Memorial Day weekend is a cornerstone of the motorsport world, where Formula 1's Monaco Grand Prix leads into IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500. Both are longstanding events that have defined the history of racing, both with their own traditions and stories — but how do they compare from a driver’s perspective? To find out, Jalopnik sat down with Marcus Ericsson and Romain Grosjean, two drivers who have taken part in both events.
We started off the conversation by asking both drivers to describe the differences between both races in incredibly simple terms — aside from the fact that one track is an oval in America and the other is a street circuit in Europe.
“Indy is so much bigger because of all the fans and the tradition with the track,” Ericsson said, noting that it made the event feel like it was on a different level than Monaco.
He added, ”Monaco, especially with modern F1 cars, is more of an event than a race. This year, the weather at Monaco made it quite a fun race, but many times, you do the start, and then everyone just follows each other.
Monaco, Ericsson said, is about “glamour, luxury, and celebrities” while Indy is the opposite: “pure racing.”
Grosjean added to that sentiment by saying that Monaco is a party where attendees “spend more time in the evening awake than you do in the morning. At Indy, it starts with the cannon at six in the morning, and fans are already there.”
While Ericsson was emphatic that Indy is more laden with tradition than Monaco despite the rich racing histories of both events, Grosjean had a different view: “I would say in Europe, Monaco has the more history than Indy. In the U.S., Indy has more history than Monaco.”
Ericsson also offered a contrast of his own by comparing the Indy 500 to the kind of massive sporting event that America loves. In America, he said, one-off events like the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup Finals are far more important than the overall championship that takes place over the course of a season; instead of prizing the IndyCar championship, he noted, drivers are more focused on the 500. In Europe, he added, a Monaco win wouldn’t change a driver’s life the same way a 500 win would; you’d need the full Formula 1 Championship.
Not that all the drivers don’t want to win at Monaco, Grosjean added when I asked for his perspective; if there’s one race to win in a season, it’s Monaco. It just doesn’t come with the same weight.
However, both drivers agreed that Indy is the kind of spectacle that isn’t done justice by a mere television broadcast, that you have to be there to truly experience what the event entails. They emphasized the size of the crowd, the intimacy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the length of the race, and the sheer speeds that IndyCar drivers reach in pursuit of the checkered flag.
The best part of the 500, though, comes down to the fact that “it’s so unpredictable that anyone can win it,” according to Ericsson, where success in Monaco is dependent upon an incredible qualifying performance.