Formula 1 and NASCAR both sit at the very top of the motorsport ladder. This has led to many debates over the years of which is better, and many fans may wonder which, out of F1 and NASCAR, is the more popular motorsport.
F1 is far more popular than NASCAR. Formula 1 has a higher average spectator attendance at races than NASCAR, and F1 also has a higher number of TV viewers. F1 is the more popular sport on a global scale, but NASCAR is more popular than F1 in the USA.
Both sports have their fans and their haters. However, it is clear that both sports are very well known, and both have very passionate fan bases. Below, I’ll dive into more detail on the popularity of F1 and NASCAR.
Why It’s Difficult To Compare F1 & NASCAR
Formula 1 is the world stage for single-seater open-wheel racing, and NASCAR is the top level of stock car 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 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 on 5 continents around the world. This means that Formula 1 has spectators all over the globe, and although NASCAR is watched by many people in various other countries, the time zone differences make it difficult for the rest of the world watch the races live.
Of course, the same is true for F1. Because Formula 1 travels to locations all over the world, races take place early morning for some and late at night for others. But with many races in Europe that can all start at roughly the same time, it’s much easier for F1 to rake in a global audience for more of its events.
They’re also hard to compare because they’re very different types of motorsports. F1 cars are open-wheel, single-seater race cars that race on purpose-built race tracks with the odd street circuit in the mix as well. But NASCAR cars are stock cars with closed cockpits that primarily race on oval circuits. This means the fan bases are often very different between the two motorsports.
F1 vs NASCAR Popularity – The Numbers
The total attendance for Formula 1 is consistently higher than NASCAR. With Formula 1 attendance reaching around 4-5 million people per year in total, and NASCAR achieving around 2-4 million per year. The reason for the range is that NASCAR stopped reporting official figures years ago, possibly because of declining viewership.
Key Fact: F1 saw a record year in 2022, with 5.7 million fans attending races across the globe
However, when comparing these numbers, we need to remember that NASCAR hosts 36 points-paying races per year, while F1 only hosts around 23. That means that, on a per-race basis, F1 sees more fans at each event.
This same logic applies to TV viewership, but then we also must remember that F1 is global, while NASCAR races only take place in the USA. Regardless, NASCAR sees around 3 million viewers per race, while F1 sees more 20 times that, with 70 million fans watching each race on average.
What About In The USA?
It’s clear that in the US specifically, NASCAR is definitely more popular than Formula 1, as F1 only brings in around 1.2 million viewers per race. People tend to lean towards what they grew up watching when it comes to sports. It’s difficult to try and get into a new sport that you know nothing about, and while F1 has had a small US presence for many years, NASCAR has seen dozens of races take place for decades.
F1 vs NASCAR Popularity: Factors To Consider
One important factor to consider is that NASCAR is based in the US. This means many Americans are familiar with NASCAR even if they’ve never watched a race. However, as F1 only has a small presence in the country, it’s far less well-known outside of the world of motorsport.
The reverse is also true, as even though F1 might not be super popular in every country, people like Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher are household names all over the world. But because NASCAR is only in the USA, it’s barely watched by people outside of the country.
I mentioned the time zones earlier, and this definitely plays its part in both motorsports. However, there is also the issue of lack of TV coverage for NASCAR in other countries. Again the reverse is true, as it’s only recently that F1 has been regularly shown on several big American TV channels.
Formula 1 has also been very exclusive for many years, and it’s only in recent years that the sport has become more lenient with regard to content production and distribution. Many Formula 1 videos would be taken down on YouTube for copyright reasons, so if you didn’t have access to live races it was difficult to actually watch any F1-related content.
The Liberty Media Effect
With Liberty Media taking over the sport, all of that changed. Formula 1 allowed teams and drivers to become very active on social media, and as a result the sport has become a lot more accessible and easier to follow for newer fans.
Netflix has also played a huge role in the recent surge of new fans tuning in to Formula 1. The series “Drive to Survive” has been running for several seasons now, following the teams and drivers and giving fans an all-access look into the workings of the sport. There is an element of Hollywood dramatization in this series, but it has certainly been very successful in drawing in new fans.
Formula 1 is more popular than NASCAR on a global scale. With much higher attendances and TV viewership, it is clear that the number of Formula 1 fans heavily outweigh the number of NASCAR fans. But when we look at the United States specifically, NASCAR is still the more popular sport.