Regular F1 Fanatic commenter Robert McKay has written a guest article looking at what F1 can learn from NASCAR – a subject we’ve looked at here before. Here’s his take on America’s favourite motor sport.
I’ve recently started watching Sky’s NASCAR coverage.
Readers of Keith’s other blog, Maximum Motorsport, will know he’s a bit annoyed that Sky TV chooses NASCAR over the recently reunited Indy Car series for live coverage when they clash. It’s a strange decision given that NASCAR has always proven a bit impenetrable for the UK audience and that Indy Car is more recognisable to F1 followers. But that’s Sky for you.
I’m finding it hard to love, and so I’ll add the disclaimer that this is only personal preference and not an attack on NASCAR…
If you happen to like it, great – different strokes for different folks. In my view, the racing is repetitive, there’s actually too much overtaking. I know, it sounds impossible, when you consider the discussion on the state of racing in F1, but trust me on this.
And it just seems largely random who wins. Yes it’s very complex, and probably there are reasons why this is the case, but the endless full-course yellows effectively randomise most races.
So there are plenty of things F1 should ignore – spec cars with technology that’s years behind road cars, racing on oval tracks, is not going to be very interesting to most F1 fans.
However, there are a few things Formula 1 can learn from NASCAR.
First, NASCAR promotes itself extremely well. I think it’s a bit like Premiership football in this country, in that the product is not always all it’s made out to be, but they do such a good job of selling the sport to the media that they and the general public seem to lap it up.
NASCAR is HUGE business in the States. The recent All-Star shootout had a purse for a single race of over a million dollars just for the winner! Because the sport is so well-marketed, there is no shortage of sponsors at all: some teams even rotate the sponsor’s logos on a race-by-race basis because they can sell the space over so many times.
There’s plenty (if not more) money floating around F1, but it seems to evaporate down expensive holes like ridiculously opulent motorhomes, endless, pointless testing, and silly technological “advances” (my favourite being, as Max explained once, the teams continual quest to reduce the weight of the car as much as possible, so they can replace this with the most expensive ballast money can buy).
Formula 1’s attempts at branding itself looks amateurish in comparison. Consider the horrifically expensive carbon-fibre mousemats no-one buys, the struggle to get a new Formula 1 video game on the shelves, and the rather dismal official F1 website.
NASCAR puts the driver at the heart of the action: they are the stars, and the personalities to boot. Before the All-Star race there was a segment when all the drivers and their crew are introduced to the cheering public with a huge fanfare.
It was terribly cheesy, but compare with Formula 1: the FIA have taken to putting a naff little photo on the grid graphic before the race, because people have very little feel indeed for who drivers like Nick Heidfeld actually are… as an effort to connect the heroes we see wrestling these supercars around the circuits of the world with the personalities off it, it’s absolutely pitiful. The driver’s parade, where a few uninterested dots miles away stand and talk to each other on a truck moving way from you, is equally naff.
OK the over-the-top approach would probably not work well outside America. But most of the Grand Prix drivers might as well be Top Gear’s Stig for all we see of them without their helmets on. Why not broadcast the drivers’ briefing at a Grand Prix weekend?
Big grids, more races
NASCAR grids are huge, about double F1’s increasingly anorexic fields. Qualifying for a race actually means something – it’s an achievement to get in the field, unlike F1’s process of arranging everyone who turns up.
Many of the drivers will also happily race the Sprint Cup, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series all in the same weekend. It’s roughly equivalent to Raikkonen getting in and driving the GP2 races after F1 qualifying is over, just for the hell of racing. I’m sure most drivers in F1 would love that, and Lewis Hamilton has even said he would.
And NASCAR’s guys are less afraid of having a rant, say what they feel, tell it like it is: something increasingly rare in F1’s ultra-professional, clinical environment.
What I also like about NASCAR is that, with such a big calendar (nearly 40 races), there is scope for changing the format, trying different race structures etc. Yes, it’s artificial, and yes, it’s probably needed as all that oval racing (there are only two road courses) gets repetitive, but wouldn’t it be great to see F1 also having non-championship races, like it did years ago?
Races where the drivers can go out and have fun and not worry about the consequences of a DNF because every point counts in the championship? Races with an opportunity to temporarily change the format, without upsetting the championship?
A couple of non-championship F1 races in the winter months could surely be achieved. Good for marketing, good for racing, good for the increasing number of tracks clamouring for a race… No-one’s looking for a NASCAR calendar – it’s just too long – but if F1 is going to spend so much racing these cars let’s use a few more opportunities.
And while we’re at it, let’s get a NASCAR level of TV coverage.
The ability to follow three of four cars at the pitstops with split-screen coverage, the gaps between drivers updated in real-time, the plethora of extra, rotatable, onboard cameras… these are not and should not be beyond F1, but Bernie seems unable (or unwilling, after the pay-TV debacle of a few years back) to provide this level of coverage.
If there’s a message creeping through here, it’s this: I don’t like NASCAR’s racing – it doesn’t do anything for me at all – and a lot of the things it does get right it overdoes. But if F1 could adopt some of the things I’ve mentioned, even on a much smaller scale, I think the sport would be all the better for it.
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