This weekend, Formula One hopeful Callum Ilott will be making his IndyCar debut at Portland with Juncos Hollinger Racing. Earlier this week, it was announced Ilott would be competing in all of the final three races of the IndyCar season and that he would consider a full-time IndyCar ride for 2022. Ilott, currently a test driver for Ferrari and reserve driver for Alfa Romeo, was also runner-up in the 2020 Formula 2 championship and a presumed F1 hopeful. But as we’ve seen fairly consistently over the past few years, Ilott is moving over to America.
Of the 43-odd drivers who have contested at least one IndyCar race this year, 27 have contested some form of European single-seater racing that we’d normally consider a ladder in to F1. Eight drivers have competed in F1 proper, and five further have either had F1 reserve driver roles or were part of an academy program designed to channel young talent into F1. Others, like Felix Rosenqvist, may not have progressed far up the European ladder but were so successful that it was a shock that they weren’t signed somewhere.
And unless F1 changes, these drivers are going to keep filtering into American open-wheel racing, leaving F1 scrambling to find adequate young talent to fill its seats.
There are, of course, significant differences between the organization of F1 and IndyCar. Prospective F1 teams are required to pay a handsome sum to enter the series, and they’ll then be limited to two cars per team. With F1 considered the pinnacle of motorsport, drivers who make it into the series tend to stay there, with drivers like Valtteri Bottas taking a significant downgrade from Mercedes to Alfa Romeo just to stay in the sport.
IndyCar, by contrast, isn’t quite as restrictive. Teams can come and go and enter as many or as few races as they like. They can add or drop drivers as they see fit, leaving some races like this weekend’s Portland Grand Prix with a 27-car starting grid while F1 maintains its 20 cars from one race to the next. A lower cost of entry and relatively spec chassis make it fiscally possible for this to happen.
But the staid nature of F1 and the insistence that the sport not upset current teams doesn’t exactly make for good racing, nor does it make for a sustainable driver market when it comes to new talent. With millions of dollars at stake, F1 likes to stick with what it knows. And unless it changes, all those fresh new drivers are going to keep coming to IndyCar.