Formula One vs IRL vs GP2

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Formula One is widely regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport, and apart from being the first global racing series, there are several more reasons to be found in today's sport structure.

Most importantly, Formula One teams are all required to build their own chassis. It is not allowed to buy any part of a car from any other competing team, apart from the gearbox and the engine. As a result, all teams have a group of engineers, sometimes totalling more than 1000 people, who are constantly looking to improve the car's performances within the current regulations. Such competition and team sizes also explains why there are tremendous amounts of money involved in the sport. The latter is in fact an issue which the FIA wants to address by simplifying regulations, allowing only a single tyre manufacturer, enforcing a freeze on engine development, etc. Recently however, neither of these changes have had the wanted effect.

All other popular open wheel series such as GP2, IndyCar, A1GP or Formula Renault have all assigned one engine manufacturer and one chassis manufacturer which all teams must use in order to compete in the series. Such system is obviously far less money intensive and also undergoes far less development as there is no real technical competition.

Car specifications

FIA Formula One (F1)

Nico Rosberg, Williams FW30

General information

  • Gearbox: Semi-automatic with six to seven forward gears
  • Tires: Grooved racing "slicks".
    Front: 14" max. width;
    Rear: 15" max. width
  • Wheelbase: Between 3,000mm and 3,300mm
  • Min. Weight: 600 kg with driver and 605 kg with driver during qualifying
  • Max. Height: 950 mm
  • Max. Width: 1800 mm with tires inflated at 1.4 bar
  • Brakes: Ventilated carbon discs and pads


IndyCar Series (IRL)

Elio Castroneves, Indy Car

General information

  • Construction: Monocoque contains cockpit, fuel cell and front suspension; engine is stressed (integral), member of chassis; rear assembly contains bellhousing, gearbox and rear suspension members
  • Max. Weight: 691.72 kg, including all lubricants and coolants used during the event, but without fuel or driver.
  • Length: 192 in (4.88 m) minimum.
  • Width: 1.99m maximum, 1.97 m minimum (measured outside rim to rim)
  • Height: Approximately 965 mm
  • Wheelbase: Between 3 and 3.1 m
  • Wheels:
    Front Size: 15" diameter, 11.2" wide, Min. weight: 6.11kg
    Rear Size: 15" diameter, 15" wide.
    Min. weight: 6.67kg
  • Tires: Firestone Firehawk.
    Front diameter: 26" maximum, 25" minimum @ 2.41bar Rear diameter: 27.5" maximum, 26.5" minimum @ 2.41bar
  • Gearbox: XTRAC #295 gearbox (gears forward of rear axle).
    Six forward gears, sequential shifter.
  • Fuel Cell: Single, rupture-proof cell, maximum 35 U.S. gallons (154.17litres)
  • Brakes: Steel discs (carbon brake systems forbidden)
  • Cost: $125,000 (maximum)

GP2 Series (GP2)

Bruno Senna, GP2

General information

  • Gearbox: 6 speed longitudinal sequential gearbox, electro-hydraulic command via paddle shift from steering wheel.
  • Tires: Flat slicks, dimensions equal to F1 specifications.
  • Suspension: Double steel wishbones, pushrod operated, twin dampers and torsion bars suspension.
  • Monocoque: Survival cell – Sandwich Carbon/aluminium honeycomb structure made by Dallara.
  • Bodywork: Carbon/Kevlar honeycomb structures made by Dallara
  • Fuel cell: FIA Standard, Premier FT5 125 litres.
  • Brakes: 6 pistons monobloc Brembo callipers, Hitco carbon-carbon brake discs and pads.
  • Length: 4867 mm
  • Width: 1805 mm (bodywork 1500 mm)
  • Height: 1047 mm (including FOM roll hoop camera)
  • Wheelbase: 3120 mm
  • Overall weight: 688 kg (driver on-board)

Engine specifications

In terms of engine use, there is an important difference between F1 and the other series. Formula One teams as a start have to produce their own chassis. As engine integration in the chassis is of major importance, teams like to have their own specialised engine manufacturer. Some teams make a chassis and an engine, like Ferrari, others agree with a manufacturer in a technical partnership. With some this only goes for delivery of the engines for free and publicity for the supplier on the car, but in other cases engineers from the engine manufacturer come strengthen the team's squad at their base. Other teams that cannot get an engine this way buy one from a supplier that is not bound to exclusive partnership with a team.

Since 2006, an engine development freeze is in place which bans any performance related development to any engine. Only when it is deemed to benefit reliability, an engine change will be permitted, although still limited to a very strict list of items. The basic engine architecture must not change in that process.

The non-F1 series all have a single engine supplier which takes care of the provision to the teams, operation oversight and the rebuilds for maintenance. Most open wheel racing series have such a system where a supplier is given a maximum price for which he can sell the engines to the teams, mostly including a maintenance contract.

FIA Formula One (F1)

Renault RS27 F1 engine

Example: Renault RS27 (fitted in the Renault R28 and Red Bull RB4)

  • Engine type: Normally aspirated, aluminium alloy cylinder block V8 90°
  • Engine location: Mid, longitudinally mounted
  • Displacement: 2400 cc
  • Valve Train: Dual overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder
  • Aspiration: Naturally Aspirated
  • Power: approximately 700 hp at the limited 19,000 rpm
  • Weight: Minimum of 95 kg (as of 2006)
  • Fuel: Unleaded racing petrol
  • Bore: Max. bore diameter may not exceed 98 mm
  • Control unit by McLaren Electrnics equal for every team, provided by the organiser
  • Designed to last 2 GP weekends as required by regulations

IndyCar Series (IRL)

IRL Honda engine 2008

Current engine: Honda Racing HI7R Indy V8 (2008)

  • Normally aspirated V8
  • Displacement: 3500 cc (183.07 cubic inches)
  • Valve Train: Dual overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder
  • Weight: Minimum weight is 280 pounds. Dry weight - no headers, clutch, ECU, spark box or filters
  • Crankshaft: Alloy steel, five main bearing cap
  • Pistons: Forged aluminum alloy
  • Connecting Rods: Machined alloy steel
  • Power: Approximately 650 hp at 10,300 rpm (IRL-supplied rev limiter)
  • Fuel: 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol
  • Bore: Max. bore diameter may not exceed 93 m
  • Injector: Electronic.
  • Rebuild after 2000 km (approximately after every third race).

GP2 Series (GP2)

Renault Mecachrome GP2 engine

General information

  • Type: Normally aspirated V8, Designed by Renault – Assembled, maintained and rebuilt by Mecachrome
  • Displacement: 4000 cc
  • Power: 600 HP @ 10.000 rpm
  • Control systems: Fly by wire accelerator system, XAP power supply management unit, CAN data acquisition pre-equipment.
  • Magneti Marelli Marvel 8 ECU/GCU including data logging system.
  • Rebuild after 4000 to 4500 km.


As can be seen on the pictures, pitstops in Formula One are as a total much more complicated than in the other two series. Formula One sets no limit on how many engineers to use during a stop. As a result, F1 pitstops are carried out with 3 crew members per wheel, one lollipop man, up to 4 people to refuel the car, 2 people that lift up the car and even a further 2 people that clean the sidepods and the driver's visor. Eventually, a chief engineer may be looking to what is happening during a pitstop and the condition of the car. All wires needed are hung up above the car, and must therefore not be removed before the car can leave.

In contrast, in IRL the pitlane consists of a low pitwall that separates cars from engineers. Before a pitstop, 6 appointed engineers jump over the wall to halt the car, get their equipment and change tires and refuel. There is one at each wheel and two to refuel the car, which basically happens the same way as in Formula One, although a little slower (simply because of different refuelling installations). When a pitstop is concluded, all cables have to be retracted before the car is allowed to leave. He may under no circumstance drive over such a cable because of safety reasons.

In GP2, the story is even simpler. In Saturday's race, every driver is required to make at least one pitstop in which at least two tires are changed. There are two engineers with a jack to pull the car up and one at each wheel. No refuelling is allowed in GP2, and as cables are hung up similarly to GP2, the car can immediately leave again once the tire changes have been completed and the jacks are down.

F1 pitstop IRL pitstop GP2 pitstop

Car design

Even a superficial view on the different cars immediately show great differences between them. Although all of these are race cars, they are not built for the same purpose. In Formula One and GP2, not a single race is held on an oval, while IRL runs most of its races on oval circuits.

As is visible in the images below, a Formula One car is equipped with winglets all over the car, big rear and front wings and a very sculpted body to aim for higher downforce. All teams are naturally focusing on downforce as it is the utmost important factor for any normal or street circuit. Additionally, the sculpting is the result of intensive development and testing in the wind tunnels, a necessity for a Formula One team to stay competitive.

The IRL car on the other hand is far less developed. While on ovals the main target is to keep the drag low, the Dallara chassis are also not developed with as high a budget as F1 teams have, thus are simpler. There is also no technical competition in the series so updates or mostly to resolve balance issues rather than increase performance.

You can also note that an IRL car has a very low nose, contrary to high noses on all modern F1 cars. F1 has seen the introduction of 'high noses' in 1993. While the nosetip isn't much higher than in IRL, the 'high' nosecone itself is higher above the ground, and therefore allows airflow under the nose. This system is great for diffuser efficiency and therefore downforce.

Champ Car and IRL chassis' do not use such a construction. The reason behind this is versatile. Firstly there sometimes is a 'aerodynamic freeze' which forbids any big changes to the aerodynamics during a period. Secondly there is the difference of course in regulations that limit the possible advantages of a high nose in IRL and Champ, and to close, chassis suppliers need to deliver a competitively priced chassis, which limits research funds.

As for the GP2 car, which is also a Dallara chassis, its main aim in developing it is to make the car behave and look is similar as possible to an F1 car. Therefore, its design is based on a simplified F1.

F1 car aerodynamics IRL car aerodynamics GP2 car aerodynamics

Points system

Points allocations to results are different in each series. Since 2003, Formula One is handing out points to the top 8 finishers while IRL have historically always had a very elaborate points system.

GP2 have largely taken over the points system of F1 on Saturday races with an additional 2 points for the pole man. However, on Sunday for the "sprint race", there are less points handed because the race is shorter and does not contain obligatory pitstops.

Position or achievement Formula One IRL GP2 (Saturday) GP2 (Sunday)
1 10 50 10 6
2 8 40 8 5
3 6 35 6 4
4 5 32 5 3
5 4 30 4 2
6 3 28 3 1
7 2 26 2
8 1 24 1
9 22
10 20
11 19
12 18
13 17
14 16
15 15
16 14
17 13
18 to 24 12
25 to 33 10
Pole Position 2
Fastest lap 1* 1*
Most laps led 3

* Driver recording fastest lap has to drive 90% of race laps. The driver must now also start the race from his allocated grid position to be eligible to claim the fastest lap.