It’s easy for those uninitiated into the competitive world of racing to misunderstand the differences between NASCAR and F1 (Formula One) racing. After all, for most onlookers, both would appear to have more in common than not.
Both racing leagues require drivers to strap themselves into speeding hunks of metal and race around a track or circuit until the centrifugal force has them blue in the face. And, for most, both leagues also involve big-name sponsors plastered in square patches over single-piece fire suits.
However, for the initiated, the differences between NASCAR and F1 aren’t isn’t just a line drawn in the sand—it’s more like a staunchly-guarded trench. Stereotypes aside, F1 is a $1.5 billion per year business that sees its drivers and their teams shipped around the world to almost twenty countries. Meanwhile, NASCAR rakes in about $3 billion with big-name sponsors and, while races take place in North America, they’re often streamed to up to 150 countries worldwide.
But financial and technical differences aren’t the only notable dissimilarities between NASCAR and F1. In fact, the stereotypes associated with both racing leagues tend toward misinformation.
NASCAR vehicles are viewed as scrap metal compared to the aerodynamic science experiments that are F1 cars. Still, the stereotype isn’t far from the truth: the average price of an F1 car engine alone is over $10 million, while NASCAR stock cars come in between $125,000–$200,000.
However, many consider F1 races to be boring. Elite engine-makers tend to dominate the circuit due to money rather than grit or talent, while NASCAR has an undeniable sprinkle of demolition derby in its makeup. In 2014, the entire year-long F1 racing season saw 80 strong overtake maneuvers, while a single race in NASCAR saw 88 overtake maneuvers in the same year.
While the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series dominates US engine sports and F1 racing enjoys an international following on par with soccer, fan turnout between both is surprisingly similar. NASCAR can pull 182,000 spectators for a big race, while F1’s Australian Grand Prix saw nearly 300,000 in attendance.
However, these fans aren’t created equally. For instance, F1 tends to attract quite a bit more money than NASCAR—that is, in terms of fans interested in betting on a race. While there are ample bonus bets offered by top sportsbooks that allow betting throughout the season or on individual races, complicated legislation in the US has delayed punting on NASCAR.
In fact, this sector of sports betting is still in its infancy in the US, which means NASCAR misses out—especially considering nearly 75 million Americans in 2014 considered themselves fans of NASCAR, with some 3.5 million making it to watch a race in person.
However, as aforementioned, NASCAR makes more money given its big-name sponsors like Budweiser and McDonalds. Sure, F1 may have the face of luxury, but NASCAR has the wallet.
In investigating the technical specifications of each racecar, differences in both the construction and science behind both types of racecars help to reframe the comparison between racing leagues. After all, F1 racing is about combining cutting edge motor mechanics with a competitive spirit, while NASCAR is about accepting the car you end up with and fighting your way to the front of the pack.
F1 cars are created in labs, where each piece of the vehicle and engine are thoroughly tested in wind tunnels and other grueling conditions. Engines are created by top scientists from brands like Ferrari, McLaren, and Renault.
But that doesn’t mean the rest of the racecar needs to be just as rigorously developed. In particular, brakes involve shooting carbon atoms at a thin pad of rayon to stop a car on a 205mph sprint, which costs nearly as much as an engine.
All in all, F1 reflects the union of science and adrenaline. It isn’t (always) about elbowing past the competition; it’s about creating a better product which will speak for itself when pitted against rival crews. After all, Lewis Hamilton drives with Mercedes, the whole point of which is that he doesn’t have to compete with a driver from, say, Haas.
On the other hand, NASCAR stock cars look like 4-door sedans, replete with dents. Drivers aren’t racing with the likes of Mercedes, but rather Toyota, Ford, or Chevy. Rather than shooting carbon atoms at rayon pads to brake, drivers in NASCAR use slabs of cast iron and, as a general rule, tend to brake less.
Unlike F1, there’s no fancy steering wheel, and drivers are responsible for pumping the clutch rather than utilizing pedals like their F1 counterparts. Surprisingly enough, NASCARs weigh almost double what F1 cars do, but they only drive 5mph slower at 200mph rather than 205mph.
F1 racing began in the 1920s and 30s as part of the European Championship of Grand Prix motor racing. The term ‘formula’ in the title descended from the rule that each participant’s car had to follow a strict formula.
World War II slowed the progress of this original racing league, with new stipulations and developments happening post-World War. Individual events and races were held (sometimes a Formula Two or Formula Three race), but as cars and crews became more expensive, Formula One became more refined and competitive before eventually becoming the F1 racing league we know today.
Meanwhile, the year 1948 saw the first iteration of stock car racing on oval dirt tracks in the Southern US states of Florida and South Carolina. Originally, the stock car races functioned under ‘Grand National’ races in order to add an air of prestige to the title.
However, the last of these Grand National races took place in 1970. Soon after, formal racing schedules and regulations were set out by NASCAR itself, the newly-formed regulatory body of the National Association for Stock Car Autor Racing.
In the decades following, both F1 and NASCAR began to hedge toward their modern iterations due largely to sponsorships. While F1 has largely stayed within the automotive realm with sponsors like Ferrari and Mercedes, NASCAR has enjoyed a wide range of sponsors, from Marlboro to Tiffany & Co., who designed their trophy in 2004.