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Why Newgarden to F1 is better left as a 'what if?'

Josef Newgarden to Formula 1 has been something touted in the past, and the Indy 500 winner believes IndyCar drivers would "rock" grand prix racing - but its better left as a 'what if.'

Newgarden Indy 500
To news overview © Penske

There is something special about drivers in modern-day motorsport racing in a series other than their own. 

Of course, long gone are the days of the 1950s and 1960s when top grand prix drivers like Stirling Moss Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, and Jack Brabham would race anything on wheels, but in the past few years, we've been treated to a few 'cross-overs.'

Fernando Alonso kicked things off with his 2017 attack on the Indianapolis 500 whilst an active F1 driver, and he returned to the Brickyard in 2019 and 2020 in a bid to complete the triple crown. 

He didn't and was humiliated in 2019, failing to even qualify after being bumped at the death by Kyle Kaiser in the tiny Juncos Racing entry. 

Elsewhere, Kyle Larson took part in the Indy 500 whilst a full-time NASCAR Cup racer, becoming the first in 10 years to attempt Double Duty - although rain delayed the start of the 500 and the same rain brought an early end to NASCAR'S Coke 600 before he even got a chance to race his Camaro in Charlotte. 

IndyCar racers Alex Palou, Pato O'Ward have also made FP1 outings with McLaren in recent years, with Colton Herta also doing private testing for the Woking squad, but no-one has made the switch across to race full-time.

Freshly-minted two-time Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden recently claimed on the Pat McAfee  Show that "any of us could, and we would rock it," when asked about the F1 switch. 

But whilst someone of Newgarden's stature making it to F1 would be a huge story, is is better left as a what if.

The case against

Newgarden has been on the ladder to F1 previously in his career, racing in GP3 (now F3) way back in 2010. 

Racing with Carlin, he had a disappointing year, with only a pole at Hockenheim being the highlight as he headed back to America and IndyLights for 2011.

Herein lies the first major problem. It is extremely hard for young American drivers to find the budget to travel around Europe in the various junior categories, and find a respectable drive. The move has to be done at an incredibly early age to allow the driver to ingratiate themselves into the European scene. 

That is hard to do, but providing you somehow make it to F1 or come across as an established star like Newgarden, you run into the second problem. 

IndyCar and F1, whilst on the tin look similar, are vastly different and there is a huge chasm between them. 

IndyCar has used the same chassis now since 2012 and drivers and teams can simply turn up at whatever track happens to be next, dust off the set-up book from 12 months ago, make some slight changes here and there and get going. 

In F1, cars are being upgraded almost every race weekend, with huge balance changes made to the machines during the season with new packages being added. Unless something has gone drastically wrong, an F1 team will not be turning up to its next race with the exact same car as it had 12 months before, and with just three hours of practice to get on top of it, it is a big ask.

Finally, there is the sheer competitive state of F1 compared to IndyCar.

Newgarden dragged the minnow CFH Racing entry to two wins in 2015, before joining Team Penske in 2017. 

Since then, he's won a further 28 races, two championships, two Indy 500s and is arguably the poster boy for IndyCar and looks the part of what an IndyCar driver should be.

He is not going to get into a top F1 seat straight away, like a Red Bull or Ferrari or McLaren or Mercedes and would instead become midfield fodder, wasting away scrapping for a P7 finish for a driver whose skill level and adaptability could see him challenging for wins in the right car.

It was partly for this reason, that back in late 2017, having just won his first IndyCar title, he rejected the chance to join Toro Rosso for the final four rounds after its late season driver merry-go-round. 

			© Matt Fraver/IMS Photo
	© Matt Fraver/IMS Photo

Better to leave it alone

Newgarden is the driving force of Team Penske and whilst he might get a potential FP1 outing in say a McLaren, the fact of the matter is, he is already probably too old to make it full-time. 

He turns 34 this December and would need a minimum of two-to-three years to adjust and get fully up-to speed in F1 which takes him to around 37. Sebastian Vettel retired at the end of the 2022 season aged 35.

Newgarden's sheer determination would prove to be a galvanising force for an F1 switch, but if he was going to make it to F1, he already would have. 

The fact that top-level F2 drivers, including the likes of Callum Ilott, Marcus Armstrong and reigning champions Theo Pourchaire have been spat out by F1 without even making it to a race seat also speaks volumes about how hard it is to crack F1 and how all the ducks must perfectly align at just the right time. 

Furthermore, what does Newgarden have to prove in F1?

He is already one of the IndyCar greats, and as long as he wants to stay at Penske, he will continue to gobble up wins, championships and Indy 500 wins. 

As the likes of Scott Dixon and Will Power edge slowly towards the exit door and retirement, Newgarden is the man of his era - and if that final lap pass to win the Indy 500 against Pato O'Ward is anything to go by, he can be at the heart of the next great IndyCar rivalry - something the series badly needs.

			© IndyCar media// Joe SkibinskiIG: @skibbyy
	© IndyCar media// Joe SkibinskiIG: @skibbyy

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