Are Formula 1 drivers scared of IndyCar ovals?
Obviously, if you think about some of the most fearless and most talented drivers in the world you would probably wean towards those drivers within the world of Formula 1, particularly back in the day when there was no such features such as the halo, raised cockpits or even tecpro barriers to keep the safety improvements in place. However, go across the pond to our friends in the US and you see a spectacle that sometimes can make F1 look a little like child's play; oval racing.
With the recent news breaking that Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto citing a move to IndyCar 'too dangerous' and because he has a family, despite taking place in the FP1 session for Toro Rosso team during October's Japanese Grand Prix, it has sparked a debate on social media as to why drivers, Formula 1 drivers in particular, are 'scared' of trying it and that's what I am going to look at here, Firstly. Let's take a look at oval racing as a whole.
Oval racing might not sound particularly dangerous nor exciting, it's only four corners in a circle right? What's so dangerous about that? Well, to be fair, quite a lot. For example, on most oval circuits, your typical IndyCar can reach speeds in excess of over 220 miles per hour, and when you are racing wheel to wheel with over 20 other cars over the duration of a race with barely any lift off or braking, it can get quite hairy.
It can't be ignored that IndyCar oval racing is something that has to be watched, as the spectacle of it all is breathtaking, and one race in particular is branded as quite possibly the greatest motor race of them all, the Indianapolis 500. This race, which usually takes place during the May Memorial Day weekend in the US (often clashing with F1's Monaco Grand Prix.) sees a grid of 30 drivers competing in a 200 lap race of the Indianapolis oval circuit, and it is tense to say the least. One would wonder as to why more F1 drivers aren't so compelled to test themselves on this magnificent circuit, so let's see what the drivers say.
Ex-Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg admits “Ovals, I have always said I am not a fan of it; it just doesn’t strike me.It just seems like it’s not my thing. I’d keep it limited to the road courses.” While Romain Grosjean openly admits that he is 'scared of ovals'. Ex-Marussia driver Max Chilton actually went as far as even pulling out of oval racing in IndyCar in regards to safety, but hopes to return with the introduction of the 'aeroscreen' which we will touch on in a moment.
Seems, that the majority of drivers don't really think it's a safe option to be racing on these circuits. Which in my opinion is completely fair. In my opinion, Formula 1 drivers are incredible people and athletes and in regards fearless. I don't hold them in any less regard to the oval racers, just as much as I do not think the IndyCar drivers are stupid to be racing on ovals.
For me, it's a question of respect. We all have our fears, and our limits. For me, it's a fear of heights, for some it's spiders, or flying. We all have our fears. We like to think that the drivers that we watch week in and week out are 'fearless', but in reality, as fearless as they may be they're humans, like us, and are entitled to not like or even be scared of a particular race. It doesn't make them any less of a driver or a person, and both them and the IndyCar drivers are, in my regard, some of the most talented and skilful drivers on our planet.
Take Valentino Rossi for example, one of, if not the biggest and most successful motorcycle racers in history. A nine-time champion of MotoGP and a frequent visitor of the Isle of Man TT. In a way, I hold the TT in the same way as I hold the Indy 500. A dangerous race, but a spectacle all the same. I respect these riders who take on to do the TT as it is a challenge at the upmost, but I respect Rossi for not wanting to do it and I can understand why he wouldn't, but in my regard I cannot lose respect for him as a rider, and I cannot hold a bad opinion towards those who take on to do the TT, as they are also some of the most skilful riders you could get on the saddle of a bike.
Of course not all F1 drivers are afraid of doing the Indy 500. The ever amazing F1 champions such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi have not only taken on, but won the Indy 500, while other famous F1 faces such as Nigel Mansell and more recently Fernando Alonso have attempted the famous race, so it isn't a question of F1 drivers not being able to do it. Could we see more drivers take on the race? I think it could depend how Alonso will do in the event this year, should he go on to take a third attempt at the race like he wants to. Who knows?
The IndyCar aeroscreen. (NBC Sports.)
Also with the addition of the new aeroscreen to IndyCar for 2020 and beyond, it does increase the safety aspect to not only the Indy 500, but IndyCar in general. The aeroscreen, created by Red Bull Technologies, is a a strengthened aerospace canopy screen that goes all the way around the cockpit, with the intention of protecting drivers from flying debris and other objects, and hopefully it can go towards keeping drivers even safer on track, in a series where dangerous or even fatal accidents are always a serious risk.
So there you have it. It seems that some F1 drivers are a bit in fear of IndyCar oval circuits. Does it make them any less of a driver? No. Absolutely not. I think drivers deserve the ultimate respect for what they do or compete in, regardless of the cars, the racing or the discipline. They race, and that's why we love it.