IndyCar: Europe’s Latest Retirement Plan

Written by Gabe Perrin, Edited by Leah Brown

Marcus Ericsson celebrating his Indy 500 win (Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Marcus Ericsson. Felix Rosenqvist. Romain Grosjean. Callum Ilott. Tatiana Calderón.


What is the one thing that these five drivers have in common? They started their careers over in Europe, but in 2022, they are in the United States, driving full time in the IndyCar Series.


It’s a trend that we have seen over the past few years, with more and more drivers either retiring from or giving up a potential career in Formula 1, hailed by many as the world’s premier motorsport series.


While driving in Formula 1 certainly carries a high level of prestige, with only 20 spots currently on the grid and expenses soaring higher than ever, it is becoming increasingly difficult for a young driver to race their way into a Formula 1 seat. Take for example a driver like Nyck de Vries or Oscar Piastri, two young drivers who excelled in Formula 2, but have yet to get a chance to compete in Formula 1. Even Jamie Chadwick, who has dominated the W Series for three seasons in a row, couldn’t make the jump to Formula 2 or 3 due to a lack of funding. “To be completely honest, in the short space of time that we had, we weren’t able to secure the funding that we needed (to compete in F3),” the 24-year-old Brit said in February.


The New Retirement Plan

As can be assumed, it is not easy to keep yourself in a Formula 1 seat. Even talented drivers like Romain Grosjean, who racked up 10 podiums in his 11-year F1 career, found himself dumped at the end of the 2020 season. However, a driver in their mid-30s or younger, like Grosjean, still has that racing bug in them, which leads to a search for other series to race in. In Grosjean’s case, he made the jump across the pond to IndyCar, where he has found some success with four podiums and a pole to his name so far.


Other drivers elect to stay in Europe, opting to join a single-seater series like Formula E or a sportscar series like DTM (the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) or WEC (World Endurance Championship). Pascal Wehrlein, who spent two seasons in Formula 1 with Manor and Sauber, joined Formula E immediately after leaving Formula 1 in 2017, achieving three podiums and a win. Even more recent drivers have done the same, with former Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi joining the electrically powered series in the past year, although with remarkably less success than other former Formula 1 drivers that have come before him.


Speaking of the aforementioned sportscar series, Alex Albon spent a successful 2021 in the German-based DTM series after being dropped by the Red Bull Formula 1 team the year prior. Although the London-born, Thai-aligned 26 year old picked up a win and multiple podiums in DTM, he said this back in April 2021: “It killed me. It killed me, it was terrible,” speaking on being dropped by Red Bull at the end of 2020. However, as we know, Albon is back in Formula 1, currently in one of the Williams seats.


Why IndyCar?

Here lies the unfortunate truth: Not everyone is as lucky as Alex Albon when it comes to returning to Formula 1. For most other European single-seater drivers, once they leave those series (Formula 1/2/3/4 and so on) they tend to not come back. Thus, the first thing they look for is other single-seater opportunities outside of the European continent. Where else to look but the second-biggest open-wheel series in the world in IndyCar?


Besides the competition, IndyCar may just be the most diverse racing series on the planet, with drivers coming from all sorts of backgrounds. On the 2022 IndyCar Series grid, there are five former Formula 1 drivers, two former NASCAR drivers, and a three-time Australian Supercars champion. In addition to that, the competition is generally much tighter than in a series like Formula 1, in which two or sometimes just one team dominates a single season.


Another large factor is the fact that ovals, which are sparse in Europe, are prominently featured on the IndyCar calendar. Reigning Indianapolis 500 Champion Marcus Ericsson, who spent five years in Formula 1, said after his big win, “when I came to IndyCar and American racing, one of the big reasons was the ovals because I always thought the ovals was something that would suit me. I always enjoyed the tracks in Europe that had a lot of high-speed content.” The excitement that new, high-speed oval layouts present for non-American drivers is clearly a big pull.


However, the biggest pull for former European drivers to IndyCar is the marketing. With the United States being the home of global media, there is no better place to get your name out there, and make some cash while doing so. While Formula 1 clearly has more pull financially, midfield or backmarker drivers like Ericsson and Grosjean don’t get too much attention, leading to less and less marketing opportunities. However, when they sign with a top IndyCar team (Ericsson with Chip Ganassi Racing and Grosjean with Andretti Autosport), they have much more pull in the media and with sponsors, all while having to invest less money than in Formula 1 or even Formula 2. For example, since he won the Indy 500, it basically looks like Marcus Ericsson owns Sweden-based Huski Chocolate.


While IndyCar drivers aren’t exactly household names for many people in the United States, some have much better opportunities to become well known, with races like the Indianapolis 500 and all of the events surrounding it providing huge chances to become world famous.


Looking Ahead

Will this continue into the coming years? Based on the recent trend, many would say yes. But in the unpredictable industry of motorsports, no one can be sure. With opportunities opening up on both sides of the pond, you never know what driver will go where.


However, it will always be exciting to see which driver moves to IndyCar and what they do with their talent.