What is F1?s biggest rival?

A1 Grand Prix raced at the former Grand Prix venue Kyalami last weekend

A1 Grand Prix raced at the former Grand Prix venue Kyalami last weekend

For many people motor racing means Formula 1. For evidence of that, see how many news sites list ??F1? in their sports sections instead of ??motor sport?.

But F1 is not the only international racing series. Which championship comes closest to matching F1?s intoxicating blend of speed, glamour and cutting edge technology?


For many Americans, motor racing equals NASCAR and nothing else. As a country it is by no means unique in having a majo racing championship that is even more popular than Formula 1 – Australia has its V8 Supercars, for example – but the NASCAR racing philosophy is uniquely American and wholly unlike F1.

In short, technical innovation is extremely limited to guarantee close racing, and the championships consists almost entirely of ovals.

Despite the gulf between the two disciplines a few recent F1 drivers have given it a shot including Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Speed. Montoya has been vocally enthusiastic about how NASCAR places greater emphasis on driving skill than the technical quality of his car. Perhaps tellingly, no NASCAR has yet tried moving to Formula 1.

But the days when F1 designers had a free reign are fading further into the past. With every new restriction on freedom of design comes the accusation that F1 is growing ever more like NASCAR.

NASCAR?s popularity is largely confined to the United States but Ecclestone isn?t taking any chances. He is now involved in running the Speedcar series alongside several GP2 Asia rounds using cars that bear a strong resemblance to NASCAR machines.

(I’ve written before about What F1 can learn (and forget) about NASCAR and Clive also wrote about it recently).

A1 Grand Prix

Could the NASCAR philosophy of single-specification car design work as a formula for an international single-seater series? A1 Grand Prix, now in its fourth season, is an attempt to do that, dressed up as a nation-versus-nation concept in the same vein as the football world cup.

Serious questions have been asked about A1?s organisational structure and long-term financial viability. Already this season three rounds have been cancelled at Mugello, Lippo and Mexico City. Several cars were missing from the first race.

The concept has a moderate following but is not yet in a position to challenge Formula 1. That said, Ferrari?s involvement in the championship adds a new political dimension to the dispute between Ecclestone, Max Mosley, and the Formula One Teams? Association, headed by Ferrari?s Luca di Montezemolo.

More about A1 Grand Prix

Le Mans Series

Allan McNish in the Le Mans 24 Hour-winning Audi R10 TDi

Allan McNish in the Le Mans 24 Hour-winning Audi R10 TDi

On the face of it, the Le Mans Series has the most in common with Formula 1.

It runs an international calendar which, although much shorter than Formula 1?s, includes one of the world?s best-known races: the Le Mans 24 Hours. However the length of its race is likely to limit its mass appeal and impair its ability to get much TV time on mainstream channels.

Comparatively relaxed technical regulations means the top teams build their own cars. It even allows for competition between different engine types (Aston Martin?s petrol V12 will challenge the dominant Audi and Peugeot turbodiesels at Le Mans this year) something F1 hasn?t seen since the mid-90s.

The spiritual predecessor to the modern Le Mans Series was the World Sportscar Championship. It boasted strong grids, excellent races and a rapidly expanding international calendar ?ǣ visiting Malaysia in 1985, 14 years before F1 did. The demise of that championship in the early 1990s, when it boasted manufacturer backing from Toyota, Peugeot, Mercedes, Jaguar and Nissan, was blamed by some on Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone’s desire to eliminate a potential rival to F1.

Indy Car

Tony Kanaan racing at Detroit

Tony Kanaan racing at Detroit

In its heyday IndyCar was a credible rival to F1, but its infamous split in 1995 ruined a once great championship. This just two years after it could boast three F1 champions – including reigning title holder Nigel Mansell – among its front runners.

In its current form Indy Car is a spec series, with identical chassis and engines. The governing body is looking to reintroduce an element of competition between the engine builders, but thanks to the recession this won?t happen until 2012 at the earliest.

But it is still the home of the most highly-developed single seater racers outside of Formula 1. Its calendar may be limited to the United States, but by taking in races on road courses, street courses and ovals, the breadth of its challenge is arguably even greater than F1?s.

F1 has never been shy to pinch ideas off Indy Car racing ?ǣ safety cars and refuelling, for example. It can still learn a few things about how to involve fans at race weekends, and how to offer content via the internet.

FIA GT series

Ex-F1 driver Karl Wendlinger drives an Aston Martin in the FIA GT series

Ex-F1 driver Karl Wendlinger drives an Aston Martin in the FIA GT series

On paper, you?d think the FIA GT championship would be one of the most popular racing championships going. It?s packed with the kind of exotic supercars mere mortals rarely see outside of episodes of Top Gear: Lamborghini Murcielagos, Aston Martin DB9s, Ferrari F430s, Maserati MC12s and more.

The GT calendar is very Euro-centric but is moving into exciting new territory. By taking advantage of its less onerous safety requirements it can race in places where F1 cannot follow ?ǣ like the stunning Potrero de los Funes track in San Luis, Argentina.

Its not difficult to imagine the FIA GT series becoming much more popular if it was promoted more widely.

Do you follow any rival racing series to F1? Which ones are as good as F1 ?ǣ or better? Have your say in the comments.

Read more: What F1 can learn from other racing series

Visit Maximum Motorsport for more on these and many other motor racing series

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54 comments on What is F1?s biggest rival?

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  1. Brendan said on 23rd February 2009, 8:33

    Actually, the IndyCars go to the oval at Motegi, Japan every year, mostly to keep Honda happy. Also, they had a non-points race at Surfers Paradise last year (formerly a Champ Car event), but A1GP will be taking that slot from this year on.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 8:46

      True, but for all intents and purposes this is an American championship that has one round in Japan because that’s where it gets its engines from.

    • Indeed, most of the races are here in the U.S., but they also will have two events in Canada this season, the Edmonton Airport holdover from the CART days, as well as the return of the Toronto street race.

  2. A1 Boss, Tony Teixeria, accuses F1 of slowly becoming what A1 is – a spec series.


    Somehow, I think he’s flattering himself.

    To me, there’s no rival to F1. Unless it resembles more like a spec-series.

    • Certainly Teixeira’s comments provoked an outburst of laughter hereabouts – so he personally invented spec series, did he?

      A1GP has just provided a bloody good weekend’s entertainment – marred by the fact that it was unable to provide the necessary parts for its teams’ cars and marred several of their races as a result.

      And now no more action until April because of one cancelled race and one that never even got itself arranged.

      We enjoy A1GP a lot – but don’t really believe anyone should honestly be taking lessons from Teixeira on organisation…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 20:28

      A1’s in a bit of a state at the moment, but Kyalami showed it can still produce proper racing (despite the stupid pit window rules).

  3. patrickl said on 23rd February 2009, 8:53

    F1 seems to be taking idea’s from A1GP (boost, medals), but A1GP isn’t a real rival since they run at different times.

    Personally I used to follow the World Rally Championship, but I can’t follow it live anymore. Same with Indycar (or whatever it was called at the time) and DTM.

    I used to follow a lot of auto sport, but these days only F1 seems to be properly televised. There just isn’t much fun in seeing last weeks race.

  4. I really like A1GP. The camera angles the emotion in races..the coverage, the fact that i could see a live feed from the internet..it doesn’t have the same raw power and the human side that first drawn me to F1 years ago..

  5. David said on 23rd February 2009, 9:42

    The A1GP series deserves a lot more credit for what it has achieved. Yesterday’s races were terrific to watch. Unfortunately the ‘F1 media’ – who should really be ‘international motorsport media’ cannot be bothered to lift their heads out of the F1 trough.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 20:31

      In their defence, F1 sells. I had a chat with Simon Taylor a couple of weeks ago and he was explaining how if Autosport put something other than F1 on their cover they can guarantee sales will drop by X%.

      Look how much traffic this site gets compared to Maximum Motorsport (my other site). Of course to an extent its self-perpetuating – I know F1 Fanatic will do better, so I put more time into it, so it does even better, etc…

  6. I don’t think there is a rival for Formula One. Although certain series have similar or better racing, provides a similar or better technical challenge, sees the best drivers in the world competing, or have a similar history or heritage, there’s no series that hase all four. And that’s what attracts me to F1.

  7. I hope A1GP can weather the downturn although I do find it a little boring prescriptive and dare I say unoriginal. A1GP online fan accessibility in terms of live timing, dashboard, and live video streaming is great and far surpasses F1.com who are yet again left playing catch-up, that is assuming they actually care which I suspect they don’t.

    I also enjoy watching Indy Car especially when they are on circuits as opposed to ovals and I guess the same applies to Nascar. As for the other series I may glance at them very occasionally but I prefer open wheel single seater racing in general.

    On another note, I’ve now tried several times, alas without luck unfortunately, to create an profile on Nascar’s site as this is seemingly the only way to receive updates. I’ve tried inputting US and UK information but still no luck. My only guess why this isn’t working is that they don’t like hotmail address’s but other than that does anyone know what the secret might be…

  8. Robert McKay said on 23rd February 2009, 10:18

    “I don’t think there is a rival for Formula One.”

    I tend to agree.

    CART/Champcar in the 90’s wasn’t bad as a rival but limited to North America, and anyway it fell apart too and the reunited-IRL isn’t anything like the threat.

    NASCAR is strong but its appeal is not ever going to go as global as Formula 1 is.

    LMS/ALMS is too built around a single race to be a real rival and endurance racing is always going to be more niche anyway, I think.

    World Rally fell apart just as it looked like it could become at least as recognisable as a “brand”, and now it’s got more worries just staying ahead of the IRC.

    A1GP is still far too young, unknown and generally poorly organised to be considered a rival, although maybe some years down the line it will.

    Biggest likely rival is if the teams decide they’ve had enough and go it alone, and the FIA try to hang on to the Formula 1 name and do a lot of work on some rival series.

  9. MartinW said on 23rd February 2009, 10:26

    The basic reason why so many other forms of motorsport have not got the following of F1 is that Bernie blocked the transmission of them on television through the 80s when he got the TV rights, thanks to Max and teh permission of restrictive contracts. This has prevented a fan base build-up which has damaged a number of alternative forms in the public eye. This may not be true for true fans who love the sport, but in terms of general publicity, the blocking of these other formats has channelled the advertising through Bernie’s product. The Monopolies Commission should have been involved 20 years ago!

    • patrickl said on 24th February 2009, 10:01

      Yeah, that’s sadly true. A Dutch TV channel was showing all Indycar races live. Yet when they signed a deal with F1 they were no longer allowed to show Indycar.

      Ecclestone really plays a sordid game there.

  10. Before the credit crunch, only the WRC was a credible rival to F1 in terms of popularity – in Britain at least. But rallying has been hit by the economic collapse much harder than F1 – so no, there aren’t really any rivals. Touring cars used to be pretty good, but all the teams are withdrawing from that too.

    • I haven’t been reading much about Touring Cars recently, and I was going to say that WTCC ought to be as big a crowd puller as F1 in Europe at least. But if the teams are in trouble now, it will be just as bad as WRC or DTM.
      I do think the LMS and GT series do have more pulling power, and disagree that they are only centred on one race, as each event is a reminder of what racing used to be, and the cars themselves have names going back to the earliest days of motor racing (which cannot be said of F1 anymore)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 20:34

      WTCC has been very bad over the last couple of years because the success ballasting has made it a complete joke. However they’re changing that significantly this year, and hopefully we’ll see some better races.

      That said, the (Kumho) tyres are still far too grippy (compare it to the BTCC, where they use less grippy Dunlops and the racing is infinitely better) and the race distances far too short for a series with ‘world championship’ pretensions.

  11. You forgot Superleague Formula! How could you forget Superleague Formula?

    But seriously, Lustigson nailed it earlier in this thread. Some series do bits of it as well, or better, than F1. But no-one nails everything across the board quite as well, despite the problems.

  12. Adrian said on 23rd February 2009, 12:32

    I assume we’re ignoring 2 wheeled series…

  13. @ Adrian
    Well, MotoGP could be the only true threat to F1. It has the top riders, the technical challenge, the heritage AND the racing.

  14. Pingguest said on 23rd February 2009, 14:03

    Currently Formula 1 has no big rival, but is making itself to have one. The series is rapidly developing itself towards bcoming one of many spec series.

  15. MotoGP is the only thing close…

    IRL is ok, but ovals are just so boring to watch…everyone pits at the same time as well.

    WRC possibly, but it is longer televised…even on speed.

    Nascar makes me fall asleep…4-5 hour races? 5 laps of caution for a spin? no thanks.

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