There are some fans of motorsport who follow one series and one series only. It amazes me when I come across a Nascar fan who knows absolutely nothing about F1 or even the IndyCar series, which is run in their own backyard and on many of the same tracks as their beloved stock cars race. Many fans will also dismiss another series as beneath them, with F1 anoraks probably and admittedly being the worst offenders. C’mon, admit it.
Since the unfortunate CART/IRL split of ’96, many fans of American open wheel racing have given up caring and simply refuse to return or even take notice of the current state of IndyCar racing. With this in mind, I began wondering if I could draw any extra attention to this year’s Indianapolis 500 by sharing some numbers concerning the former F1 drivers who help to make up the 33 car field.
We’ve been keeping tabs here at F1B on Rubens Barichello’s inaugural assault on IndyCar racing, as well as his and Jean Alesi’s first attempts at the Indy 500 itself. But with Justin Wilson, Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais also in the field, a total of five former F1 stars will be taking part in the race on Sunday.
Between them, the five have a combined 657 Grand Prix starts, just slightly less than the 1,347 races that the 33 drivers at Indy have combined to make in IndyCars. With 322 F1 races on his own, Rubens has raced in more GPs alone than two thirds of the 500 field have made in the IndyCar series combined! Add Alesi’s 202 1 starts and that number jumps up to 24 drivers combined.
Even at just one full season in Formula One, the 16 GPs of the least experienced F1 refugee, Justin Wilson, are equal to or higher than a third of the field at Indy have each started. Taku’s 90 F1 starts make him the 7th most experienced open wheeler of the lot, with Rubens and Jean being at the top, well clear of the Helio Castroneves with 139 IndyCar starts.
Does all of this experience in Formula One mean much going into Sunday’s Indianapolis 500? Who’s to say, really? Well, maybe Jimmy Clark would have something to say about it. Or Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti or even Danny Sullivan. Does the fact that there are five former F1 drivers, including the most experienced of all time, plus at least four former F1 test and F3000/GP2 drivers in this year’s Indy 500 field make the average F1 Fan/Not IndyCar Fan more apt to watch this year’s race? I hope so. But if not, I think I understand.