Formula 1 is considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport. However, with so many different branches of motorsport around the world, it can be tough to draw comparisons. One such tough comparison is when you try to put F1 and rally racing side by side.
When comparing F1 vs rally racing, the main differences between the two motorsports involve the tracks on which they race, how the races are structured, and obviously the shape and speed of the cars. Other differences include championship structures, and of course the driving styles required.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to the differences between F1 and rally racing. Both are entirely different and have their unique elements that stand out above the other that makes it difficult to compare these two sports. Below, we’ll discuss and compare these differences in more detail.
F1 Championship vs WRC
First, let’s note that we’re only considering F1 vs WRC here, and not rallycross. There is a big difference in how both of these championships are run. This is important because it means that teams and drivers need to approach each sport differently. This is possibly the biggest difference between the two sports and what makes each type of race unique and exciting.
WRC is a completely different discipline to Formula 1. In Formula 1, cars only drive on specially constructed tarmac-surfaced racing circuits. Rally races, on the other hand, take part on closed roads that can range from tarmac to gravel, and from mud to snow.
The World Rally Championship is also run in a different way compared to Formula 1. The usual Formula 1 setup involves three practice sessions on the Friday and Saturday before the race. Qualifying is run on Saturday to determine the grid for the race on the Sunday.
However, in the WRC, all results are time based. WRC races run on a time-trial basis, with each car effectively having the course to themselves. Whichever driver has the fastest time at the end of the event wins the round. The driver with the fastest cumulative time over all of the rounds wins the event.
Each WRC round is split up into stages that can range between 1.2 miles and 31 miles. Each round can have between 15 and 30 stages and each driver’s time is calculated based on all stages put together. Because of this, each round of the WRC can take a number of days.
The point scoring system is one of the elements that Formula 1 fans will be familiar with when compared to the WRC. Drivers (and therefore teams) will receive 25 points for first place, 18 for finishing in second place, and 15 for finishing in third place. Points are awarded down to tenth place, and the driver with the highest points tally at the end of the season is crowned world champion.
In WRC, points are awarded in the same way, with 25 for first and so on.However, while F1 has an extra point for the fastest lap (if the driver finishes in the top 10), WRC doesn’t use a lap system, so this is one difference. WRC events also usually feature a power stage, during which the top 5 drivers can earn 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 point.
WRC drivers also aren’t able to compare themselves against other cars until each driver has completed the stage. In Formula 1, the driver who finishes first wins the race. So, F1 drivers can always tell the points situation as they’re coming to the end of the race, and this can influence how they drive the last few laps. Rally drivers are simply always trying to go as fast as possible.
Is F1 Harder Than Rally Racing?
It’s difficult to tell whether F1 is truly more difficult than rally racing because of the fact that the two are so different. Both F1 and WRC require so much driving skill, but in very different ways. Both sports involve pushing the cars to the absolute limit, so both are incredibly hard.
The problem when comparing them is the fact that these drivers have been almost “programmed” into their discipline, which means that it’s not truly representative if you put them into the other sport’s car and ask them to perform.
Rally drivers wouldn’t be able to match Formula 1 drivers in their own machinery, mainly because there’s a big difference in how these drivers control their cars. It takes time just to learn what all the different buttons do on an F1 steering wheel! Likewise, it takes a lot of practice and training – and natural ability – to be able to control a rally car on dirt or snow.
The truth is that neither F1 nor rally racing is more difficult than the other because of the vast differences between the disciplines. However, we can still look at what makes them different and the unique skillset that each driver needs to be successful in their respective motorsport disciplines, to understand where the difficulties in each sport lie.
Types Of Circuits
The type of racing circuits used is a big difference when it comes to comparing Formula 1 and the WRC. The WRC uses public roads that have been closed as their courses (rather than “circuits,” as they’re often raced point to point). The closest that Formula 1 gets to this is on its street circuits, including the Monaco Grand Prix, which also uses public roads that have been closed off.
However, the main difference is that WRC races on tarmac roads as well as gravel roads and other surfaces. This leads to much of the rally stages being off road with winding trails running through forests and towns. Rally courses often have jumps and tight corners that requires drivers to use their handbrake.
Formula 1 on the other hand doesn’t use many tight corners or any off-road sections as the cars simply aren’t built for it and are too fragile to survive these sections of track. Formula 1 circuits are designed with a flow in mind, where the drivers need to be as smooth and fast as possible. All F1 races take place on tarmac surfaces.
Knowing The Course
Since Formula 1 uses shorter circuits, which are usually between three and four miles long, it’s much easier for the drivers to memorize the track. In fact, most drivers know each track from memory and could drive it with their eyes closed. Formula 1 drivers run the same lap for 190 miles, so the course itself does not change much, unless the weather changes for example.
However, when it comes to the WRC, the courses are made up of closed public roads with at least 15 stages in a round and it’s almost impossible for drivers to memorize the entire circuit.
Each driver in the WRC has a co-driver that navigates with a map and calls out corners ahead. The co-driver will direct the driver and let them know which corner is coming up so that they are always aware of what is happening ahead of them even though they don’t know the course, and this allows them to focus on their driving.
Speed Of The Cars
The speed of the cars is one of the biggest differences between Formula 1 and rally driving. Formula 1 cars are specially built racing cars and are some of the fastest cars in the world purely based off their cornering speeds and their speeds on the straights of over 200 miles per hour.
Some corners in Formula 1 are taken at 190 miles per hour, which is a speed that rally cars aren’t even able to reach. This factor makes Formula 1 more difficult from a physical standpoint, as the drivers must withstand high G-forces and be able to keep control of their car at top speeds.
However, rally cars are not slow by any means, and these cars have been modified for improved acceleration and handling. Many rally cars go over jumps and drift around gravel corners at over 100 miles per hour, something that doesn’t happen in Formula 1.
The World Rally Championship runs across a variety of different surfaces, which makes the cars much more difficult to control. When it comes to gravel, mud, and sand, the cars become entirely different in how they handle, especially at high speeds and around tight corners. They can therefore become quite unpredictable.
This element makes rally driving more challenging than Formula 1. Formula 1 cars have very high standards in terms of the surfaces they drive on. In order to host a Formula 1 race, circuits need to have an FIA Grade 1 license, which ensures the drivability and smoothness of the track.
This means that the tarmac must be up to standard, and oftentimes tracks have to be resurfaced every couple of years just to keep Formula 1 coming back. Rally cars, on the other hand, will tackle a variety of different surfaces, even if there’s no actual road!
When it comes to the weather conditions needed to race, there is a big difference between Formula 1 and the WRC. Formula 1 is fairly strict, drawing the line on dangerous driving conditions in the sport for the safety of the drivers and their cars.
As we saw at Spa in 2021, when there is torrential rain it becomes difficult for the race to go ahead safely. This is because Formula 1 cars need good conditions to run safely, as well as the fact that the spray behind a Formula 1 car makes it nearly impossible for the driver behind them to see ahead of them.
However, in the WRC, the event will go on in poor weather conditions. We’ve seen WRC events take place in snow and ice as well as torrential rain. The sport does become more dangerous, but it does help that car are not running close to each other on the course, and they’re adapted for these conditions.
Another big difference between Formula 1 and the WRC is the drivers’ visibility while driving. Formula 1 drivers usually have good visibility, as long as there is no heavy rain on the circuit to cause massive amounts of spray while they’re driving behind another car.
However, in the WRC, it’s much more difficult to see what’s coming up ahead. Because these events can take place in a range of weather conditions, there are some scenarios where visibility will be poor, such as in snow or mist. Rally drivers therefore have to trust their co-drivers and get on with it.
Rally drivers can also drive on different surfaces like mud and dust. This can cause further visibility issues, as mud can splash onto the windscreen of the car. In sandy stages, there is always the risk of the car ahead kicking up sand and dust if the car behind is fast enough to catch up (WRC uses staggered starts).
A cloud of dust that has been kicked up by a car can linger in the air for several minutes, reducing the trailing driver’s visibility. However, this is the main reason WRC uses staggered starts, as it’s a time trial and not a head-to-head event.
Are Rally Drivers More Skilled Than F1 Drivers?
Rally drivers are known for being some of the most skilled drivers on the planet. Formula 1 is also known for being the collection of the 20 best drivers in the world. However, it’s difficult to judge if one type of driver is truly better than the other.
This is because they are both extremely good at very different things. As we mentioned earlier, a rally driver will be faster than a Formula 1 driver on a rally stage because of the difference in cars and how much dedication to the craft it takes to become a world class rally driver. Likewise, a rally driver won’t match the top speed of a Formula 1 driver in a Formula 1 car.
In order to determine which of these drivers is the most skilled, we need to look at the individual skills that make each of them special. Both rally drivers and the Formula 1 drivers have strengths and weaknesses, as they are both trained differently in how they handle their cars.
Speed Of The Cars
The speed of the cars is one thing to consider. Formula 1 cars are much faster than rally cars. This makes them much more physically and mentally demanding to drive in general. However, the benefit that Formula 1 drivers have here is that they memorize the circuits, and they know what’s coming up.
While rally cars are still fast, they require a driver to be able to think and react much more quickly, as they do not have the circuit memorized as a Formula 1 driver would, and the conditions are ever changing. In Formula 1, there’s a lot of muscle memory involved with driving the same lap and picking the same braking and turning points.
However, for a rally driver, each corner is unique. Their entire stage is one they need to drive based on reaction and instinct, even if they do roughly know the course. The Formula 1 driver can drive their circuit perfectly as they have done hundreds of laps on the same circuit (more on the racing aspect in a moment). A rally driver does not have this advantage in their discipline.
When it comes to driving technique, there is a massive difference between a rally driver and a Formula 1 driver. This mainly comes down to the unique differences between the cars and the differences between circuits that each of these drivers race on.
Formula 1 drivers are precise and consistent. On top of this, they are also smooth with their steering, braking, and throttle. The aim of driving a Formula 1 car is to be gentle and drive the exact same line as the lap before. The more accurate and consistent you are, the faster the lap will be overall.
However, when it comes to the WRC, drivers are much more aggressive. With each corner being unique, drivers are often aggressive with their brakes, steering, and throttle use. The car reacts much better to an aggressive driving style, and it allows the driver to get their car through the stage as quickly as possible. During rally stages, you’ll often see drifting, handbrake turns, and jumps.
These driving techniques are faster in a rally car, but any of these driving techniques would make a Formula 1 car slower – or fall apart! This difference between the driving styles makes it difficult to compare the skills between the two disciplines, as both require massive amounts of skill.
Wheel To Wheel Racing
Another big difference between Formula 1 and WRC racing is wheel-to-wheel racing, where cars can race very close together. This is one element that is hugely respected in Formula 1 and other branches of “circuit racing.” However, this is something you won’t see in the WRC.
Rally driving, on the other hand, is entirely dependent on the time it takes the drivers to complete the stages. It’s unlikely that cars would need to overtake one another during a rally stage as they are all launched with a reasonably large gap between them, and they rarely catch up to the cars ahead.
In Formula 1 though, all the cars race against each other on a Sunday afternoon, and being able to overtake cars cleanly, and without crashing, is a skill in itself that rally drivers never need to make use of. So, in terms of traditional “racing” skill, F1 drivers need more of it than rally drivers.
Formula 1 is a very different sport to WRC racing. Not only do the cars look different, but the entire format of the racing is different. Each driver has unique skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses, which makes it difficult to compare which of these drivers are the best.