F1 vs NASCAR

Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren-Mercedes, Imola, 2006Juan Pablo Montoya shocked the F1 world by leaving the series for NASCAR. 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneueve praised the move and is rumoured to be thinking of following him if he cannot hold onto his BMW seat.

NASCAR boasts gigantic audiences in the United States and dominates the US motor racing scene with vastly more fans than the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series. But some suggest it is too contrived to even be called a sport.

How does it compare to Formula One?


“I don’t cover hillbilly wrestling on wheels.” Those wore the words of American racing correspondent Robin Miller in last week’s Autosport. He was referring to NASCAR and though that sentiment may not be one shared by most Americans it is certainly one many Europeans would subscribe to.

NASCAR is a world apart from Formula One. Both are enormously popular but they sit at opposite ends of the motor sport spectrum.

Just consider the machinery they use. Formula One cars are relentlessly high-tech: light (605kg) chassis, high-revving engines, intricate and sophisticated aerodynamics, electronic driver aids such as traction control, the list goes on.

NASCAR’s closed-wheel vehicles are built to an identical silhouette template so that none of the manufacturers has an advantage over the other. The cars are enormously heavy (1540 kg) and the mechanics of them are far simpler – steel tube-frame chassis and manual gearboxes are the order of the day here. They still run on leaded petrol.

But that’s not the greatest difference between the two. No – what really separates them, and what should trouble the likes of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley the most, is that NASCAR serves up constant racing and overtaking week in, week out.

Formula One cannot compete with that. So dependent are the F1 cars on their aerodynamics that overtaking is virtually impossible, as has been clear in a string of catatonically dull Grands Prix this year.

F1 may straddle the globe, unlike US-centric NASCAR, but the racing it imported to Sepang, Imola, Barcelona, Silverstone, Indianapolis and Magny-Cours this year was hardly first-class.

The racing in NASCAR may be close, but it is entirely artificial. Restrictor plates are used to limit speeds to keep te pack tightly bunched. Cautions (‘safety car periods’ in F1 parlance) are often thrown simply to close the field up again and give drivers the chance to pass.

The championship system is tweaked to keep interest in the title alive to the end of the season. The ‘chase for the championship’ runs over the last few races of the season and allows only the top ten driver before the start of the chase the chance to challenge for the title. Again, it’s entertaining, but it erodes the sporting purity of the contest.

It’s easy to mock the sporting value of NASCAR. The endless inconsequential changes of positions, spurious caution periods and the knowledge that only the final few laps can decide an event make the long races incredibly dull.

If F1 suffers from a dearth of overtaking, NASCAR suffers just as badly from an excess of it.

What NASCAR does get right and what F1 can learn from is how it treats its spectators. There are vastly more opportunities for NASCAR fans to see the drivers. The 36-race championship calendar and enormous, F1-dwarfing grids (over 40 cars) means there’s far more action to begin with.

NASCAR is not a model for the future of F1. But each has plenty it can learn from the other. I am an unashamed Formula One fan and while I criticise its flaws I can still enjoy it for what it is.

But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be much better.

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70 comments on F1 vs NASCAR

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  1. I’m sorry but in a NASCAR race they never throw the yellow flag “simply to close the field up again and give drivers the chance to pass”

    • Fred said on 8th May 2011, 21:33

      The Grand Prix of Turkey in Istanbul was on this afternoon. Darlington had its race in the Nascar Sprint Cup series yesterday. Comparing the action in F1 to that in Nascar, F1 cars are getting weaker as time goes on. Smaller eninges, even more limited horsepower (300 bhp), its made F1 look so weak that the engine noise isnt attractive. Sorry F1 but Nascar is doing it for me. WRC got lame when the economy crashed.

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th November 2006, 16:36

    I disagree – there is plenty of evidence to support the belief that ‘debris cautions’ are regularly used to help drivers get back on the lead lap.

    • Michael Brittan said on 19th May 2009, 3:42

      Those who are sure are provong nothing, but their own arrogance. There are no right or wrong answers in mattaers of personal taste.

  3. Ray Dean Carpenter said on 25th February 2007, 15:28

    I am a 52 year old from the great state of North Carolina, USA.
    I am also ashamed of NASCAR being associated with the us. NASCAR is great entertainment, but that’s all I can get out of it. Four hours of commercials with a handful of wrecks to keep viewers tuned in. That seems to be what Americans want to see, wrecks I mean. Also cheating. We have to try cheating whenever possible. And rule changes. Rules apply to the driver, not the drivers as a whole. There is no consistency at all in which NASCAR is officiated, case in point is the finish of the Daytona 500 last week. Pure entertainment. Don’t take it too seriously, you might find yourself watching wrestling. In short, I wish there were more F1 races, with a few more in the US. A lot of racing enthusiasts from the US don’t realize cars can race in the rain! Without a top and windshield!
    Come on Melbourne, it has been a long winter and I’m ready for the REAL racing to begin.

  4. DLF38 said on 25th March 2007, 1:23

    You’re kidding right!? Have you seen the Car of Tomorrow. What a low – tech device! Oh and is it a problem that in NASCAR they RACE instead of drive around in completely unequal cars, so far apart its not even funny. The very similar templates and no advantages are why NASCAR has over 75 million fans and is the the 2nd most popular sport in the United States. F1 is enough to bore me to sleep. Listen to Juan Montoya, he says he probably wont watch them again. I wonder why. People dont wanna watch a “race” where after 5 laps you are almost guarenteed whos going to win. Lets take Indy from the NASCAR Nextel Cup series and Formula 1. Do you remember that race. There were almost as many fans in the stands as there were cars on the track. Oh and how many cars were on the track…wasnt it 8. The Cup race showed a good entertaining race..and thats why 200,000 people showed up.
    Pure entertainment…,is that bad…oh I guess 75 million is bad too. NASCAR is racing. I cant say that much for F1.

    • Eirik said on 9th March 2011, 19:01

      Well in comparison to your 75 million do F1 attract around 600 million spectators world wide for each race. And it is the second most popular sport in the world after football(not NFL but the sport where the foot kicks the ball, or what you will call soccer)

    • alex said on 3rd May 2011, 20:58

      key word there is “In the US”. no one else in the world likes nascar, so you guys can keep your boring sports for youself. im glad we dont have nascar in europe.

    • Alex said on 18th March 2012, 19:36

      For starters I am an F1 fan, but just because of that, I am not going to say, F1 is better, because all have their strengths and weakness. However u have got to look at things on a drivers standpoint….
      Top Speed:
      Nascar= 212mph 19000+ rpm
      F1- 243mph 18000+ rpm

      Nascar usually races in an oval and occasionally a “curved track”.
      F1, has constantly changing, and challenging track races. They also race in the rain. Open cockpit… etc.
      F1 has more downforce and better technology.
      F1 has a bigger race history (been around longer).
      Now… F1 requires better driving, the tracks are more challenging and, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to watch people drive as fast as they can in an oval for 300 laps. I find that boring. But… modern F1 can also get boring, with uneven race cars, and how some cars are superior to other cars, and restrictions, etc…. blah. Trust me, after a while even I change the channel.
      So in a way anybody with some practice can drive as fast as u can in a oval, or a straight line. There is a high amount of skill to that, but compared to an f1 track like Monaco, well that just can’t be beat. The skill level goes out the window. Now every body has their own opinions on who’s better and whatnot but at the end of the day when u put all the facts together F1 requires better drivers, has more difficult tracks, requires more skill, their cars are faster in a straight line, and around the corners, and they have better handling and tech. So I would say car and driver wise, that F1 requires more skill, and therefore is better.
      Now I have had the pleasure to drive a car as fast as I wanted on a track closed course. It was amazing, nothing is funner than tearing your car around the corners and just feeling the g forces, and car around your body. Being 1 with the car. It is so much fun to take a sharp 35 mph turn at say 60… or more. That is satisfying.
      I NEVER got that feeling driving around in an oval. Don’t care if I was going 200. There just wasn’t that feeling.

      Food for thought: This was video taped and documented:
      F1 vs Nascar who is fastest around the track and turns.
      F1 did the track at 1 min 34 sec
      Nascar did it in 1 min 47 sec.
      The testers then brought the drivers to a turn on the track and gave them 5 tries to take that turn as fast as they could.
      Nascar had an average of 90 mph aprox. The maximum safe speed.
      F1 did it at 160 mph. That’s Downforce.

  5. goody944 said on 5th April 2007, 15:17

    i am a nascar fan and i saw one disleading thing about the restrictor plates the author makes it sound like they use them on all the tracks. they only use them at daytona and talladega and yes while it does draw them together it is also used to keep the speeds down. but also racing is racing to me i do prefer nascar because i think it is way more competitive even without the restrictor plates

  6. Vlad said on 2nd May 2007, 16:56

    Do u know that F1 cars can ever drive with only 3 wheels and on rain and with fog? Nascars don’t even race when there’s rain. This video at minute 2:15 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0OmnaC7_6c&mode=related&search= . Check the cornering power in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu9T9B1Rg00 .

  7. James said on 28th May 2007, 2:22

    This was one of the worse articles i have ever read

  8. Dan M said on 15th June 2007, 16:20

    Well again there is a reason for the speeds and technology to be lowered. Oval racing is dangerous, there are no run offs and you don’t slow down to under 100MPH for a turn…. If M Shu died in his prime (lets say 2001) then I’m sure more would be done to keep F1 cars in check as they were when Senna died. As long as there are ovals there with be Euro-haters…

    On that note, I would love to see an entire series of NASCAR inspired cars that run an entire road course schedule. The races at Walkins Glen and Sears Point are always fun to watch even if they are slower then F1 or GT cars.

    Heres an idea, instead of the two sides fighting over which series is better, why don’t you try to see the others point of view and improve both series.

  9. Come on Dan! Use our brains and be open minded? I live in the mid west and this is not the prevailing mind set here! This year is really the first year I am watching a little more NASCAR and although it’s fun to watch, it kills my purist attitude that the yellow flags seem to happen with 10 laps to go. F1 has lots to learn from NASCAR but F1 is still the most exciting…

  10. This is to the person who comment number is 8 f1 can race in the rain because the cars aren’t heavy like the NASCAR mabe if they just lined up and didn’t pass other cars like f1 than they would be alright but the cars are to heavy for rain tires

  11. Logan, I thought the reason NASCAR don’t race in the rain is because they principally race on ovals, where it’s too dangerous to race in the rain (they don’t in the IRL and never did in CART). For the tiny number of road courses on the NASCAR calendar it isn’t worth the expense of having wet weather tyres.

  12. edmund said on 13th December 2007, 9:15

    Canada here…I love both NASCAR and f1 along with other types of racing. each is unique and neither is better than the other. europe lacks the fans that American sports generates…to attend a NASCAR race is an experiance that wont soon be forgotten!
    and football you mention? well we (and America) calls it soccer…have you forgotten the American victory when they took home the Cup recently?
    Arguing about somethingthat is like apples and oranges is pretty lame…..but!, Canada loves NASCAR.

    • swap said on 6th May 2010, 6:44

      @edmund:
      Well, its not about just America or Europe.
      I would say, arroud the world, F1 has got more fans than NASCAR, reason being you can go the races in Europe, Asia, Aus, Canada, Gulf countries.
      Well I have seen the NASCAR race on TV, but I have seen F1 night race LIVE at Singapore right on the local STREETS of singapore, this even happens in MONACO too. I cannot compare the enthusiasm with this one to NASCAR. Fan following is much more than what you can find in NASCAR.
      You can have a small pocket TV to see the actual positions of the drivers and to watch the race.

      Talking about F1, its more strategic, reason being the PIT STOP strategy.
      Hard and Soft Compound types, Dry and wet tyres, num of pit stops, aerodynamic changes, Fuel carrying strategy, same engine with 2 different teams but tuning makes the difference, lots of TURNS and not just curvy circuit.

      All I can say, F1 is more interesting than NASCAR. American people will be amused to see F1 race if F1 comes to America.I don’t know much about CANADA,

      • J.H. said on 11th August 2012, 4:31

        I’m an American, and I’ve been following F1 for a long time. I can never get into NASCAR because it’s too Southern, the oval tracks, and those stupid invocations before the race. And no, I don’t make over $40,000.00/year.

  13. Tommy B said on 9th February 2008, 11:29

    F1 > Indy Car > Nascar

  14. Since I live within a reasonably short drive of the NASCAR circut at Pocono, I have a great chance twice a year to get a good grasp of how the series is percieved among race fans. For many Americans, NASCAR is a love-it or hate-it type of thing. For fans of the series, it offers plenty of overtaking and crashes galore. However, in the minds of critics, it’s a bunch of guys turning left all day and talking in southern drawls in the press conferences.

    For those of you outside the US, NASCAR is a perfect example of what pleases the average American. manyus love pairity and giving everyone an equal chance- hence the salary cap in popular sports such as the NFL. Putting all the constructors on equal footing is what many fans want- they are far more concerned with driver skill than engineering genius.

    The chase for the championship was a great PR tool for NASCAR- it helped make early-season races more meaningful in the eyes of many fans. American fans would love an F1 season like the most recent, where three drivers had a real shot at the title going into the final race.

    Finally, having many races on the schedule is a very good thing for NASCAR- in the case of Pocono, the series makes two stops at the circut every season, creating a hit with local businesses. Obviously running so many races around the world in F1 would be far more difficult in terms of logistics than for NASCAR on one continent. I keep wondering just how many races the F1 teams can run, and hoping the USGP will return before Bernie decides there’s too many.

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