When it comes to professional car racing, NASCAR and Formula 1 are the two prime competitions. They have developed dramatically different ways of having cars race. The US version, NASCAR, favors technologically equal cars competing with each other on mostly oval racecourses, while European Formula 1 allows teams to innovate their engineering to give themselves the upper hand on curvy tracks. Which one is truly the highest form of racing?
NASCAR is a nail-biting battle with constant bumper-to-bumper action. Every driver has a good chance of winning, rather than following what often seems to be a pre-determined hierarchy in Formula 1. Without a major technological advantage, NASCAR drivers’ talent is on full display. No one simply wins because their machine is faster. NASCAR drivers never stop duelling each other for every inch, with a takeover possible at any moment.
In fact, in Formula 1, overtaking is frustratingly rare because the cars’ aerodynamics make doing so incredibly difficult. Whereas vehicles like those in NASCAR create a slipstream that gives those behind them a slight speed advantage, Formula 1 cars are designed to prevent this. Often one of them holds pole position for the whole duration of the race, making the outcome more predictable and therefore less exciting.
It’s the people’s motorsport
NASCAR has always been a sport with a huge following, partly due to its accessibility. During a NASCAR race, fans have the unique ability to tune in to their favorite team’s live communications with a radio scanner and follow the action going on behind the scenes. When you buy your ticket, you’re allowed to visit the teams’ pits and trailers. Ask for an autograph or a selfie, watch the engineers do their magic. This kind of access simply isn’t possible in Formula 1, where drivers are completely inaccessible to fans. Instead, Formula 1 features VIP sections where spectators drink champagne while networking with each other.
The stadium experience
NASCAR takes place on a short, circular racetrack, which allows the audience to follow the whole race at all stages. The entire track is visible to spectators at any time, allowing them to follow all key moments with their own eyes. This creates an immersive and engaging experience for the audience. They can pick and choose whether to follow the duels at the front or focus on who is fighting for 10th spot. In Formula 1, tracks are so long that audience members only ever see a small section of them. The race cars usually thunder by in mere seconds, making it harder to understand what’s going on.
The pinnacle of race-car engineering
People who like cars like the machines, first and foremost. Formula 1 features the boldest racing engines on the planet. It’s a car nerd’s dream. Cars are worth between $12-$15 million (compared to $300,000 in NASCAR). Formula 1 cars use turbochargers and superchargers and reach significantly higher speeds (their average top speed is around 220 mph versus 200 mph in NASCAR). Every team is given the freedom to innovate to beat the competition. For example, in 2011, Red Bull created a car with an exhaust-blown diffuser that gave it a significant advantage. Other teams quickly reacted by copying the design. Formula 1’s governing body then banned this tech, but that just resulted in engineers creating workarounds to still gain the priceless advantage.
A global competition
One of the things that makes Formula 1 so special is the international locations and drivers that it features. Every race feels like a racing world cup, with dozens of countries featured. The very best race car drivers Holland has to offer and the top engineers from Germany join Formula 1. Virtually every country’s best drivers and racing engineers are competing to join it. NASCAR just doesn’t have this international pull.
Formula 1 also proved its appeal when the Netflix show Drive to Survive became a global hit. Its five seasons have given viewers a profound look behind the scenes, at the rivalries and the politics of the sport. In so doing, the show has created millions of new global fans. This includes the US, where 2.6 million tuned in to watch the 2022 Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix.
Formula 1 features racetracks that twist and turn, constantly putting drivers’ abilities to question and punishing the smallest mistakes. It’s the perfect stage for them to express their near-superhuman skills. Every race is different, featuring a unique layout that might reward speed, such as the Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan, with many straight sections, or the notoriously curvy Turn 11 track in Bahrain that celebrates great handling and reactions. Maybe it’s very sunny, so tires get hot faster, resulting in less grip on the road. Maybe it rained, so conditions are more slippery. How are teams managing their pit stops? Are they using soft or hard tires? There are countless variables that make each race unique and exciting.
The Bottom Line: While Formula 1 has created a global competition with the most advanced technology and challenging, curvy racetracks, NASCAR gives us endless excitement and spicy personalities in a package that prioritizes accessibility for fans. At the end of the day, it will come down to personal taste to decide a winner. Which of the two is your favorite and why?