Theo Pourchaire’s IndyCar tale shines a spotlight on Formula 1’s greatest shame

Michelle Foster
Theo Pourchaire and Zhou Guanyu with the F1 logo

Theo Pourchaire made his McLaren debut, that's in IndyCar, not F1

Oh, what a day to be a Chinese Formula 1 driver as the spectators screamed for Zhou Guanyu and Sky Sports proclaimed that such was the reception, the Kick-Sauber driver “deserved” a place on the 2025 grid.

Two hours later we then watched as Lance Stroll rear-ended Daniel Ricciardo behind a Safety Car, ‘Oh Lance’ being the thought, before Logan Sargeant, ‘as expected’, went point-less in Shanghai.

Theo Pourchaire joined a growing list of F1 hopefuls crossing the pond

And across the pond, one driver deemed not worthy of a Formula 1 race seat delivered one of the best IndyCar debuts in recent memory as Theo Pourchaire, filling in for the injured David Malukas at Arrow McLaren, raced from 22nd on the grid to 11th at the chequered flag.

Even in his last-minute call-up he was not only the top rookie in Long Beach, but he also made the most positions gained by anyone in the race.

While Zhou spoke of the incredible support from the fans, Stroll blamed everyone but himself for his crash and Sargeant, I’m not sure what he said to be honest, Pourchaire celebrated a “very good weekend” in Long Beach.

“I was straightaway on the pace without knowing the car and the track. It’s tough, IndyCar is super fast, very bumpy tracks, one mistake and you can be in the wall there in Long Beach.

“So overall, I’m proud of my performance. I get mover of the race [most positions gained] – a small trophy, of course, it’s not the one we want, but it’s a good start.”

A good start indeed with the Frenchman, a Sauber junior once thought to be knocking on F1’s door especially after winning last year’s Formula 2 championship, as Pourchaire’s performance on Sunday has earned him a second outing in the No. 6 Chevrolet at the Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park.

Pourchaire is the latest F1 hopeful to cross the pond, joining the likes of Christian Lundgaard, Callum Ilott, and Pietro Fittipaldi on the IndyCar grid.

Don’t be surprised if this is just the beginning of a long and, by first indication, a successful IndyCar journey for the 20-year-old. IndyCar’s gain is Formula 1’s loss.

It probably should come as no surprise that in the wake of all that, one pundit said what many of us have been thinking.

Former Bridgestone engineer Kees van der Grint proclaimed to Viaplay: “It is simply a fact that half of the field does not belong in the field at all. They are there because of commercial interests, or you could say money.”

But, he added: “We have to live with that.”

Alas, we do because the system is broken.

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Although back in 2019, the 2018 Formula 2 podium finishers – George Russell, Lando Norris and Alex Albon – all stepped up into Formula 1, since then only one Formula 2 champion has progressed directly after winning the F2 title to a spot on the Formula 1 grid. That was Mick Schumacher.

Yes, Nyck de Vries and Oscar Piastri did eventually make it, but not before Nicholas Latifi, P2 to de Vries’ P1, bought his spot on the F1 grid and Zhou and his Chinese backing, third in the year that Piastri won, stepped up.

As for Felipe Drugovich, the 2022 F2 championship winner, he’s stuck in a reserve driver role behind the oldest driver on the grid in Fernando Alonso, and the son of the team owner in Stroll at Aston Martin. Stroll, even though he has been destroyed by Alonso, is expected to continue with the team next season leaving Drugovich again on the sidelines.

For Pourchaire, the long-serving Sauber junior driver’s path into Formula 1 was initially blocked by Zhou – but now it’s said to be 36-year-old Nico Hulkenberg who is standing in his way.

And they aren’t the only juniors who have been knocking on Formula 1’s door but barely given a look-in.

Last season, despite his phenomenal performances in his five substitute performances with Red Bull junior’s team last season, Liam Lawson was informed by Red Bull that there was no room in their F1 inn for 2024 – and they have four cars on the grid.

It was a decision that baffled many, one that Helmut Marko has said will be rectified next season as Red Bull are obligated to put Lawson in a Formula 1 or cut him loose. Which way that goes is anyone’s guess today as nothing in Formula 1 is guaranteed, not when there are so few seats.

That today three of those seats, one could argue four with Yuki Tsunoda’s Honda ties, go to drivers based on finances or nationality is not a good look for a sport that calls itself the pinnacle of motorsport.

That it is losing its young talent to rival series because of that is even worse.

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