The worldwide head of motorsport could have opened the door for a return of Formula One to Indianapolis.
FIA president Jean Todt visited the classic Indy 500 and spoke in favour of any future move by The Speedway and its new owner, Roger Penske, towards a grand prix comeback.
“Indianapolis is a kind of Silicon Valley of motor racing in the US, so of course if the Formula 1 Commission proposed to have a race at Indianapolis, it would be very good for F1,” says Todt.
Penske says he is interested in Formula 1 returning to Indianapolis, although thus far there has been little obvious interest from F1 itself, as Indianapolis is not seen by them as a ‘destination city’ and work continues to try to bring about a street race in Miami and/or Las Vegas.
Todt was in the United States to meet with leading figures at the United Nations, including Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Russia’s Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia, to discuss road safety, prior to the opening of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on September 15.
He then travelled on to Indianapolis where he toured the Speedway and its museum with Penske, before being driven around the famous oval and visiting the Dallara factory nearby which builds the latest generation of IndyCar racers.
During the visit he praised the work of various motorsport championships in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and going racing again for television audiences, even if there is still a way to go before things return to normal in terms of getting spectators at events.
“I think it’s remarkable and commendable to see all the efforts that have been done in different championships – in Formula 1, in Formula E, in endurance, in IndyCar and all motorsport categories – to make motor racing alive again at this time,” says Todt.
“The easy solution would be to wait until life is back to normal, but we don’t know when it will be. So it’s essential to restart and I commend all the work that has been done.”
On the Formula One front, Todt praised the work at Indy under Penske’s ownership and left no doubt that he is a supporter.
“All the improvements have been done in a very short time. Roger has already achieved quite a lot with facilities that were already very impressive.”
But Todt and the FIA cannot create a race.
“The responsibility of the calendar is with the commercial rights holder, but clearly Indianapolis has all the ingredients of a F1 venue. I was very impressed,” says Todt.
F1 visited Indianapolis between 2000 and 2007 but did not recover after the disastrous United States Grand Prix in 2005 when 14 cars went into the pits at the end of the parade lap after tyre failures during practice. Only six cars raced that day, including the two Ferraris under Todt’s leadership.
The race, which was a PR disaster for F1, proved that Bernie Ecclestone could not force teams to race after Michelin tyre failures created insurmountable insurance problems for the teams involved.
Then-FIA President Max Mosley refused to compromise and have a chicane installed before the banked final corner, fully aware of what might happen, in what appeared to be a power play between the two big powerhouses in F1 at the time.
Fifteen years later, might it be possible to repair the damage done?