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?

  1. Well given the vast differences between chassis and engines as well as fans/location. Seems to me the best way to change anything would be to score it by times- you would give up wheel to wheel racing somewhat, but you could have each car start from the pit and track the overall time for the entire race.

  2. NASCAR biggest strength (I think) is its Fan access to drivers, we get a lot of coverage (A lot from SPEED). So there are many interviews and we get to know the drivers quite well(from the front runners to the backmarkers). Many of the Cup drivers will also run in the two other touring series or for that matter another series outside of NASCAR and that is fun to see your guys race more on the weekend. There is a lot more personality that we see from the NASCAR Drivers. F1 has the tech by far but when it comes to drivers, in truth when we do see them they seem wooden. I never hear from an F1 Dirver after a wreck (within the first 1/2 hour). In NASCAR we get those guys right after they are looked over by the care center. I would like to see more fan access to F1 Drivers. I think that would help to live it up some.

    • Melanie said on 23rd February 2009, 20:37

      “I never hear from an F1 Dirver after a wreck (within the first 1/2 hour). In NASCAR we get those guys right after they are looked over by the care center. I would like to see more fan access to F1 Drivers. I think that would help to live it up some.”

      Drivers are often interviewed right after they are out of the race. If I just think back quickly to you an example from last year last; then it was properly Coulthard being interviewed right after he and Massa tangled in Melbourne, and who can forget what he said.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 20:37

      I agree completely – NASCAR’s idea of racing bores me to tears, but the broadcasting is years ahead of F1’s. In that F1 is stuck in the mid-nineties. NASCAR’s had HD since 2005, for pity’s sake.

  3. A Singh said on 23rd February 2009, 17:22

    F1 doesn’t strictly have a rival. It’s formula 1 – it’s the pinnacle of motor racing by definition.

    Instantly that weakens lesser series such as Nascar – although there may be more overtaking and the spectacle better there is less at stake.

    Hence why people watch F1 instead of F3 and the premiership instead of the championship.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 20:38

      Instantly that weakens lesser series such as Nascar – although there may be more overtaking and the spectacle better there is less at stake.

      Try pointing that out at Talladega.

      If you do I won’t be held accountable for what happens.

  4. Last year, I started watching more Le Mans series racing, as well as renewing my acquaintance with various motorcycle series.

    I do think Formula 1 has gotten staid – all the regulations have made the cars so similar they might as well be NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow”. It seems that F1 is a political squabble, briefly interrupted by the occasional race.

    Try explaining F1 to the non-fan! It’s hard. Le Mans is easier to explain – different engines, different cars, exciting road courses, brilliant and idiotic moves from the same drivers and so on. You know: what Formula 1 was before homogeneity became fashionable. 10, 12 years ago, perhaps?

    NASCAR and SpeedTV definitely know how to get the audience involved. It would be nice to see some of that in F1.

    Oddly, I’m not as excited as I used to be about watching F1; I’ll still watch it, and I hope it will be exciting. But my enthusiasm isn’t what it was. On the other hand, I am looking forward to the Le Mans racing, and am eagerly anticipating some exciting motorcycle racing.

    Carolyn Ann

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 20:40

      It seems that F1 is a political squabble, briefly interrupted by the occasional race.

      I said much the same myself on Twitter today. There’s so much wretched politicking going on it’s almost become a parody of itself.

      Frankly, we shouldn’t have to give a toss about Mosley, Ecclestone and the rest. They should be low-profile figures quietly getting their job done while we talk about the drivers and the teams.

  5. Darth Maul said on 23rd February 2009, 20:21

    WRC should be a natural competitor but is let down by the anonymous format (no 4-5 day endurance thrashes like Safari/ Monte Carlo/ Lombard RAC or Circuit of Ireland were). Now its just 9-10 stages repeated twice. The cars are boring point and squirt machines with none of the flair or variety of the RWD wild sliding Escort RS, Fiat Abarth, Stratos 911 RS of the late 70s/early 80s. Not to mention the opportunity of a local hero giant-killer now and again.

    On the real competition would have been the 90s Super tourers but they disappeared due to lack of manufacturer involvement .. deja vu for F1?

    Myself – I watch F1, A1GP (spec cars but some genuine talent that has never been picked up by FI e.g. Jani, Carroll etc), Le Mans, FIAGT, V8 Supercars, ALMS, WTCC, BTCC and British GTs…but only when the b######y awful UK scheduling allows it or I get a grainy stuttering internet feed!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2009, 20:41

      The WRC is another series the FIA has wrecked. I watched a lot of it in the mid-nineties but now the spectacle has gone from the cars and the courses. In Britain it’s on a comedy channel called Dave, which is a bit odd.

  6. Speed Demon said on 23rd February 2009, 20:38

    I’ll always have a soft spot for F1 (to the extent that I feel downright odd if I’m unable to watch it live) but I must admit it has lost a bit of its luster in the past 10 years. For me, the best racing series (that is proper racing with overtaking, thrills and spills and a bit of tactical manoeuvring to boot) remain the V8 Supercars, ALMS and GrandAm. What links them? Top notch TV coverage (well, ok, I admit the ALMS’s isn’t all that it once was, but it’s still not bad). F1 take note.

  7. Speed Channel used to be great. They covered FIA GT, WRC, and F1 on a regular basis, now its 95% NASCAR coverage.

    I would give my left arm for a channel they covered a wide variety of road racing.

    • I think that is a little overkill on the amount of coverage Speed dose. They do Motocross, Supercross, F1, GP2, AMLS, Grand-Am, WSBK, MotoGP, IHRA, AMA Bikes, 24 Hours of Daytona, and Le Mans. ARCA,World of Outlaws are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Yes there are a lot of NASCAR Related shows on SPEED and this is due to that is who watches the channel. More people watch that than not. F1 gets good coverage here. We got two talk shows about it and we have Pratice and Qualifing. FIA GT and WRC were dropped because they were not watched enough to justify keeping it. It also has many other programs that have nothing to do with NASCAR. I am a huge SPEED fan and it drives me crazy when I hear that.

  8. Robert said on 23rd February 2009, 21:58

    After watching A1GP on saturday and sunday I was shocked at how fun it was to watch it, the overtaking seemed to be pretty constant and carryed on to the last laps. However I dont like the pitlane rule and to many cars had problems with them for them.

  9. Nothing really excites me as much as F1 in the post Schumacher era, I had stopped watching it but now I can’t seem to stop. I have tried other series but given the really poor comentators of Fox Sports Latin America it becomes hard to understand what a given league is about.

  10. Chalky said on 23rd February 2009, 22:22

    F1s biggest rival is what the fans will want to watch if the FIA get it even more wrong.

    I watch as much ALMS as I do F1. I enjoy the different classes and racing that comes from it. The time slots of racing suit me better to watch it over LMS. You can’t beat some Sunday evening racing.

    I would watch WRC more if there were more manufacturers in it, but the highlights on DAVE seem to suit me fine.

    I’m not subscribed to a NASCAR or A1GP channel in the UK, otherwise I’d probably try them too. I lasted 5mins of a superleague race until I change channels, and I’m an avid motorsports fan. :) I don’t think that will threaten F1 at all.

  11. Robert McKay said on 23rd February 2009, 23:07

    “I enjoy the different classes and racing that comes from it.”

    Although I do find ALMS is masquerading a tad. Looks like there’s a load of cars, but when you break them down into each separate category there’s only a few in each and even fewer that’s truly competitive, so I always get a little disappointed. But it does have some good racing.

    Superleague Formula is a cynical concept that just simply fails to work, followed by crowds that make the stands on A1GP race days look positively brimming. Forgivable if the racing was interesting, but it’s not. Though I do find the qualifying format and the full reverse grid reasonable ideas, on paper at least.

    Agree with the comments on WTCC regarding the races being too short – on average they’re 22 minutes ferchrissake. Also agree on the comments regarding WRC picking 9 or 10 reasonably short stages and just repeating them. Poor.

    BTCC is not as good as it was, even in the late ’90’s when it’s crash was really beginning to bite, but it’s not bad. Though the reverse-grid-spinometer-decider is naff and it’s as much about drivers not liking each other as it is racing at times. I think ITV push that aspect a bit.

    Moto GP is like Formula 1 doing its best to lose its way, and probably doing an even better job if truth be told. I don’t know what happened but Moto GP 2008 bored me to tears mostly, when up until that point it was always good. A bit like WRC losing ground versus IRC, Moto GP increasingly looks vulnerable to WSBK, which is about the only series out there with increasing grids and increasing manufacturer participation. Dorna must fear Rossi ever getting antsy and doing something else.

    To be honest I don’t think there’s a lot of strength in some of the motorsport series out there. In terms of good racing, yes, but in terms of building a distinct profile, no. To use the analogy someone else used above: Sky has excellent coverage of The Championship, and distinguishes it from The Premiership well in its own right. I’m not sure motorsport does that.

  12. F1Yankee said on 24th February 2009, 1:58

    i’ve always liked the gt and lm cars.

    by the way, nascar and the reunited indy racing league use purpose-built chassis for short ovals, superspedways, and road courses. nascar hits about 200 mph on the big tracks, 220 or so for irl.

    an f1 car, in legal trim, would simply walk away with the race, needing only a low downforce setup. if any of the f1 manufacturers optimized (not custom build) a chassis for daytona or talladega, we’d see speeds well over 250, maybe 275 if the tires don’t give out.

  13. In a way, spec series ARE more exciting, as closer racing is inevitble. A1 GP for eg has heaps of passing and is a great series that should get more support.

    Hoever, F1 is still the pinnacle of motor sport and so it should remain

  14. teamorders said on 24th February 2009, 5:39

    F1 has no rival, not in the world of motor sport anyway.

  15. GO kart jo said on 24th February 2009, 10:41

    i think the series with the potential to become as good as f1 was Champ car world series, they were slowly penetrating the previous f1 venues and most importantly the european market before they went bust. i like the A1 gp and Le Mans. indycars is a joke and will be until someone other than HONDA sponsores them. nascar really is a joke. i’d rather watch tin cans tied to a back of a truck

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