Autonomous Cars at IMS: Some F1 Thoughts

Photo: The winning car in the Indy Autonomous Challenge from the Technical University of Munich. IMS photo.

Saturday’s Indy Autonomous Challenge provided an interesting look at the future of cars-driverless, computer controlled machines, best suited for regular driving, but not for racing. I found it unnerving to see a car controlled by a team of people sitting around a computer instead of being driven by someone in the cockpit. I hope racing never comes to this.

For the record, European teams dominated the day, making the final three in a shootout looking for the best two lap average. The fastest lap was by the Europe team at just over 139 mph, but a programming error caused the car to slow to about 90 mph on its second lap. The team programmed one lap too few into the car.

The winning speed achieved by the TUM team, from Munich, Germany was 135.9 mph. Some cars hit 155 mph down the front straight.

I would not be concerned about these cars running in the 500 in our lifetime. They did have engines, and it was nice to hear the sound on the track, but I don’t see the same rooting interest for a machine as there is for a driver.

Andretti and F1-Deal or No Deal?

First reports said the sale was complete. Then another report said that Michael Andretti needed another 250 million Euros to complete the purchase of the Alfa Romeo team.

The anticipated announcement of an American F1 team did not happen in Austin over the weekend. Having a team from the USA announced at the US Grand Prix would have been most appropriate.

We might know something by the time of Grand Prix of Mexico in two weeks, but I’m thinking the deal is off the table. Colton Herta fans can relax for now.

The Crowd

Attendance at the USGP in Austin was mind boggling- 140,000 yesterday for the race and 400,000 for the weekend. The race day crowd exceeds the 135,00 who were allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500 in May. Can the USGP repeat this number next year?I think that is what we need to keep it in perspective.

I’m seeing a lot of hand wringing by some outlets and on social media about how F1 is now more popular in the US than Indycar is. Let’s consider some things, though.

I’m not dismissing the great job the organizers did in getting a crowd of that size, but here are some circumstances that may have led to the huge attendance. First, this was the first US Grand prix since 2019. Many fans are thrilled at the return of racing and don’t want to defer going to a track they have always wanted to visit.

Second, COTA has always had huge draw from Mexico, which also lost its Grand Prix in 2020. There may have been an even larger contingent from south of the border. The crowd in two weeks in Mexico City may be even bigger.

Third, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have brought legions of fans to every grand prix this season, and those fans at the last five races will continue to grow.

Some people credit the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” with an increase in F1’s popularity here. It may have something to do with it, but to swell the Austin crowd that much? I’m not sure.

My question is, how many fans were from the United States?

The Race

As far as the race goes, it was one of the better USGPs. It was a strategy race, which I enjoy. Max Verstappen’s tire strategy of pitting early gave him an edge over Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen increased his lead in the standings to 12 points over Hamilton with five races left.

Barber Test

Indycar etsting continues at barber today. The weather should be decent- temperatures in the mid 70s with only a 15%chance of rain.

Andretti will eb testing with Devlin DeFrancesco and Kyle Kirkwood. DeFrancesco is rumored to be set in the 29 while Kirkwood’s status for next year is still uncertain.

AMSP will test former F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg as the team considers a third car for 2022, perhaps part time before a full time run in 2023.

The A J Foyt Racing test with Logan Sargeant has been cancelled as Sargeant signed late last week with the Williams Driving Academy.