Alex Palou, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2022

Palou says F1 feels “like another league” compared to IndyCar after practice debut

2022 United States Grand Prix

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Alex Palou was astonished by his first experience of participating in an official Formula 1 practice session with McLaren yesterday.

The 2021 IndyCar champion, who has driven McLaren’s 2021 F1 car twice before, said the sheer performance of the car was just one aspect of the experience which impressed him.

“They are really, really different,” Palou told media including RaceFans at Circuit of the Americas. “It’s like another league.

“But obviously it’s everything, right? Like, the team size is crazy compared to an IndyCar team. The budget as well. We’ve been racing in IndyCar with the same chassis for the past 10 or 11 years, and they change it every two years with updates. So it’s very different.

“Obviously this car has a lot more speed, but I think as a racing driver you get used to the speed, it’s more the capability of the car to with the downforce to go fast in the corners, to brake so deep, it’s just insane.”

Palou was astonished by the McLaren’s capabilities
Palou took over Daniel Ricciardo’s MCLA36 for the first hour of running yesterday. He said it was “a dream of mine” to drive an F1 car but “it was something different to be on an official practice.”

“It went by really fast,” he added. “I thought it was going to be a bit longer, but it was only an hour. It was amazing.

“I think we did quite a lot of work, everything that the team needed at the beginning and then it was more for me driving and getting comfortable. So I’m super, super happy.”

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Palou has previous driven in single-car test sessions. Yesterday’s appearance brought the added complication of up to 19 other cars on track at the beginning of a competitive race weekend.

“Our programme was not to go fast”
“Here obviously you have the traffic, you don’t want to meet anybody else,” he said. “And you have a car that not yours, obviously, so I was trying to take care of the car, trying to not get in trouble with people that it’s going to race this weekend.

“This track, I think it’s pretty awesome for an F1 car, especially sector one, super-fast. And it was beautiful to drive.”

Palou had to be told to rein in his late-braking at times as he explored the limits of his car. “I just felt that the car was capable of so much that I just overshot it in some places,” he explained.

“Which I think is good, it’s better to overshoot and then back it off if you only have an hour. And I knew we only had a set of tyres so I had to do everything in two laps and couldn’t wait a lot, so that’s probably why.”

As he didn’t have time to do a lap on the soft tyre compound, Palou set his best time on mediums and was over two seconds off team mate Lando Norris. However performance runs were not the goal for the day.

“I think just more laps and getting obviously another set of tyres at the end would have helped,” Palou said. “But our programme today was not to go fast, it was to get data for the team at the beginning, which we did. We’ve got everything, [then took] all the sensors off after and then we focussed on myself.”

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The 25-year-old raced in Europe before moving to Japan’s Super Formula series in 2019, where he finished third in his first season and took one win. He said that series’ car was closer in handling qualities to an F1 machine.

Alex Palou, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2022
The practice hour passed by quickly for Palou
“It’s closer to F1 than an IndyCar is,” said Palou. “But that was a long time ago. I learned a lot in my IndyCar career since then. I just got more stuff from IndyCar than Super Formula.

“But they are closer, they both are lightweight, lots of downforce. Super Formula was lacking a lot of power, but still they are closer series for sure than IndyCar, as a car.”

However Palou said he is not seriously entertaining the prospect of a move into F1 as he seeks to repeat his IndyCar title-winning success.

“Obviously as a racing driver that likes motorsport, F1 is where you want to go. Throughout my career I’ve realised that F1 was not a place I could really achieve and I went through IndyCar and we achieved that.

“Funnily enough, getting that IndyCar championship gave me the opportunity to be here today. Which, I take it, I embrace every single second of it. I’m not chasing it. Obviously, if somebody gives me a ride, I’ll drive it. That’s the ultimate dream.

“But it’s not that I’m focussed on. I have a career in IndyCar, we’ve been successful and I want to get as many championships as possible. But there’s a car, I’ll drive it.”

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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...
RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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29 comments on “Palou says F1 feels “like another league” compared to IndyCar after practice debut”

  1. Does anybody have laptimes from Indycar in comparable conditions?

    1. Indycar are about 10s per lap slower.

      But 10x as interesting to watch.

      1. Both Formula 1 and Indycar race at COTA in 2019. Their respective best times in qualifying were:

        1:32.029 – Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes – Formula 1
        1:46.0177 – Will Power, Penske – Indycar

        1. Let me correct myself, the fastest time in Qualifying for Indycar was

          1:45.4542 – Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi – Indycar

          in the second segment.

        2. In the race, both series covered the same 56 laps (F1’s prescribed race distance, Indycar went on to complete 60 laps) in

          1:33:55 – Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes – Formula 1
          1:52:42 – Colton Herta, Harding Steinbrenner – Indycar

          That’s just under 20 minutes (or 20%) longer for Indycar to cover the same distance of 308.405km.

          1. someone or something
            22nd October 2022, 11:14

            Additionally, IndyCar had an extremely loose interpretation of track limits on their CotA weekend, enabling the drivers to drive around the outside of the penultimate corner, shaving off a second or two of their lap times.
            In essence, they’re some 20-25% slower than F1.

          2. In essence, they’re some 20-25% slower than F1

            I guess that’s why S claims they’re “10x as interesting to watch”; more time to see them on track and slow enough in the corners you can identify the cars and drivers :P

          3. Partly, jff.
            There’s a lot more driver input and reactivity going on in Indycar. It’s a driver’s series, rather than an engineer’s series.
            It’s that far more apparent human element present in Indycar that is missing in F1.

            I don’t feel that Indycar are slow in the corners by any stretch, but the reason they are slower than F1 is of more interest to me. The driver plays a bigger part in the performance in Indycar than in F1.

            If ‘fast’ was more interesting to me than reactivity, finesse and technique, I’d probably just go to the drag strip instead.

          4. As a more serious answer/follow up, S d:
            The engineering component is what I like about F1.
            As you might recall I’ve often argued to make the WCC (again) the main prize with fastest teams on the podium and the WDC a side prize (and side podium).
            And even though it’s easier to get more technical insights now, I wish the journo’s would focus more on the cars and less on the drivers.

          5. make the WCC (again) the main prize with fastest teams on the podium

            e.g. in Australia 2022:

            1st: Mercedes
            2nd: RBR
            3rd: Ferrari
            side Podium: Verstappe

          6. I don’t think F1 currently works as a technical competition, personally. It’s too restricted.
            But it also fails as a driver series – making it kinda useless all round, seeing as it isn’t exactly the most entertaining either.

            In an ideal world, though (or even just a parallel previous one) the WDC would be deleted and it would be all about what the teams do together as a group, and nothing else.

            Until that day, the reality of Indycar remains more appealing than the reality of F1 – from a sporting standpoint at the very least, and almost certainly also from an entertainment one.
            And for tech? GT’s are where it’s at.

          7. For fans a lot of these elements are rarely important. Indycar and F1 cars both look cool when out on track. In multi-class racing, you can tell that the LMP1 cars are faster than the GTE cars, but that doesn’t mean the Ferrari’s and Porsche’s aren’t also fun to see.

            For F1, winning a championship is nice for the driver or team, but of very little consequence to the fans. This was nicely demonstrated last time around, when nobody knew Verstappen had won the title, nobody noticed, and nobody really cared. So whether or not the podium ceremony gives a trophy to the driver in first, or the team with the most points is largely academic. I suspect a lot of people don’t even bother to watch the podium ceremony, and those that do probably can’t list all of this year’s the podium finishers. It’s not that important.

            So long as the cars are fast enough to make good use of the tracks, that’s enough. This became an issue in F1 in 2014 and 2015 – when the cars had such huge top speeds but slow cornering speeds that it became visually awkward. If you put Indycar on the same tracks, you’ll probably have the same issue on some tracks. But it’s always important to keep in mind that this is a choice. Indycar could easily be as fast as F1, if they wanted to. F1 could also easily be faster, still. This too was somewhat recently demonstrated when Porsche took the regulatory leash off its 919 Hybrid and blasted various unofficial track records. Motorsport has long since stopped being about technological development, and is instead about playing to the tune of the regulations. The FIA, ACO, IMSA and Indycar all have a vague idea of how fast they want their cars to be – and they make the regulations to match that. This is all very prescriptive, hence even low-budget Williams or Haas usually being only a percentage or so off the fastest time.

      2. True, they are slower but much more entertaining to watch. The weird thing is IndyCar’s look faster with all their movement and sliding around. F1 cars are so planted with down force they look slower, more boring. Both great to watch for different reasons.

  2. I don’t know if it’s just for me, but his enthusiastic story just countered all the commenters on why the superlicence points were bad. He just validated the current system and why Indycar doesn’t get more points. It actually makes it sound it should get less than superformula

    1. It’s just you, because your conclusions make no sense. Just because IndyCars are more different in driving character from F1 than some other series means absolutely nothing as to whether IndyCar drivers are more or less competent to drive in F1 competetively.
      Palou in his very 2nd lap in a Formula 1 car in his life, lapped only 0.25s slower than Lando Norris, which gave him the 9th place in the practice at that particular time. That was his exactly 2nd lap in the car ever. He could easily do the other sessions and finish the race in the points.

      1. He completed a solo test with the 2021 car last month so it’s not really his first time in the car and him and Norris were on different programs. Agreed he could easily finish in the points (and probably better than Ric) given a bit more time

    2. Current IndyCars are probably more similar to current F1 cars then, say, 1991 F1 cars. Would you therefore say Senna, Prost and Mansell would not be talented/good enough to drive in F1 today? Makes no sense at all.

      1. @amian
        It looks like you take a stand against something I didn’t say and then go on using the argument Palou is good. :-)

        We know he is. He is the champion and therefore eligible. But that was not the point. The point was if a driver just about 10th in the championship should receive more SL-points.

    3. I get your point but that’s the same sensation F2 drivers get when they step up into F1. Yet Indycar gives less points to drivers finishing 2nd or worse than in F2.

      F2 gets the points it gets because it’s FIA related and they want drivers to follow their ladder, not something else.

      1. Formula 2 has more races, all on Formula 1 circuits.

        Indycar has fewer races; none are on Formula 1 circuits, and 5 races (worth roughly 1/3rd of the points) are held on tracks not at all relevant to Formula 1 racing.

        1. The circuits are drivable on the Sim and the drivers in Indy know how to drive. Number of races and points are not relevant to this discussion.

          The real reason is Indy isn’t an Fia series and the FIA want to monopolise entry to F1. Simple.

          1. Exactly!

          2. Number of races and points are not relevant to this discussion.

            Of course they are.

            More races mean better chances for flukey results to be filtered out.

            And roughly 1/3rd of the points in the series coming from races that have no relevance to Formula 1 devalues the season’s standings even more. as an indicator of a driver’s readiness to compete in Formula 1.

  3. To be fair he was just 0.25 seconds shy of Norris’ time on mediums, for what it’s worth with unknown fuel loads and programs. He seemed to really enjoy his time and didn’t put a foot wrong, unlike Giovinazzi who didn’t do any good to his credentials.

  4. As a life time IndyCar fan, I really hope the new engine formula coming in 2024 and then the new generation cars will make them much faster, because the current speed doesn’t give IndyCars driver nearly as much respect as they deserve.

    1. The level of respect they get has little, if anything, to do with how powerful the engines are.

      Aren’t Indycar going fast enough already? Seriously? 236mph (380kph) isn’t enough for you?
      F1 doesn’t go that fast.

    2. @amian
      I now understand your other reaction above better. It seems you feel the SL-points debate is an attack on the integrity of a sport you love. It’s not an attack though. There is a lot to like about Indycar. And death defying oval running demands a lot of respect.

      But I also respect the skills of motorbike trial riders. They fling those machines over impossible obstacles. But since that sport is pretty far away from F1 it doesn’t award SL-points. Seems fair to me. The debate about how many points should be awarded to the Indycar field can be had without disrespecting the sport.

  5. The British spelling of focused is strangely annoying. I like tyre, but can’t stand “focussed.”

    1. haha. As a transplanted Brit into the US, I can never get words like this straight.

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