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. Gino Xuereb said on 11th May 2011, 8:59

    After reading these comments I thought I should have another look at NASCAR to see if I had made a poor judgment with regards to the merits of NASCAR and how it compares in some ways to formula1. I also did some reading on it from the net. As far as racing a car is concerned formula1 is at the top of the game and I believe one of the main reasons for this is that there is a constant push in formula1 to improve the car so that it is best placed to beat the rest. It’s a constant struggle and the money and effort that is put in to achieve this goal is truly amazing. This kind of competition between teams and manufactures is what ensures formula1 stays at the top of motor sport. I would urge anyone who is a NASCAR fan to read formula1 news and stories and watch at least 5 qualifiers and grand prix and then make a judgment call. I would say it is also very important to listen to what the commentators are saying. If its the BBC you are watching you will be literally spoilt with excellent informed opinions from top experts from the game itself and top sports journalists.
    After finding out everything I could about NASCAR and viewing this motor sport where possible(which isn’t so readily available here in England) once again, I came to the very same decision as I had in the past. NASCAR is not of the same quality as formula1, not on any level.

  2. katie_S said on 30th October 2011, 10:44

    Er, to all those people who think that F1 is all about the car and not about driver skill, go watch some footage of the driver view during a race. It’s dizzying how fast those corners come up, and being so low to the ground the drivers can be almost blind of the approach, you forget that with the amazing technology that allows the cars to perform so well comes a need for an amazing level of skill and reaction time to control it. Honestly the speed at which these cars maneuver a non oval track in any weather is mind blowing. Seriously go watch footage from the driver camera. That is all.

  3. Tony said on 24th March 2012, 6:41

    This is one of the most offensing articles I have ever read, completly biased. NASCAR is much more entertaining than F1 racing. An F1 race may have one or two battles for the lead, and not to much side by side racing, BORING! I enjoy watching great race car drivers race side by side in fairly evenly matched cars, not the follow the leader racing in sophisticated f1 cars that pretty much take the driver out of the equation with traction control (in a race car ***). I tried to like f1 but there is not enough “racing”. Multiple battles for the lead, trading paint (bumping is allowed), wrecks (should not be easy to win, you can be taken out for no reason of your own), and passion, that is what makes NASCAR better.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 24th March 2012, 6:43

      F1 cars haven’t had traction control for about five years.

    • tonito said on 7th March 2013, 0:19

      Bumping is allowed? I guess watching the olympics 400m dash with bumping allowed would be entertaining… I give you that much. But really, would it be too hard for the circuits to be a little more exciting that a dumb oval? (you can describe it with a simple mathematical equation!).

  4. Jeffo said on 13th May 2012, 15:51

    I enjoy a good road race but there is a saying in my neck of the woods, “If you’re skerd, say your skerd”. I think F1 fans are scared. Nascar is a young sport, 15 years ago most people outside the Southeast US weren’t huge NASCAR fans. Take “Days of Thunder” for instance, Tom Cruise says he wants to make a name for himself so he can race at Indy. Nascar didn’t go toIindianapolis then. The Indy 500 was “America’s Race” but once they opened up the brickyard to Nascar: Chicago, Las Vegas, even Los Angeles are all Nascar hotbeds. Why? Because it is easy to get into. These people start out on dirt tracks, move to paved tracks and they can compete because like it or not Nascar has a formula.

    Think of it like cricket or football, you don’t have to be rich to get started in the sport like you do in F1. Put down Nascar for the low tech approach if you must but by relying on the driver to decipher what the car is doing opposed to banks of computers, you are making it a workingclass sport and it has F1 terrified. Don’t think F1 doesn’t look at how popular “track days” have become in Europe and see the comparison to Nascar’s early days. It’s like blue jeans and rock and roll, it’s for the masses not the elite.

    In regards to ovals, they aren’t flat, they have complex geometry and surfaces that change consitantcies with wear and weather conditions . Restrictor plates were introduced after horrific crashes occured at the “Super Speedways”. Also the reason there are so many cautions at the end of Nascar races has more to do with cars slamming into each other fighting for position. Something that would confuse an F1 fan.

  5. Greg Lyle (@duster066) said on 11th August 2012, 4:55

    This darn thread has more life than a cat! Guess I should make my 2 year post. lol

    The last two F1 seasons have been the most exciting I can remember in nearly 30 years of watching. What has change? NASCAR type rules changes that’s what. I would hope they are about finished with the changes, because I love F1 for the technology challenges. But a few reasonable rules to make it a better show has worked IMO. Now we have the best cars and teams in racing, and we have some real on track racing. That’s a win win from this Yanks perspective. But BRING BACK REFUELING! That rule guts so much strategy and crew skill it’s a show killer.

    Cheers mates
    Greg, Washington state

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