Romain Grosjean, Coyne, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021

“Fruity” cornering, heavy cars, impressive tyres: Grosjean compares IndyCar to F1


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The first question Romain Grosjean had to address when he returned to action this week was whether he had recovered sufficiently from his horror crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix to drive at the limit again.

The burns on his left hand, which prevented him competing in what would have been his final two F1 races last year, are still healing. The injury caused him some pain during his day of running at Barber Motorsport Park this week, preparing for his coming IndyCar deut, but Grosjean said he was able to drive well enough.

“It’s been alright,” he said. “I’ve got a big blister on the left hand, on one of the thumbs, but I didn’t really feel it in the car.”

“Putting the gloves on and removing it is not always nice so I tend to keep my left glove on,” he added, “to protect it from the sun, as well. But generally it’s been okay.”

He said the test gave him a “clear idea” of where he needs to work on his physical fitness as he makes the transition to racing in America.

Romain Grosjean, Coyne, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021
Grosjean is protecting his injured left hand
“I’m going to go back in the gym and make sure that the muscles are good,” said Grosjean. “[But] you can do as much as you want in the gym – the real race, the real training, is in the car.

“It’s good that we did 80 laps. It gets the proper driving muscles active. I wanted to do some shifter kart back home because I think a shifter kart could be good training, but with my hand and core temperature I wasn’t able to.”

The physical demands of driving an IndyCar is one of the most significant challenges Grosjean has to confront. In terms of outright performance the Dallara DW12, now in its 10th year of service, is a step below the Formula 1 machines Grosjean is used to in terms of outright performance. But IndyCar racing is more demanding in other ways. Its tracks are generally bumpier, narrower and less forgiving of mistakes than F1’s, and the cars do not have driver aids such as power-assisted steering.

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Grosjean admitted “I don’t regret all those hours in the gym” after he “discovered the joy of not having a power steering wheel” around the short, twisty and undulating Alabama course which will host next month’s season-opening race.

Romain Grosjean, Coyne, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021
IndyCars are much more ‘physical’ to drive, said Grosjean
“It’s very physical,” he added. “It is tough driving those cars, very much in a different way than Formula 1. The only thing you fight in Formula 1 is the G-forces. Here you actually fight the heaviness of the car physically. But I don’t mind it, it’s quite cool.”

However the veteran of 179 F1 races was pleased by the different handling sensation in the less aerodynamically-sensitive IndyCar.

“If I’m being simplistic, Formula 1 only works as aerodynamics and the rest is just here to support the car,” he explained. “An IndyCar works really with the set-up. The aerodynamics is much simpler, there’s much less downforce. So high-speed corners are a bit more fruity in an IndyCar but the low-speed corners actually feel maybe better.”

Trying to transfer Formula 1 cornering techniques to IndyCar do not always work, Grosjean discovered, as his car got away from him early in the test at Barber’s quick left-hander turn one.

“Every time you come testing you have to try to find your limit, which I did in turn one,” he explained. “I wasn’t quite happy with it, but it happened, and I actually understood something you could do in Formula 1 you maybe cannot do in IndyCar, so actually that was kind of a good learning experience.”

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The rest of the day’s running was spent learning the set-up options available to IndyCar drivers, which are more limited than those in F1, and getting to know the Coyne/Rick Ware team.

Romain Grosjean, Coyne, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021
Firestone tyres were a surprise for a driver used to F1’s Pirellis
“It was really learning about when you change dampers or the bars or something, what does it actually do on the car, how does it affect the car, which part of the corner. Also getting to [know] my engineer and him to learn me and what I’m talking about on entry, which phase of the corner am I talking about and so on.”

Moving from F1 to IndyCar means swapping one single-specification tyre supplier for another: In this case, exchanging Pirellis for Firestones. While Grosjean had been critical of F1’s rubber in the past, he described himself as “very pleasantly surprised with the Firestones”. Unlike their F1 counterparts, these have to work straight out of the garage with no pre-heating, as tyre warmers are banned.

“They’ve been great,” said Grosjean. “No tyre blanket, going out of the pit. Okay, it’s a bit more slippery but there is grip, and you can actually push for a few laps and they stay quite consistent. I was doing good laps after 25, 26 laps on the tyres and that’s something that I couldn’t do in my previous experience.”

Romain Grosjean, Coyne, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021
Grosjean was 0.85s off the pace on his debut
IndyCar’s road and street course compounds – the only rubber Grosjean has to concern himself with as he won’t race on the ovals – come in two specifications. These are the harder, black-walled ‘primary’ tyres and softer, red-coloured ‘alternates’. As in F1, two different specifications must be used per race.

“Generally I’ve been happy with them,” said Grosjean. “Obviously we haven’t used the red sticker ones, so they may degrade a bit more, but definitely the primary tyres were pretty good.”

Another aspect of Formula 1 Grosjean previously criticised – until his crash – was the Halo. He’s now a firm supporter of the device. IndyCar’s equivalent, the Red Bull-developed Aeroscreen, includes a Halo-style structure plus a screen to provide added protection against minor debris. IndyCar drivers discovered this addition made a significant difference to life in the cockpit when it was introduced last year.

“The Aeroscreen removes some air that you get in the car so it gets quite warm,” said Grosjean. “But the other tubes that you have with the helmet air system and also at the front of the cockpit works pretty well.”

Romain Grosjean, Coyne, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021
The Aeroscreen presented no problems for him
Grosjean said he felt “absolutely fine” driving with the Aeroscreen. “If it wasn’t for the air not coming through your helmet and your visor staying clean, you wouldn’t notice.”

An established F1 star jumping into IndyCar will inevitably attract attention and speculation over how competitive he will be. But reading anything into testing lap times at this stage is always difficult. Although Grosjean ended his first test with the slowest time, it was probably more significant that he lapped within 0.9 seconds of the pace setter at his first attempt.

While last week’s test gave Grosjean his first impression of IndyCar racing, he still has plenty more to learn, including the 10 other road and street courses which will be new to him.

“There’s going to be some different tracks,” he acknowledged, “but if you look at Mid-Ohio, Road America, Laguna [Seca], they’re not dissimilar in a way to the tracks that I’ve known. The pavement may be a bit different with some patches on, but again, it gives character to the circuit.

“The street circuits, they’re always different, and year to year they change. They’re bumpy – I heard they’re very bumpy. But let’s see.”

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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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26 comments on ““Fruity” cornering, heavy cars, impressive tyres: Grosjean compares IndyCar to F1”

  1. To sum up, everything is better and funnier in Indycar.

    1. And he enjoys it but he doesn’t say everything is beter just different.

      1. No, I do say it. I follow the series for 20 years and now is the golden age of Indycar for around 5 years. Bumpy tracks, no power steering, few gimmicks, the list goes on…

  2. If he had the chance. He would be back in f1.

    1. There is no doubt that F1 is more iconic and the cars are faster. Compared to F1, the DW12 is old, a bit heavy and sort of clumsy but it’s waaaaay less expensive. Also F1 is a worldwide sport while indycar is NA only.

      So yeah, Grosjean would go back to F1 should he have a good car.

      It does not change that from a driver point and frankly from a spectator point of view indycars are funnier and the competition on track more dense than F1.

      Fame is not everything, as someone said :-)

      1. Yes F1 cars are faster, but the racing is better in IndyCar and even though a bit slower, they look faster because the car move around a lot. The drivers really have to wrestle those beasts, without power steering. Unlike F1, he now has a real chance of a podium, which he never had at Haas in F1.

  3. I still think it’s a shame Indycar is so much more spec & restricted now than it used to be in the CART heyday where it was so much more interesting.

    The current Indycar may be more competitive than in the CART days but I feel it’s so much less interesting in every other regard & overall it’s quite a bit less exciting as it’s missing much of what made the series so thrilling & spectacular back then.

    Seeing a field featuring a dozen different looking chassis was just more interesting visually & that on top of individual teams doing there own tweaks & development added that bit of extra to follow on the technical side. And with engine development a bit more open, Tyre competition & things it was a series that was almost as interesting as F1 on the technical side as you could follow those developments race to race just as you do in F1.

    And of course the performance of those cars was much more impressive & I think they were upto 900bhp before CART became Champcar & went to the de-tuned spec Cosworth in 2003.

    And to be clear i’m not saying that the current Indycar is bad, Just that it is significantly less interesting/exciting than it was before Tony George went on his power trip & ruined it with the split. I’m sure those that only know it the way it’s been think it’s great but those who remember what it was in the CART days are likely to be more down on it because it simply isn’t as good as it was in any regard. Hence why it’s way less popular now compared to what it used to be.

    1. @roger-ayles I don’t really disagree.

      Standing trackside at IMS in the 80s/90s & seeing those different looking, powered & sounding 900BHP+ CART spec cars fly by at 230-240mph was such a thrilling experience.

      The Indycar’s of today are still fast but with them all looking the same, Performing nearly identically & even sounding pretty much identical they do lack that something extra special. I think that is a part of why the series has struggled to really attract the sort of audience CART used to even though the competition & racing is probably closer than ever.

      Current cars & the series in general just lack that ‘wow’ factor it once had for lack of a better term.

  4. “I’ve got a big blister on the left hand, on one of the thumbs, but I didn’t really feel it in the car.”

    Wait… How many thumbs does he have on his left hand? Does that explain some of his driving errors?

    1. @danarcha Exactly what I was thinking ;-)

      Best of luck to Grosjean in his new career!

    2. @danarcha lol maybe that’s what they feel like after the burn.

      Sounds like he’s enjoying himself. For his signature shouting at the team on the radio is no more..

    3. I always thought he was “all thumbs”.

  5. Why compare the Indycar with F1, it is a lot closer to the specs of an F2 car.

    1. Probably because this article is about a driver moving from F1 to Indycar? ;)

    2. I would say why compare them, they are two difference types of competition. F1 is a manufacturer competition and the entire series is dependent on spending massively to build a new car each year and then update it during the season. You take a driver that is always out of the top 10, like George Russell, and put him in a Mercedes and he should have won the race. F1 is an engineering competition. The driver is one of the smaller facets to winning. I mean do you really think that if Verstappen or LeClair were driving a Mercedes and Hamilton was driving a Ferrari last season that Hamilton would still have won the championship?

      Indycar is a drivers championship where the competition is on the track, not in the teams design studios.

      So if you are comparing the series in an F1 type sense when it is a technical competition of the cars, sure, an F1 car specs make it a faster car. If you are comparing the racing as a drivers series where the best talent race based upon their own skill, Indycar is arguably better. I mean just this year Indycar as a multi time NASCAR champ, a multi-time Australian V8 supercars champ and an F1 driver joining their competition and each and every one of them could win races this year.

  6. I look forward to reading about Grosjean’s lament that he didn’t make the move earlier.
    After a couple of races he’ll be addicted to the actual racing and enjoying really driving the car himself, rather than having dozens of data engineers doing most of the work for him.

  7. Very interesting to hear his direct comparison of the Firestone and Pirelli tyres.

    I’ve always wondered how much of the shortcomings of the Pirelli tyres are because the unprecedented loads generated by this generation of F1 cars are outstripping current tyre technology and how much is due to Pirelli simply not doing a good enough job.

    Firestone’s racing chief Cara Adams has previously said in interviews that they bring a bespoke tyre design to nearly every track on the IndyCar calendar, tailoring both the compound and the construction to it. On some road courses, they will even bring asymmetrical sets of tyres if the layout heavily stresses one corner of the car in particular. It seems the approach is to bring the best possible tyres for racing on that circuit, whereas Pirelli and F1 have adopted the opposite approach: offer fixed sets of different compounds (and only a single construction) and challenge the teams to try to make them work — oftentimes hoping that they fail in order to inject some life into the proceedings.

    Maybe the Firestone approach doesn’t make sense in F1 at the moment, where the racing is still limited by the huge aero wash. But I wonder whether Pirelli and F1 could benefit from trying it starting with the new regulations next year.

    1. @markzastrow An advantage that Firestone have is that Indycar still has testing so Firestone are able to design tyres around the needs of each circuit as they are able to go & test a few different idea & select the compounds most suitable to the expected conditions. It’s essentially the way F1 used to be before the testing ban was introduced in 2009.

      When F1 banned testing it didn’t just prevent the teams from testing it also hampered the tyre supplier which is a part of why Bridgestone went super conservative in 2009/2010 & why Pirelli sometimes end up with tyres unsuitable to certain tracks/conditions as they are having to design 5 dry compounds that must work across all circuits/conditions & as we’ve seen it simply isn’t possible to do that & have the best tyres for every circuit/conditions. Hence why F1 doesn’t have ‘the best’ tyres anymore & likely won’t anytime soon unfortunately.

      Although TBH there is also the train of thought that even if you gave them a lot of testing the Pirelli’s wouldn’t be ‘the best available’ which is why most of the teams/drivers would prefer Michelin to be brought back as the feeling is they are the best tyre supplier involved in Motorsport right now.

      Looking back while I think the F1 testing ban was introduced for the right reasons I think it ended up introducing some new problems which I don’t think have necessarily been positive. It’s created difficulties for the tyre suppliers, Hindered the ability to give young/reserve drivers miles in the cars which has a few times resulted in drivers been thrown into cars they have never driven & created less opportunities for fans to go & see the cars while shifting testing/development work onto simulators which are things fans obviously don’t get watch.

      1. @gt-racer I 100% agree with the idea of relaxing testing restrictions, especially as the cost cap comes into effect. Let the teams decide how they want to spend their resources.

        Having said that, do you really think a lack of testing is such an obstacle to Pirelli tailoring their tyres? After all, for most tracks on the calendar, they have plenty of data from past grands prix. And Firestone don’t get the benefit of separate test sessions on every track — IndyCar teams are still limited to only a few private test days a year and don’t cover the entire calendar. And, of course, for new street circuits, Firestone have to rely on measurements of the track surface and their modeling, not actual on-track running. So I would think it could be done, if they (and the powers that be) wanted to.

        1. @markzastrow the first obstacle to bringing bespoke tires for each circuit is that they aren’t allowed to. And if they somehow got around the rules, they’d have almost all the teams going “nah, don’t want that”.

          Pirelli has made some mistakes, but they are making tires with their hands tied behind their backs, and 3 fingers broken for good measure. F1’s tyre problems are 80% a F1 issue and 20% a Pirelli issue.

          1. @losd I’m well aware of that lol — my suggestion is to change the rules!

  8. IndyCar is a very good series on it’s own: no need to compare it endlessly with F1. My only complaint is that the street circuits that they use are much too narrow. Passing without contact with other cars is very difficult and there are endless race interruptions due to minor and some major crashes. OTOH, they race at some of the best road courses in the world. I’m not much of a fan of the oval races though they’re fun as an occasional change of pace (pun intended ;-).

  9. Thank you for an article with some substance. Today’s “articles,” which are re-hashes of Twitter comments, are the worst! Great to see the comparison of the two series; I am sure there is more to come. Indy is so much more fun to watch right now than F1, it’s actually competitive, and I can’t guess the finishing order ahead of time.

  10. That’s a great article, I hope F1 is listening. Lots to learn by someone moving to the competitor. Keep what works and is core to your brand and take the good bits of what the competition is doing.

  11. Indy is more than a step lower than f1. On road courses it is probably slower than f2 but I don’t think speed matters at all, a car driven hard is way more spectacular than f1s these days.

  12. My only problem with F1 is that I know Merc will win the Constructor’s Championship and Lewis will will another Driver’s Crown. My problem with Indy racing is too many full course yellows. Almost NASCAR like. Ovals require them but on a road course??

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