For European Formula 1 fans, the United States is often referred to as a country that simply doesn’t understand its favorite sport. They often cite the fact that the US Grand Prix has had to move around from race track to race track after poor attendance figures make them unviable, leading to long periods of absence from the calendar as evidence.
Many reasons are given for this, including the fact that the US has several of its own domestic racing series, including the incredibly popular NASCAR, that offer plenty of thrills and spills to entertain its population. Other justifications include the fact that Americans just don’t “get” Formula 1.
But is that fair? What’s the difference between America’s favorite motorsport and the most-watched global racing series?
Type of Car
The most obvious difference between Formula 1 and NASCAR is the type of cars used. Formula 1 uses bespoke-made single-seater race cars that each team designs and builds itself within the boundaries of rules set by the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
Apart from having four wheels and a place for the driver to sit, they don’t bear any resemblance to the car you park in your driveway.
NASCAR, on the other hand, uses specially-designed race cars but makes them look much like real road cars. The current generation of specifications (Gen-6) was introduced in 2013 and was designed to make the vehicles on the track and the parking lot outside appear much more similar.
The engines are also very different. NASCAR uses naturally aspirated V8 engines with a displacement of 5.87 liters. In comparison, Formula 1 has been working on making its cars sustainable and now uses 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 engines. Despite being much smaller, F1 cars can generate more power (>1000 bhp) compared to NASCAR (≈820 bhp).
Betting on sports is a popular activity, including racing series like NASCAR and Formula 1. Both sports have lagged a little behind leagues like the NFL and other forms of racing like the Kentucky Derby, but the legalization of online sports betting in the US has helped to close the gap.
Most sportsbooks offer Formula 1 and NASCAR betting odds for fans to take advantage of. In recent years, the interest in wagering on both competitions has increased significantly, so we’ll likely see more of it in the coming years.
NASCAR has much more diversity in the types of track its drivers race on. The 30 different tracks in North America that the championship visits include ovals, tri-ovals, winding road courses, and the challenging Superspeedways.
In 2021, the sport even returned to racing on dirt tracks, as was common in the early years of the sport.
In contrast, Formula 1 races only on tracks that NASCAR would class as a “road course”. Each circuit contains a mix of left and right-hand turns, and there is currently only one circuit on the calendar with any form of banking.
When F1 visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the circuit built a new in-field course and the cars only used one of its banked turns. In fact, the 2005 race was widely criticized because only six cars took part due to the others using tires from a manufacturer that had safety concerns about the banking.
Formula 1 has two “leagues” each year, one for drivers and one for teams. Both are called “World Championships” because they involve races in nearly two dozen different countries. In the last few years, the season has begun in Australia before holding races in Asia, Europe, North America, back to Europe, before finishing the season in Asia, South America, and the Middle East.
In sharp contrast to this, NASCAR is almost exclusively contained to the United States, though some races are also held in Canada.
Since 2009, NASCAR has also had a championship in Europe known as the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, though it almost exclusively races on road courses.
Overall, Formula 1 and NASCAR are two distinct classes of motorsport. They share some similarities, but in many areas they are very different. They shouldn’t, therefore, be considered competitors, so this is unlikely to be the reason why F1 struggles to take off in the US.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.