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

  1. Jon said on 20th March 2008, 1:42

    F1 can not run as many races as nascar because that the drivers sit on the floor of the car and that creates tremendis pressure on the body which fatigues the driver.

  2. BJ and The Bear said on 24th March 2008, 11:06

    "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."

    Restrictor plates are used on two tracks. The reason is that the cars would do 230 MPH and would still be pretty closely packed. Imagine 20 cars in a pack going that fast and within 20 feet of a concrete wall at all times. F1 would reject those conditions too.

    And while conspiracy theorists will say that flags are thrown out just to tighten the field, it’s usually pretty easy to spot the debris or oil that causes the flag. This is simply an unavoidable result of the nature of the tracks where full course cautions must be the only variety.

  3. BJ and The Bear said on 24th March 2008, 11:10

    "Do u know that F1 cars can ever drive with only 3 wheels and on rain and with fog?"

    But it doesn’t make the races any more fun to watch.

    F1 fans invariably defend the superiority of their sport in terms that have nothing to do with the actual racing. They’ll tell you what the cars can do but the cars can do those things alone on a track. And that’s pretty much what the races are. A bunch of individual cars showing what F1 cars can do but barely competing against each other on the track.

  4. ocolet said on 22nd August 2008, 1:30

    as i see it,racing is a technical sport,one that requires the latest in engineering to be interesting,
    if seeing carburated over-head-valve engines on archaic
    chassis’go around in a circle is your thing,then go watch it.i prefer to see the worlds most advanced materials and automotive engineering with a budget only
    the united states military can exceed and applied by the
    worlds premier automotive manufactures on race circuits that only the richest people in the world prefer to go to.but maybe thats why this countries out of touch with
    the rest of the world,we think were better,not for any
    REAL reason,just becuase its funner to watch on tv.
    ps-i used to watch nascar before restrictor plates and
    speeds below 200 mph and the cars were actually based
    on real production cars,has anyone seen a rear wheel drive monti carlo lately?,lol,what a joke……

  5. who really likes cars going round in a circle.

  6. At risk of starting a war other than than being months late! Here’s a thought: due to the effort of NASCAR of keeping all things equal, car makers have little incentive for innovation. Hence the shams that the big 3 are in. What did we get from innovation in the US? Cup holders and electric windows :-) Maybe the best thing was AC.

    David: not me unless there’s plenty drifting!

  7. Plugplatz said on 29th October 2008, 0:05

    NASCAR is no more a sport than WWF. It is an engineered TV and media spectacle. It’s ultimate incarnation will to be to simply park 43 cars around the track, let the drivers sit in them and the fans file by to get autographs and stop at the merchandise stands.

  8. David Sh said on 1st December 2008, 20:15

    Edmund: you say Canada loves NASCAR? What a disgrace you are to our country to make such a statement. You should never associate your personal opinion over a country.

    By the way, I can understand why Americans don’t like Formula 1. The reason is because of the stupid NASCAR commentators who commentate the formula 1 races shown in the United States. In Canada, we get the ITV commentators who know so much about the sport.

    Nascar is marketing. Formula 1 is racing.

  9. leo said on 18th May 2009, 6:11

    NASCAR is stupid

  10. Shasta City said on 11th June 2009, 3:55

    I’m a British citizen, and find NASCAR more entertaining than any F1 race I’ve ever been to. When you are at a NASCAR race it is far more entertaining – more passes, more skill required to exceed, and a far better noise than from the F1 cars. Television doesn’t portray the actual speed and noise – fantastic!

    Also the trackview mobile video machines where you can dial in any of the racers numbers and see their stats, along with video views outside their racecars is outstanding, along with the mobile broadcast audio. They don’t have that in F1.

    Tony Stewart starting from last (due to crashing at qualifying) to finishing first at Pocono last week was brilliant.

  11. i agree with the 52 years dude…look NASCAR can be the most craziest sport in the US and the one that have more fans…but F1 is all over the world like..there is going to be more than 17 GP in 17 different countries sooo…i guesss F1 is not that boring if all that people want to c it…another thing is what is the fun in NASCAR…all the same cars driving in an OVAL shape circuit…no curves, no real ulstrapassing, but u know i can still watch is just not like F1…plp like wat they like,,and who am i to chage it

  12. ^^^^
    Lucas has bad grammar but a good point. Entertainment changes from country to country. Take the television show The Office for example the original British version was a lot different than what they air in America even though they are both written by the same crew. The same goes for racing ebtertainment, Americans don’t want their racing to change just like how the comedy in the American version of The Office is very out-dated if you ask me. We (the rest of the world) like changes in entertainment. I think it is one of the most exciting times when there are 2 brilliant formula 1 drivers going side by side and it’s only a test of skill to see who passes. Back to the analogy, American comedy is more upfront and simple and so is their racing. On the other hand as for different car templates in F1 I believe that it makes F1 not only a challenge for the drivers but EVERYONE on the teams.

  13. Jordan said on 30th September 2009, 3:30

    This is amazing…some people actually think NASCAR isn’t a sport? Same base as F1. You’ve got no point.

    NASCAR is clearly more exciting…F1 uses more strategy, most passes are made on pit road. F1′s cars are much better on road courses, but are horrible for oval tracks, which are usually overlooked as exciting. F1′s closest finish? .014 of a second. NASCAR’s? .001 of a second. a fourteenth of F1′s.

    Somehow NASCAR drivers are talented enough to know how to use a machine that isn’t as high-tech as a Formula 1 racecar. F1′s drivers are too spoiled and don’t really see much reason in downgrading. NASCAR is much safer as well as more exciting.

    In F1, the driver doesn’t win. The car does. F1 is more like Mario Kart nowadays…

    • NASCAR drivers more talented than F1 ? HA HA ! I never saw 50 yr old competing in F1 these days, wonder why .. lol

      And u call F1 drivers spoiled ? U hav no idea what sort of endurance is needed in F1.

      NASCAR is safer ? Too bad it rains on this planet. U hav no idea how safe an F1 car is for its speed and abilities. Schumi had a 200 kmph accident once when his car was tossed over a dozen feet in the air and he was back racing in a few minutes. And thats an F1 car ..

      Get some knowledge before u comment on F1.

      • Sammy said on 20th August 2010, 19:03

        NASCAR is safer? can u tell why so many recent fatalities in nascar? Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty, Tony Roper. F1 fatal crashes ends at 1994 with aryton senna’s imola crash. and nascar? not long ago,2001 with Dale Sr’s daytona 500 crash.

  14. Duster066 said on 9th November 2009, 7:11

    This debate always goes in this direction. People can be so narrow minded. Racing comes in many forms: all are different and all are good.

    If a European race fan were to take a serious look at a competitive Cup Car, the team that produced it, and the rules, and concluded it was not a world class race car they would expose themselves as ignorant.

    If a NASCAR fan watched an F1 event and failed to realize they may have just seen history being made (due to the use of some innovation that has never been tried before, or has been tried but was forgotten, or although it didn’t work 20 years ago it might work now) then they would be equally ignorant.

    Ya Nascar is a contrived show. But it’s a damned exciting show being waged by 43 bad ass race cars. And sure F1 races can be like watching a line dance, but it’s a line dance by 20 of the sexiest gals on the rock.

    I’ll take em both thank you.

  15. Darren said on 23rd January 2010, 17:04

    F1:
    Exciting, testing, extremely varied circuits.
    More skilled overtaking on varied corners.
    Far higher speeds, insanely spec’d cars.
    Team tactics, logic, strategy.
    The competition of the forefront of technology.
    Less than a second difference between the cars.
    Worldwide.

    NASCAR.
    An oval. Over and over and over and over and…
    So much overtaking it’s meaningless.
    Slower speeds. Primitive American cars.
    No tactics. Races kept bunched up.
    No push on tech. At all. Ever.
    Equality in the cars. Strive for nothing.
    American. Like pro-wrestling. Or the ‘world’ series.

    Make your own minds up.
    If your attention span will allow it…

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