers. From the data collected
from those few laps, the computers, with the map of the circuit in
memory, knowing the speed of the car, the throttle percentage, brake
pedal pressure, etc, will automatically shift the transmission the
rest of the weekend. The driver just sits back, turns the wheel
and brakes and accelerates. Fascinating technology, but how long
before we no longer need the driver?
|Both cars carries fuel in a fuel cell located behind the driver. This cell is made of a flexible Kevlar and polymer material -- it is more like a bag than a tank. Inside the bag is a sponge-like substance that gives the bag its shape. The bag is designed to withstand a crash without rupturing -- rather than rupturing, it flexes and changes its shape. The idea behind the sponge is to hold the fuel so that, in a severe crash, it does not spray over the driver, other cars or the track.
Whereas a Champ Cars fuel cell can hold no more than 35 gallons, there
is no such restriction in F1. The exact size of a F1 fuel cell
is a highly guarded secret.
||Champ Cars burn methanol fuel. Methanol is a form of alcohol and has several advantages over gasoline in an engine. Methanol can run at much higher compression ratios, meaning that you can get more power from the engine on each piston stroke. Methanol provides significant cooling when it evaporates in the cylinder, helping to keep the high-revving, high-compression engine from overheating. Methanol, unlike gasoline, can be extinguished with water if there is a fire. This provides a nice safety feature. The ignition temperature for methanol (the temperature at which it starts burning) is much higher than it is for gasoline, so the risk of an accidental fire is lower.
|Both series use
pitstops to add fuel to the car and change tires if needed. Both
use single probe refueling devices. The pitlane has a speed
limit in both series for the safety of the crewman on pitlane
servicing the cars.
Both series use single-point
|F1 allows an
unlimited number of pit crew members over the wall during
pitstops. CART allows just 6 (one at each corner of the car to
change tires, one refueler and one air jack man). Champ cars
have onboard air actuated jacks that lift the car with pressurized air
during pitstops, whereas F1 cars are lifted with hand jacks , one
front and one back Fuel is fed into Champ cars by gravity,
whereas in F1 it is forced into the car under pressure. Whereas
a Champ car must get 1.85 miles per gallon, a F1 car has no such fuel restrictions.
Hence F1 pitstop strategy is usually made by how much weight you are
willing to carry vs. the time you gain or lose with more or less
pitstops; whereas in CART, conserving fuel is the name of the
game. In F1 the driver usually drives 100% the whole race.
In CART it's usually a fuel conservation contest until the last
pitstop. Each car in a Champ Car race has its own pit crew,
whereas in F1 the same crew usually services both team cars, though
usually never on the same lap.
|Both series run
wide, soft compound tires. The rear tires are wider than the
front tires because they put the engine power down to the track
Grooved F1 tire left, slick Champ Car
|With slick tires even if the car is not perfect, you can get a really good lap out of the car. You can
over push the car a little bit. With the grooved
tires in the Formula One, if the setup is wrong, the tires grain
quickly and you lose grip really quick, so you need to have a really nice balance in the car so it works together with you. It's a bit more complex.
|The cars in
both series are hard to drive because they are so fast. A good
driver can do well in both series, but there are some subtle
differences. Because CART races on four different types of
circuits, it requires a bit more diversity to win consistently.
Because F1 cars are much lighter, everything happens much faster than
in a Champ Car. Hence F1 tends to be a young mans game, where by
35 years old your career is probably done. In CART, you won't
win on the road courses too often once you reach 35 years old, but
your oval track successes can continue well into your 40's.
Ovals are less busy, hence driver hand and foot movement takes a back
seat to smooth driving, i.e. as little steering correction as possible.
best described it recently - "Mentally in F1
a driver must be a bit stronger. You've got to be a lot stronger
mentally in F1 than
in CART because in CART the atmosphere is a lot more friendly.
Driving the car itself is very similar. In the car you've got to push
it to its limits. Both cars are very physical. Outside the
car is very different. In CART everybody talks to everybody, everybody is friendly.
In F1 you don't even cross a word with anybody. You're there by yourself, and you've got to work with the
team around you." However, CART's oval races do tend to require a sort of
mental toughness in their own right - the speeds are higher and the
dangerous concrete walls are always there. Driving around in circles can
almost be hypnotic at times, one lapse in concentration can result in
CART's 500 mile events, races in both series last about 2-hours
long. Both series start from 22 to 28 cars per race, and of
course the object of the game is to get to the finish line first.
Both series race in Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada, the USA and
Brazil. F1 races are primarily based in Europe, CART in the USA.
Both series are equally international, and both are recognized as World
Championship Series by the FIA. While overtaking in both series
on road courses is difficult, you tend to see more overtaking in CART
than in F1. Part of this can be attributed to the longer braking
distances in CART because the cars are much heavier and use steel
brake rotors. Whereas the extra 400+ Lbs of weight works against a
Champ Car on a road course in terms of sheer performance, it helps to
make the races a bit more entertaining to the fans because longer
braking distances increase the chance for overtaking. Since most
of the passing on road courses is done under braking, the longer brake
almost unlimited off-season testing. In CART, to save cost, each
team gets a very limited number of test days, and they must pick and
choose when and where they test wisely. F1 races 16 or 17 times per
year, CART 20 to 22. F1 races start
from a complete stop, sort of like a drag race, in a staggered 2-row
formation. Champ car races
begin from a rolling start in rows of 2. To qualify for a F1 race your time
must be within 107% of pole position time. In CART it is 110%.
Both series use Friday's of each weekend as purely a practice
day. Drivers practice again on Saturday morning and qualify on
Saturday afternoons. On road courses both series hold similar
qualifying sessions, whereby a driver's best lap during that 30 minute
(CART) or 1-hour (F1) session counts as their qualifying time.
In CART, when they race on ovals, the drivers gets only two qualifying
laps, the best one counts and it's done with no other cars on the
track. On road courses, qualifying is done with many cars on the
track at the same time. Getting a clear gap in traffic to turn a
hot lap can sometimes be hit or miss. Drivers only earn F1 championship points for the top 6
finishing positions 10-6-4-3-2-1 in the race. In CART the top 12 finishers
score points 20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1, plus 1 point goes to the
driver who wins the pole, and 1 point to the driver who leads the most
laps during the race.
With $200 million per year team budgets
(compared to CART's $25 to 30 million), F1 represents the pinnacle of
motorsports. However, when it comes to bang-for-the-buck, CART
delivers more in the way of entertainment to the paying customer - the fans,
by virtue of its better on-track presentation, i.e. passing and
wheel-to-wheel, side-by-side action. Perhaps a British journalist put it best after this years
inaugural CART race in Rockingham, England. Andrew Baker wrote in
the London Daily Telegram
"YEARS from now, graying petrolheads will bore their grandchildren with tales of the day at Rockingham Motor Speedway that changed British motor racing for good."
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
to discuss this article