What’s it cost to compete in Formula One? An IndyCar comparison


Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid cover the business of Formula One. More of their work can be found at

The cars lining up to compete in this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix and Indy 500 may appear the same. However, with even the smallest Formula One teams running on budgets around five times those of their leading IndyCar rivals, the similarity is only skin deep.

The casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that IndyCar has the superior technology, as Ed Carpenter set a pole position lap speed of 228.8 mph for this year’s Indy 500; Mark Webber’s top qualifying lap at the twisty Monaco track last year was just 100.4 mph.

In reality, the IndyCar teams purchase controlled-cost specification chassis from Dallara, whereas their F1 counterparts are involved in a costly high tech arms race to make it to the front of the grid. Unlike IndyCar teams F1 competitors are ‘constructors’ who build their own chassis — and in the case of Ferrari and Mercedes their own engines — at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The leading F1 teams are constantly developing their machinery in order to eke out the extra split-seconds that will edge them ahead of their rivals. Big name brands such as Red Bull and Mercedes are willing to foot the bill because F1 is the world’s most watched annual sporting event and puts their brands in front of half a billion people worldwide.

As a result, the biggest spending F1 team Ferrari will run on an estimated budget of $470 million in 2013. This is more than 30 times the estimated $15 million budget of the leading IndyCar teams such as Ganassi and Andretti Autosport. The figures — supplied by Formula Money — below explain how the money is spent.

Top F1 team: $470 million; Top IndyCar team: $15 million

This includes the following key areas of spending:

Top F1 team: $125 million; Top IndyCar team: $3 million

The largest single cost for most F1 teams is the design, development and construction of a bespoke chassis. F1 teams must construct their own chassis and although the manufacturing costs of an F1 car are a relatively small $15 million per year, top teams can spend well over $100 million on research and development.

All IndyCar teams must buy their chassis from series provider Dallara. The price is $345,000 per chassis, but the purchase of aerodynamic packages designed for different circuits can add another $150,000-$200,000. A team typically gets through three chassis per driver each year.

Top F1 team: $130 million; Top IndyCar team: $2 million

F1 manufacturers such as Ferrari and Mercedes spend more than $100 million annually on engine development. This is principally to supply their own teams, but they are required to also supply other teams with engines and typically charge $13 million per season to do so.

Honda and Chevrolet typically charge IndyCar teams around $1 million per year per driver for an engine package which will allow the use of eight engines.

Top F1 team: $15 million; Top IndyCar team: $1 million

Restrictions on F1 testing in recent years have seen budgets slashed from $35 million to $15 million annually in order to cut costs. This is still far larger than the IndyCar teams’ $1 million annual spending.

Top F1 team: $47 million; Top IndyCar team: $3 million

Two times world champion Fernando Alonso is one of the highest paid sports stars in the world, receiving an annual salary of $40 million from Ferrari. In contrast leading IndyCar drivers receive $1-2 million per year. Unlike F1 drivers they also receive prize money – $2.5 million for Dario Franchitti when he won last year’s Indy 500 – but are usually expected to give at least half of this to their team.

Top F1 team: $3.3 million; Top IndyCar team: $456,000

F1’s governing body, the FIA, operates a complex system for entry fees where each team is charged a basic fee of $500,000, plus $6,000 per point scored in the previous season for the constructors’ champion and $5,000 per point for everyone else. This has left 2012 champion Red Bull Racing with a bill of $3,260,000 this year. In contrast, IndyCar teams pay $12,000 per car per race.

Top F1 team: $13 million; Top IndyCar team: $1 million

Hospitality may seem like a frivolous extra but it is a crucial part of how an F1 team operates. Sponsors spend up to $100 million annually so expect to receive silver service treatment when they visit a Grand Prix. A top F1 team can spend more on hospitality in a season than an IndyCar team spends on its entire budget. In contrast leading IndyCar teams may spend up to $200,000 at a showpiece event like the Indy 500, but far less at other races.

Top F1 team: Free; Top IndyCar team: $1 million

One area where IndyCar costs far outstrip F1 is in the area of key supplies. Due to the high level of exposure F1 generates, many companies are keen to supply top level products free of charge in return for becoming an official partner of the team. Ferrari, for example, has sponsorship from a range of automotive companies including Shell (gas), SKF (bearings), NGK (spark plugs), Magneti Marelli (electronics) and Brembo (brakes). A typical top IndyCar team spends around $1 million a year on purchasing similar supplies.

Top F1 team: $136.7 million; Top IndyCar team: $3.5 million

*Includes salaries, travel and factory costs.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.