Formula 1 and NASCAR are two of the most popular and exciting motorsports. They are both highly competitive and have similar structures in many ways. But there are also a lot of differences between F1 and NASCAR.
The main differences between F1 and NASCAR are in the cars used and the tracks they race on. NASCAR uses heavy stock cars based off their road counterparts, while F1 cars are open-wheel with a major focus on being light and producing downforce. NASCAR primarily races on ovals, while F1 does not.
There are lots of minor differences between the two as well, but in this article, I will focus on the defining differences between NASCAR and F1. Before I go over these however, it is worth taking a look at what the two motorsports have in common.
The Similarities Between F1 & NASCAR
They’re Both Incredibly Fast
First things first, F1 and NASCAR are both very fast motorsports. While F1 is faster than NASCAR in terms of lap times (on a road course/standard track at least), both sports see the cars reach speeds around 200 mph (320 kph), with NASCAR sustaining these speeds for most of a race on an oval.
It’s A Team Effort
Both NASCAR and F1 require large teams of people, from the organizations themselves to the actual race teams. There are teams in each sport, and the teams are made up of directors, mechanics and of course drivers, among many other key roles as well. Teams in both sports can use multiple drivers, and there are championships for both the drivers and the teams in both sports.
They’re Big Money Sports
Both sports have seasons that last a big chunk of the year, and there is a lot of money involved in each one. The cars cost millions of dollars to make each year, and there is a lot of money involved from partners and sponsors. There are other minor similarities too, but these are the main and perhaps obvious ones. Now let’s look at the differences.
F1 vs NASCAR: The Cars
The first big difference that you will notice between the cars used in each of these sports is the fact that NASCAR uses stock cars, and F1 uses open-wheel cars. This essentially means that NASCAR vehicles are based on their road car counterparts, with bumpers and fenders, as well as a full body. However, F1 cars are built from the ground up and are not based off regular cars.
F1 cars are also single seater, and while only one person ever rides in a NASCAR car, they are built to be the size of regular 4-seater sedans. Each of the cars in NASCAR racing is built following a set of templates, and so they are all essentially the same, or very similar at least, with bodywork differing depending if it’s a Ford, Chevy, or Toyota. F1 cars on the other hand require the chassis to be independently built by each team.
NASCAR Teams Use Similar Cars
The NASCAR cars all follow what is called the Next Gen (or Gen 7) template, and this means they are all fairly evenly matched. Meanwhile, F1 cars are all very different to each other, although they may look the same at a glance. F1 cars are also designed to provide much more downforce than NASCAR cars, and to be far more aerodynamic, allowing for higher speeds in tighter corners.
F1 Cars Are More Technologically Advanced
The cars in F1 are also much more technologically advanced compared to their NASCAR counterparts. They feature things like DRS and ERS, with the former being used under special circumstances to give the driver extra speed for overtakes and the latter allowing the recovery of energy for even more power. This translates to a price tag in the tens of millions of dollars, versus the hundreds of thousands for NASCAR.
The engine is the next area where differences arise. In NASCAR, the engines are 5.87-liter V8s, while F1 engines are 1.6-liter turbocharged V6s. The difference in the power is huge, with NASCAR vehicles limited to a maximum of around 670 HP at most, while F1 cars hover around the 1000 HP region. However, top race speeds between the two are actually quite similar, around 200 mph (320 kph) at many tracks.
Key Fact: The highest speed ever reached in an F1 race was 231 mph (372 kph), while the highest speed in NASCAR was 213 mph (342 kph) during a qualifying session
F1 Cars Are Substantially Lighter
This difference in speed and power is easy to grasp when you consider the weight of the cars. NASCAR cars weigh more than 3,300 lbs (1,500 kg), while F1 cars come in at around 1800 lbs (800 kg). F1 cars can also max out at 15,000 RPM, while NASCAR vehicles may only reach just under 10,000 RPM.
There are only three manufacturers in NASCAR, but there can be up to 40 cars on track during a race. Then there are different teams, with about 17 each year, some with 1 driver and some with up to 4. There are only 10 teams in Formula 1, with four engine manufacturers. Each team has two drivers, with 20 drivers in each race.
F1 vs NASCAR: The Tracks
NASCAR tracks are all based in the USA, while Formula 1 races take place across 5 continents. There are 36 races in a NASCAR season, split into two chunks. There is the regular season of 26 races, and then the post season of 10 races, which are known as the playoffs. An F1 season is made up of around 23 races, with no playoffs.
There are two main types of track used in NASCAR, ovals and road courses, although there is also now the Chicago street circuit too. Although many people think NASCAR is just cars driving round in circles, there are several tracks that involve both left and right turns, although the oval tracks are by far the most common.
Very Different Tracks In F1
This is in contrast to F1 tracks, where no two are the same. The tracks vary drastically in length, with the longest F1 track (Circuit de Spa Francorchamps – roughly 7 km/4.3 miles) being around 4 km (2.5 miles) longer than the shortest (Circuit de Monaco – roughly 3 km/1.9 miles). This means the cars need to be designed to handle short tracks with lots of corners, and long tracks with more high speed straights.
In NASCAR, the tracks are much shorter, with the shortest being the Martinsville Speedway, at less than 1 km (0.5 miles). The longest tracks are Daytona and Talladega, which are superspeedways of around 4 km (2.5 miles). This means NASCAR cars have various different horsepower packages on the Next Gen model, with short tracks featuring 670 HP and longer tracks being closer to 510 HP.
KEY POINTS• The two main differences between F1 and NASCAR are in the cars and tracks
• F1 cars are light and aerodynamic, while NASCAR uses heavy stock cars
• NASCAR races on a lot of oval tracks, while F1 uses traditional race tracks and street circuits
F1 vs NASCAR: The Racing
The racing itself is another area where there are some big differences between NASCAR and F1. Formula 1 races usually take around 90 minutes, with the races being limited to no more than 2 hours by the rules. However, NASCAR races regularly take more than 3 hours to complete, and this presents even more differences.
However, before the main event, you have to consider the practice and qualifying procedures as well, with the latter dictating the starting order for the race. NASCAR races typically have short practice sessions of 20 minutes, with the cars split into different groups. F1 races usually have three 1-hour free practice sessions, known as FP1, FP2 and FP3.
Note: If there is a Sprint race, F1 only has two practice sessions
In NASCAR qualifying, the drivers all go out and perform one flying lap in order to set a time that will dictate where on the grid they will start the race. This is very different to the process used in Formula 1 qualifying.
F1 qualifying takes place in three parts. The first part, Q1, involves all 20 drivers, and it lasts 18 minutes. During that 20 minutes, the drivers all go around the track in their own time, and sometimes there may be 1 driver on the track and other times there may be 20. The 5 slowest drivers are eliminated at the end of the session and make up positions 16-20 on the grid.
Q2 is next, which comes after a short break and determines the positions of 11-15, with the slowest 5 drivers after 15 minutes being eliminated once again. Then, Q3 takes place, which consists of the top 10 drivers and lasts 12 minutes. The times the drivers get in this session dictate the top 10 spots on the grid come the main race on Sunday, and who gets pole position.
In 2021, F1 introduced Sprint qualifying at certain events. These are 100 km (62-mile) races that last about 30 minutes, and they take place on the Saturday, after regular qualifying (described above) on the Friday, with knockout qualifying setting the grid for the Sprint. These short races set the grid for Sunday’s main race, but they only take place at about 6 tracks per year.
Then come the actual races, which not only differ in length, but also in their format. F1 races involve a set number of laps with no stopping in between unless there are accidents or extremely inclement weather. NASCAR races are made up of 3 separate stages (4 at Charlotte), split up by caution periods. This has implications on the points systems, which I will compare soon.
The actual race lengths vary in both sports, but NASCAR races are typically longer. This means the drivers usually have to make more pit stops than their F1 counterparts. F1 drivers can theoretically go without a pit stop on certain tires, but they must pit at least once (in the dry), and often twice or more in a race. NASCAR drivers may pit as many as 10+ times during long, caution-filled races.
During the pit stops, F1 pit crew are not able to refuel the cars and can only change the tires or make certain repairs. NASCAR pit crews are usually swapping tires and refueling the car as well during each pit stop. This means these pit stops can take between 12-16 seconds, while F1 pit stops are usually less than 3 seconds long, with the fastest ever being under 2 seconds.
Both sports are technically non-contact, but some contact still occurs. In F1, almost no contact is allowed, and anything more than a slight bump with no consequences for the other driver can result in harsh penalties. In NASCAR however, ‘bumping’ is very common, and cars will often make a lot of contact with each other when fighting for positions.
F1 cars are very fragile, while NASCAR cars are much more robust. 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button gave NASCAR a shot in 2023, and after the March race at COTA, he was amazed at just how much contact the drivers make and are able to keep going. In F1, the slightest bit of contact can break off a crucial piece of bodywork, ruining a driver’s race.
“40% of it kind of felt a bit silly, the amount that we were hitting each other.”– Jenson Button on his NASCAR experience at COTA in 2023
F1 vs NASCAR: Season Length & Structure
The next set of differences involve the racing season of each motorsport. F1 seasons have roughly 23 races, and the season usually takes place from March through to the end of November. The NASCAR season on the other hand consists of 36 races, and the season starts in February and runs all the way through to the playoffs in November.
The main difference here is that the NASCAR season is split into two sections, with the playoffs dictating who wins the championship. F1 champions are determined solely by the points that the drivers earn throughout the season. Both sports do have points systems, and while that is a similarity, the way that these points are given out vary greatly.
F1 Points System
The F1 points system operates each race, and the winner gets 25 points, while places 2-10 each get fewer points, with 10th place getting 1 point. Those placing 11-20 get no points for that race. The constructors (teams) combine the points of both of their drivers to arrive at their total.
Note: Sprint races offer points to the top 8 drivers, with first place getting 8 points, second getting 7 and so on, down to eighth place getting 1 point
The driver with the most points at the end of the season wins the World Drivers’ Championship, with the team with the most points taking the World Constructors’ Championship. The driver may win it before the last race of the season if they cannot mathematically be beaten by those chasing them on the leaderboard.
NASCAR Points System
In NASCAR, the points system is very different, starting with the fact that all 40 drivers get points in each race, with the winner getting 40 and last place getting 1 point.
Second place gets 35 points, and it scales linearly down to 36th place getting 1 point, with positions 37-40 also all getting 1 point. However, it is not just finishing positions that earn points, as those who place in the top 10 after each of the three stages of each race also get bonus points.
There are also bonus points on offer for race winners, as well as those who win stages one and two (and 3 at Charlotte). These bonus points are carried over to the playoffs, while normal points are reset when the post-season playoffs begin. The points are reset again after each elimination round, and there are no bonus points on offer for the final four drivers in the last race.
This makes the NASCAR points system a lot more complex than the F1 system, and it also makes for a big difference in what it takes to be a winner. As all the points are reset at the end of the regular season in NASCAR, the leader loses out quite substantially, while those as far back as 16th place benefit from the levelling of the playing field, aside from bonus points of course.
Qualifying For The Playoffs
To qualify for the playoffs, NASCAR drivers just have to win one race. If there are not 16 unique winners after the first 26 races, the remaining places are then decided on a points basis. This means that a driver could win one race, and then come dead last in every other race, and still qualify for the playoffs, alongside a driver that may have won several races.
In F1, the winner of the championship is the person who has performed the best over the course of the season, and it doesn’t really matter how many races they have won. Winning races will obviously be key, as wins yield substantial points, but it makes it impossible for someone with one win and 22 out-of-the-points finishes to win the championship.
Winning a NASCAR championship does obviously require you to win races and be a skilled driver, but it puts less of a focus on your overall season performance and more of a focus on how well you perform in the last races of the playoffs. This doesn’t necessarily take anything away from the excitement of NASCAR, but it is a major difference between it and F1.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR and F1 race weekends follow very different structures
• NASCAR races are longer and involve a lot more contact than F1 races
• The championship structures and points systems are also very different
F1 vs NASCAR: Rules & Regulations
Finally, there are some big differences between the rules and regulations of NASCAR and Formula 1. As we touched on before, there is not technically supposed to be any contact between drivers in each sport, although NASCAR drivers can get away with a lot more than F1 drivers. This is partly due to the fact that the cars can withstand more of a hit than F1 cars.
Another big regulatory difference between the two sports lies in the telemetry. Telemetry is the various bits of data about the car and how it is performing throughout the race. You may watch an F1 race and see the team radio being displayed, with messages being relayed between the drivers and their mechanics off the track.
They might discuss strategies and what they plan to do over the next few laps, and their race engineer has at their disposal plenty of information about the car that allows them to plan ahead and form strategies in real time. Not only can they tell the driver what to do (to an extent), but the drivers can also make changes to the car itself in real time while going several hundred miles per hour.
The driver can change things like brake bias and many different engine settings all while they are racing. This gives them a lot of control, and it is control that NASCAR drivers do not have. The telemetry information in NASCAR goes from the cars to the officials, and not the pit crews. This means NASCAR drivers can’t change things about the car on the go like F1 drivers can.
Rolling vs Standing Start
NASCAR races start using what is known as a rolling start, meaning the cars go around the track in their grid order, and then when the race starts the cars are already moving.
F1 races on the other hand use a standing start, meaning the cars go from rest in their grid positions. This makes for some very interesting first corners, but it also means the drivers need to be on their toes. The start is dictated by a set of lights that go out after a random amount of time. This tests the drivers’ reflexes, and if they jump the start, they can receive a penalty.
The Penalty System
The penalty system is also slightly different between each sport. Both do employ penalty systems, but F1 rules tend to be a fair bit stricter. As we noted before, there is a bit more leeway for contact in NASCAR, whereas in F1 you can land yourself a severe penalty for hitting an opponent, especially if you end up causing them to lose time or crash.
There are obviously many minor rules as well, which both motorsports share. But these are the main ones that differ between each one, and are the ones to consider if you are watching your first race.
The main differences between F1 and NASCAR are the shapes of the cars and the racing itself, with F1 cars being open-wheel and NASCAR cars being based off their production car counterparts. The tracks the two sports race on are also very different, but there’s no doubt that they’re both very entertaining to watch!
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