IndyCar showed F1 how to do a grandstand finish right at the Indy 500

Half a year after F1 made a mess of things trying to give a huge race a grandstand finish, IndyCar showed them how it's done at the showpiece Indianapolis 500.

The Indy 500 is the longest running major race in the world, it takes place in the biggest racing venue and tops the bucket lists of fans and drivers alike.

F1 is the only racing series I'd call myself a fan of, but it's always been high up on mine, and I got to tick it off on Sunday.

It was an unforgettable, enlightening experience, and one that made me wish that, in some areas, F1 was more like its counterpart across the pond.

F1 reigns supreme, right?

I arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway immensely excited and was immediately blown away by the incredible atmosphere, but was confident that F1 was superior when it came to on-track matters.

What unfolded very much reinforced that belief with Marcus Ericsson remaining at the front of the field throughout the first half of the race before emerging as a contender for the win in the closing stages.

The grid included plenty of drivers far more experienced than Ericsson in the category, and others that are considered true greats of American racing - there were few bigger cheers on the day than when NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson briefly took the lead. But yet a driver that wasn't particularly highly rated when in F1 got the better of all of them.

To me, that served as clear evidence that Formula 1 is the greatest motorsport series in the world.

It clearly has the best drivers and is the highest level of racing there is, so it must be, right?

At that point, I was feeling rather smug to be a fan of it and felt that those relatively few fans in attendance wearing F1 gear knew their stuff more than the rest.

However, the final minutes of the race very much took me off my high horse and made me realise that, while F1 may indeed reign supreme when it comes to driving talent, that's not the case in other areas.

Shot from Indy 500 grandstand

Abu Dhabi deja vu

As the blistering sun reached its highest point above me, so too did the drama in front of me.

With five laps to go, Johnson crashed out, much to the disappointment of most of the crowd.

With there not being enough time to clear the track before the finish, Indy Car's biggest race of the year was now set to have an enormously anti-climactic ending. Sound familiar?

Yes, the parallels with last year's F1 season finale were clear, and my mind immediately went back to that race in Abu Dhabi.

Back then, to ensure it had a grandstand finish, race director Michael Masi broke standard protocol in an unprecedented move, ordering the cars between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in the Safety Car queue to unlap themselves, but only them.

The race director did this so that the Safety Car would be able to come in before the end and the two title rivals would be next to one another for the restart.

He got the thrilling conclusion he wanted, with Verstappen passing Hamilton on the final lap to win the title, but it left a sour taste in the mouths of many.

Rules had effectively been broken for the sake of entertainment. It was unfair, artificial and cost him his job.

Facing a similar predicament, IndyCar handled things far, far better.

Marcus Ericsson poster at the Brickyard

Take notes Formula 1

The Indy 500 race was immediately red flagged, meaning proceedings would be suspended while Johnson's car was cleared, with the rest of the field returning to the pit lane. Once it was moved, there would be a rolling restart behind the Safety Car and two laps of racing.

The atmosphere at the circuit during that stoppage was something I'll never forget. There was sky high anticipation mixed with tension you could cut with a knife - what was probably only five minutes felt like fifty as we all awaited and mentally prepared for what was to come.

What followed was simply the perfect finish; things got back underway and, with the crowd going wild, McLarens Pato O'Ward immediately attacked Ericsson.

Marcus Ericsson

The two were side by side at one point on the final lap but the Swede just about held off the Mexican with some excellent defensive driving to claim victory.

It was absolutely thrilling, and completely fair.

Race Control's decision was made all the more impressive by the fact that they had far less time to make it than Masi had. With each lap lasting only 30 seconds and two out-laps behind the Safety Car needed, the race would have finished behind it if red flags weren't waved immediately.

Under immense pressure with not a second to spare, they managed to deliver a worthy ending to the biggest race in the world.

Enthralled by what I'd just seen, I couldn't help but wish F1 had been half as competent as IndyCar.

Not only did the on-track action have all of the excitement with none of the injustice, but off-track, fans were just happy to have witnessed such excitement rather than arguing amongst themselves about the outcome

It made for a much more pleasant atmosphere and made the experience as a whole far more enjoyable.

F1's 2021 season finale could have been just as enjoyable if Masi had red flagged proceedings, and if he was watching the race in Indianapolis, he surely would have been wishing he had.

All in all, my Indy 500 experience made it abundantly clear to me that F1 may have the best drivers, but there's a wonderful world outside of it, and it's a world that it can learn a lot from.

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