Formula 1 and NASCAR are both the pinnaces of their respective categories in motorsport. There have been many debates over the years as to which of the two sports is more popular. It’s difficult to compare with NASCAR being based in the US and Formula 1 being worldwide.
Formula 1 has a higher spectator attendance at racetracks, and also has a higher number of viewers on television and streaming. Therefore Formula 1 is the more popular form of motorsport globally. However, in the US, NASCAR is more popular.
Both sports have their fans and their haters. However, it is very clear that both sports are very well known, and both are extremely popular amongst their fans. Despite their differences, both NASCAR and Formula 1 both have huge audiences around the world.
Why It’s Difficult To Compare
Both of these sports are titans of their categories. Formula 1 is the world stage for single seater open wheel racing, and NASCAR is the top level of stock car oval racing. Many people will have their criticisms of either sport, but the truth is, the best racing drivers in the world can be found in both these sports.
The reason why it is difficult to compare the popularity of the two is because NASCAR is ‘exclusive’ to the US whereas Formula 1 travels to various different countries. This means that Formula 1 has spectators all over the world, and although NASCAR can be streamed to various other countries, the time zone differences make it difficult for the rest of the world watch the races live.
This means that the viewership ratings we get are slightly ‘tainted’ in a sense. However, what we can do is compare the number of spectators who attend the races at each of these events. In addition, we have Formula 1 races in the US which we can compare to the numbers at various NASCAR events.
Both sports have extremely passionate fans. Many fans who are exceptionally passionate about one of the sports will also be very critical of the other. However, the reality is that all motorsport fans are aware of both sports and most will follow the results of both even if they do not watch it live.
A few years ago, Formula 1 returned to the United States. Red Bull created an infographic to compare Formula 1 and NASCAR. One part of the infographic compared the number of spectators who attend the races.
The graphic states that the largest fan attendance for NASCAR was the Daytona 500 at 182,000 people. Whereas the largest attendance for a Formula 1 race was recorded at 298,000 people at the Australian Grand Prix.
It’s very important to consider that at the time, Red Bull were the leading team in Formula 1, and they did not have any participation in NASCAR. Therefore, the infographic could have been slightly skewed to make Formula 1 look like the better and more popular sport.
Looking at some statistics however, the total attendance for Formula 1 is consistently higher than NASCAR. With Formula 1 attendance achieving around 4 million people per year in total, and NASCAR achieving around 3.5 million people per year.
According to statistics the global TV viewership’s for Formula 1 in 2019 stood at 471 million. The same source claims that TV viewership for NASCAR stood at 2.92 million in 2019. I believe this is due to the fact that Formula 1 is watched globally, and NASCAR is mostly limited to the Americas.
The differences in the time zones play a huge part in this. NASCAR races are usually in the early morning hours in European time zones, which make it difficult for NASCAR to pick up viewers in these regions.
Comparing On Level Ground
Lucky for us, there is a level playing ground that we can use to compare the two sports. With NASCAR mostly taking place in the US it is difficult to accurately depict which of the two sports are more popular.
However, Formula 1 has returned to the US, so we are able to compare attendance and TV viewership of the two sports on the same grounds. The US Grand Prix of 2019 had an audience of 861,000 on ABC. In the same year, the NASCAR Cup series at TMS has 2.2 million viewers on NBCSN.
It’s clear that in the US specifically, NASCAR is definitely more popular than Formula 1. This links back to the environmental exposure. The lack of an American Formula 1 driver certainly has an effect on the popularity of the sport in the US.
Another factor that could be at play here is that motorsport fans in the US are more biased towards NASCAR, and therefore do not have an interest in the Formula 1 races being held in the US. This could be due to the fact that Formula 1 is not followed, and therefore the rules and the format of the racing is unfamiliar to them.
You will always lean towards something that you grew up watching. It’s difficult to try and get into a new sport that you know nothing about. Liberty Media are making it much easier for new fans to follow Formula 1, and since then the number of fans in the US has increased dramatically.
Factors To Consider
One factor to consider when it comes to NASCAR is that it is based in the US. Therefore, it does get a lot of media attention, and more specifically a lot of Hollywood attention. NASCAR has been featured in tons of movies, and some have been extremely popular like Talladega Nights.
Movies that feature NASCAR in them has helped the sport to grow in exposure and popularity. These movies are shown all over the world and the dramatization of it has brought in some new fans and helped to grow the popularity of the sport.
I believe that if someone has grown up in the US or on a North American continent, it’s very common for NASCAR to be the sport of choice (and vice versa with F1). This ‘environmental exposure’ plays a big role in which sport is more popular in different parts of the world.
Despite that, the rest of the world is mostly exposed to Formula 1 because NASCAR seems to be far away. The races are usually in a different time zone if they are even shown on TV at all. Most people outside of the US have never watched an actual NASCAR race and do not understand the format or the rules.
On the other hand, Formula 1 has been very ‘exclusive’ for many years in the sense that the FOM (Formula One Management) has been extremely strict on the use of Formula 1 footage as a third party. Many Formula 1 videos would be copyright claimed and taken on YouTube, so if you didn’t have access to live races it was difficult to actually watch any F1 content.
With Liberty Media taking over the sport, all of that has changed. Formula 1 took more of an ‘entertainment’ role has recently been much more active on YouTube and social media. The sport has become a lot more accessible and easier to follow for newer fans. They are even live streaming select races for free on YouTube.
Netflix has also played a huge role in the recent surge of new fans heading to Formula 1. A series called ‘Drive to Survive’ is currently running which follows various teams across the course of a season. There is also an element of Hollywood dramatization in this series, but it has certainly been very successful in drawing in new fans.
The main reason why Formula 1 is less popular in the United States is due to the lack of an American Formula 1 driver. American based team HAAS has had little impact in bringing new fans in from the United States. There are some really talented American drivers climbing the ranks though, and soon enough we might see another US Formula 1 driver.
Formula 1 seems to be the more popular sport across the world. With much higher attendance and TV viewership, it is clear that the number of Formula 1 fans heavily outweigh the number of NASCAR fans, at least globally. When we look at the United States specifically though, NASCAR is the more popular sport. It has higher attendance and TV viewers than the Formula 1 races held in the United States and Mexico.