Why F1 should race on ovals

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IndyCar's final race of 2008 at Chicago

IndyCar's final race of 2008 at Chicago

The F1 calendar features some of the greatest racing circuits in the world. To become Formula 1 world champion you must prove yourself on the 350kph straights of Monza, the tight confines of Monte-Carlo, and everything in between.

there?s one type of track missing from F1 racing, the likes of which hasn?t been seen in the sport for decades. Here?s why I think it?s time for F1 drivers to race on ovalsBut there?s one type of track missing from F1 racing, the likes of which hasn?t been seen in the sport for decades. Here?s why I think it?s time for F1 drivers to race on ovals.

Ex-F1 driver meets oval

Robert Doornbos last raced in F1 in 2006. He’s experienced the fearsome performance of a Formula 1 car – in fact he did so during the V10 era when the cars were even more powerful than today. And he’s raced at some of the calendar’s most spectacular tracks including Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka and Interlagos.

After that you might think there isn?t much new left for him to experience in the world of top-line single seater motor sport. But you?d be wrong. He had his first encounter with an oval speedway testing for IndyCar team Newman-Haas-Lanigan this week. Here?s what he had to say:

It felt like going to a new school on the first day. I didn’t really know what to expect but I got a lot of information from the team but you have to do it for yourself.

The first five laps I thought ‘Oh my god, where did I end up?’ But that’s because you have to run at a certain pace and once you reach that pace its actually quite fun so we ended the day on a good note and I can go to bed with a smile.

I already got the bug and want to go faster and faster so that’s a good thing. Today was definitely the fastest I have gone in a race car and I am quite proud.

I have no idea what to expect with traffic. It must be something like driving in the middle of the night in China, the traffic is quite bad there. I will just take it as it comes. It’s a steep learning curve but I enjoy it like this.

Doornbos had just sampled the Miami Homestead oval for the first time. Last year the fastest lap in the IndyCar race at homestead was set by Ryan Briscoe at an average of 343.303kph. The fastest average lap speed typical seen during an F1 season is at Monza – around 250kph.

Oval racing is poorly understood in F1?s European heartland and viewed with some hostility and derision. But those who trot out tired clich??s like ??it?s easy because you only have to turn left?? should listen carefully to Doornbos?s words.

One comment posted here earlier this week when we discussed what F1?s biggest rival is was that ??F1 is the pinnacle of motor sport?. I think if F1 is to be the pinnacle of motor sport ?ǣ and it should be ?ǣ its calendar should present the ultimate motor racing challenge. Therefore, it has to include at least one oval.

Oval racing in single seaters is every bit as demanding as racing on a street circuit or road course ?ǣ something Doornbos now has a whole new respect for. But the nature of the challenge is, obviously, very different. The courage required to race at such high average speeds is taken for granted. The skill lies in reading how the grip of the oval changes, working out which groove (racing line) to use, and getting through the inevitable traffic cleanly and quickly.

Reality check

F1 going oval racing would not be the work of a moment. For example, the cars? safety structures would probably have to be re-designed to take into account the increased likelihood of striking a wall. Race distances at oval events would have to be doubled at least to ensure a running time comparable to what we get at an average Grand Prix.

But I?m convinced it is a more realistic idea than one might think at first glance. In the early 1990s the possibility of F1 racing on ovals was given serious consideration as the CART-run IndyCar series boomed in popularity. Silverstone looked at constructing an oval circuit using the southern portion of its track including the Stowe and Club corners.

There’s an obvious marketing incentive too: there is no better way F1 could increase its profile in America than by going there and putting on an oval race – in all likelihood at considerably higher speeds than IndyCar or NASCAR can manage.

I wouldn’t want to see too much of the calendar given over to oval racing – perhaps just one or two events in America. Say, Indianapolis plus one other track, perhaps near the putative USF1 team’s base in North Carolina.

I think the positives vastly outweight the negatives and it is in F1’s best interests to take this idea seriously. If not, one day it could find itself facing a rejuvenated IndyCar series with the mix of road, street and oval tracks that F1 lacks.

Do you think F1 should race on ovals? Ever been to an oval race? Have your say in the comments.

Update: this video is the best argument in favour of oval racing I can think of, and one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen. Juan Pablo Montoya vs Michael Andretti, CART, Michigan 500 in 2000.

Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick racing at Chicago

Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick racing at Chicago

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159 comments on Why F1 should race on ovals

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  1. I asked the same question last year after Indy :-) The responses from people were mixed. Myself I would like to see F1 racing on oval perhaps once during the season. But I can’t really imagine how would that work. The regular F1 cars are not built for racing on banked ovals. I am not sure how much work and money would it take to make the current F1 cars oval worthy but it may be quite a waste of resources doing all that work for 1 race only. But who knows, perhaps the commercial benefits from an oval F1 race would outweigh the extra expenses… So, one oval race – why not, if it can be done, would be fun, but no more than that no matter how much money that could potentially generate …

  2. An F1 race at an oval track would be a very welcome sight. I would love to see the front runners constantly challenged by having to work their way through the pack. I’ve been to two Indy races at Texas Motor Speedway and they were great. My only gripe is that the F1 cars would have to be modified significantly. I remember Cart trying to hold a race at TMS back in 2001 and they had to cancel because drivers were beginning to black out due to the high speeds and g-forces. Yes the F1 cars would be faster than the Indy cars, but anything beyond 230 or 240mph isn’t physically sustainable. A compromise would be to do a Roval, like the course the 24 Hours of Daytona uses, part of the oval, the rest on the infield. Could you image how great that would be? F1 cars storming around Daytona?!

    • lee cambell said on 25th February 2009, 7:42

      for those who wish to watch cars racing round oval tracks should croos the pond and watch indy/cart,there is no place in f1 for such a bore

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th February 2009, 8:59

      there is no place in f1 for such a bore

      Averaging 343kph for a lap is not boring.

      • macahan said on 25th March 2010, 19:02

        And it’s not that easy either. I done a driving experience in a Nascar car on a oval and not reaching anywhere near those speeds the lateral loads as increadible. I’m in good physical condition but after 8 laps I was bit tired. After 3 x 8 laps the day after I was sore. It would be really fun to see what a F1 car could do and judging from Indy nobody would complain about overtaking because of the banked corners no worries not be able to follow with a F1 car.

      • Mopatop (@mopatop) said on 28th June 2011, 14:27

        It sure is, watching cars going fast in a straight line and around banked turns is definitely boring. Watching cars go round corners at speed – that’s what’s interesting.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th June 2011, 14:54

          I don’t know how you’re making the distinction between between a “boring” banked turn on an oval and an “interesting” corner on some other circuit.

      • ScuderiaVincero (@scuderiavincero) said on 30th June 2011, 7:24

        Sounds dangerous…. *smiles*

    • Oval racing is fine, the biggest problem with NASCAR and IRL is that they have far too many oval races. Once you’ve seen one race, you’ve seen all of them.

    • The Texas track has a very high degree of banking. Generally the higher the banking the faster the track. The key would be to use tracks with a lower banking like Indy or the Milwaukee Mile.

  3. Jesper said on 25th February 2009, 7:47

    No, no, no!!

    F1 is real racing, the Nascar and Indycar series is a spectacle. I really don’t like safety cars, but the oval races depend on them for getting as close a finish as possible. So work for a couple of hours trying to be on the lead lap, then a caution and the lottery begins. No thank you!

    • Whewbacca the Cookie said on 25th February 2009, 8:10

      Agreed. No need to make F1 look like NASCAR. As many of you already mentioned, even if there was a single oval track in an F1 season it’d require a major redesign of the current F1 cars. Besides any collision would result in a total massacre.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th February 2009, 8:58

      Don’t mistake all kinds of ‘oval racing’ with ‘NASCAR oval racing’. The sort of pack racing you see in NASCAR that produces the ‘lottery’ effect you accurately describe would not necessarily happen in F1 because the design of the cars is entirely different.

    • Jesper, that actually sounds like some F1 races. You could also argue that F1 is the biggest spectacle of all them all!

      But I also fail to see the appeal of F1 cars on ovals. The deficit between cars is too great for it to be close, and it takes away the fun from watching F1 cars actually take corners at silly speeds. The braking for the corner is also a test of the drivers skill and wit for overtaking/defense, we see mistakes even at this level. Obviously some ovals require some slowing for the corners, but it’s not the same demand on the machine and driver.

      Also, can anyone offer an explanation as to why, if you’re in 2nd, you’d want to swipe the lead as soon as possible knowing fine well the guy behind will just slipstream you by the next ‘corner’? Why not wait until the last couple of ‘corners’ on the last lap to swipe the lead and pressure cook your opponent for hundreds of laps?

    • NASCAR and IRL races are closer on oval more than ever and there are many races that can go quite long without a caution.

  4. Great idea. one big floor in this plan. Refueling is being banned… No way can they run for 2 hours at 250mph on one tank of fuel. Should have suggested it a few years ago!

  5. Brendan said on 25th February 2009, 8:13

    I think it would be cool to see, but I’m not sure it will ever happen. F1 cars would need serious changes to work on ovals: crash structures, and engine reliability (it would be harder on engines than Monza, and would have to be a significantly longer distance race).
    Also, would the drivers all have spotters talking to them constantly on the radio?

    I would personally be disappointed if, on their annual trip to America, F1 just raced around an oval. If I wanted to see open-wheel oval racing, I’d go to a (probably much cheaper) IndyCar race.

  6. Historically there have been Grand Prix (not necessarily F1) races on ovals – Brooklands in Surrey was the first ever oval, and the original Monza circuit was an oval too.
    And I think that it would be a great challenge to the drivers and the teams to have even just one oval race in the season, purely because of the difficulties outlined by those others above, and it would be an easy way to re-introduce F1 into North America without spending huge amounts on new circuits.

  7. Alastair said on 25th February 2009, 8:29

    The drivers necks would get way sore. What about a figure of 8 circuit?

  8. Adrian said on 25th February 2009, 8:36

    Not so sure I’d want to see an F1 race on an oval…but I get where you’re coming from when you say that if they are to truly represent the whole world of racing then they should have to compete on an oval track.

    I just think the costs would be too high to make the cars safe for that race (you’d effectively end up with teams building cars specifically for that one race – in the same way Honda built a special RA106 to try and set a land speed record at the end of 2006)…just wouldn’t gel with the current efforts to cut costs.

    Now then, what if they were to hold a special “Race Of Champions” style event where drivers from the 3 categories each took part in 3 races, 1 in F1 spec machinary, 1 in Indycar machinary and 1 in NASCAR machinary… You could hold the event at either Daytona or Indianapolis (or any other Oval with an in-field circuit)… Couldn’t count towards the WDC, but would raise the profile of F1 in the States…

  9. Sush Meerkat said on 25th February 2009, 8:44

    i like oval racing, so i’m pro turning left, it does sort the men from the boys.

    Its a completly different discipline, one corner favours one line while another favours a different apex but at those speeds it nigh on impossible to chain together a perfect lap everytime… for a period of 40 minutes even.

  10. patrickl said on 25th February 2009, 9:01

    I don’t think F1 needs an oval. I guess it would be fun to see, but it’s a pretty dangerous form of racing. It’s also too much dependend on cautions and luck.

  11. i respect the oval racing, i understand the complexity and skill from a drivers position, but as a spectator, its a boring as watching football.

  12. David said on 25th February 2009, 9:09

    I would be just curious about F1 on an oval, and of course I wouldn’t dislike the chance…
    But I think what I really miss now from Formula 1 is racing on very fast tracks, or very fast track parts: I miss long straights of Hockenheim, fast first parts of Buenos Aires and Interlagos in the 70’s configuration, Dottinger Hohe of old Nuerburgring, Mistral of Paul Ricard, rushes in the forest of old Zeltweg.
    There’s only Monza left. Too few. I would like to see those flat rear wings more often.

    • Padraig said on 25th March 2010, 18:36

      I couldn’t agree more. Despite the 1994 tragedies I miss Imola, too, with Tamburello in its unaltered, chicane-less state. Sometimes fast drivers die while racing. We try to prevent it with reasonable safety precautions. But low-speed processions through narrow, twisty courses with one racing line, no high speed corners, and too few opportunities to pass are BORING. I want to see more flat out racing, at least two racing lines at every circuit, fewer restrictions on engine power and mechanical grip, and more restrictions on aerodynamics. Get rid of the DDDs and elaborate front wings, keep the slicks, make the rear wheels bigger, bring back 3 liter engines, remove the restrictions on engine block design (I want to see V12s and V10s back on the grid) and take the rev limits off! 1000+ bhp or bust! This is Formula ONE, for Pete’s sake!

  13. F1Yankee said on 25th February 2009, 9:43

    i was watching ovals and 1/4 mile drag strips since i could walk. then, one sunday, i saw the john player specials and those beautiful red cars tearing up the streets of detroit. only 6 or 7, my eyes were open to a whole new world: monaco, le mans, nordschlife, scandinavians blasting through forests with people willingly standing in the road. don’t make me go back! i won’t go back!!!

    in addition to brooklands and monza, the indy 500 paid f1 driver’s championship points from 1950 to 1960. fuji speedway was intended to be an oval, but the money ran out halfway through construction.

    i would be very interested in a massive figure eight superspeedway, but i doubt it will happen within 20 years.

  14. I’ve been to the Indy 500 many times. I like oval racing in Indianapolis, but really at no other place.

    I wonder if this idea didn’t come up when Tony George and Bernie were originally discussing a USGP? I would be very, very surprised if they hadn’t discussed it. Perhaps the FIA nixed it, but I understand their rule on banking was written so as they could race on the relatively-mild banks of Indianapolis.

    I get the feeling that most F1 drivers don’t like ovals. The American press always asked the drivers at the USGP about the 500 and almost always they said no.

  15. Pete Walker said on 25th February 2009, 9:53

    I’ve been arguing in favour of this for a while and personally I’m very happy to see one of the most respected F1 sites on the net in favour of it too.

    I think two oval races sounds about right (one would certainly have to be at Indianapolis, naturally). As Keith says, the ultimate in open-wheel racing should represent all diciplines and the champion should be somebody who can thrive on any type of circuit.

    Even if we just had Indy on the calendar, it would be an instant ‘must-win’ event for the drivers and teams. Having an F1 win at the Brickyard to your name would be akin to having a Monaco GP victory under your belt.

    As unlikely as it all looks at this point, I hope it happens some day.

    • As an added incentive, a driver’s first race win of the season in a given track type should carry bonus points. That way, two drivers might be otherwise tied on points at the end of a season, but the one that has won on more types of track would edge ahead due to these bonuses.

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