F1 v NASCAR: Top speeds, engines, formats, calendars and safety measures all compared

Michelle Foster
The NASCAR pack close together. United States, June 2022.

Set to contest three races in America this season, Formula 1 is closing in on NASCAR when it comes to popularity with the American public.

But the American series need not fear that Formula 1 will surpass it as they are two very different racing series, all they really have in common are four wheels, an engine, and some of the world’s best drivers in the cockpit.

The biggest difference between Formula 1 and NASCAR is that the former is a single-seater, more in line with America’s IndyCar series, while in NASCAR the drivers race stock cars. You’ll never see a Formula 1 car sitting alongside you at traffic lights, not unless it’s a gimmick, but could be mistaken for thinking Joey Logano wanted to dice if you pulled up next to a yellow Ford Mustang.

And in that lies yet another massive, some would say extreme, difference between the two series – money. According to various reports it takes about $400,000 per week to run a NASCAR team over a 38-race season, totally about $15 million in annual expenses.

Formula 1 has a budget cap of $135 million for the 2023 season, down on 2021’s initial cap of $145m. That’s just the cap, that doesn’t include all the bits and pieces, of which there are many, that don’t count towards the cap. All in all Red Bull spent $283,5 million to win the 2021 Drivers’ title with Max Verstappen.

Drivers’ salaries also differ with NASCAR’s Kyle Busch earning $16.9m last season, according to sportscasting, while F1’s top-paid driver Lewis Hamilton had a salary of $40m.

In a nutshell Formula 1 teams spend a lot more for their 20-plus race season than NASCAR teams do over the course of their season, which in 2023 will compromise 36 races. But the stock car series doesn’t only have more races, it also has more drivers with 36 chartered teams in the Cup Series to what is effectively Formula 1’s 10.

But unlike in F1 where every team has two drivers, in NASCAR they can have one or even four. There’s also space on the grid for uncharted entries, which are cars that don’t compete in every race, maybe even only one.

This allows for drivers such as seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson to dip a toe back into the sport. It also paved the way for 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen to put in a one-off appearance at Watkins Glen in 2022.

Which is quicker: F1 or NASCAR?

Asking which is quicker of a Formula 1 single-seater versus a NASCAR car, which is a souped-up touring car, is like asking if my Hyundai i20 can take the fight to a cheetah. Both have a top speed of about 140/kph but they are very, very different beasts.

Today’s Formula 1 cars can reach speeds of 351.7km/h – that’s what Kevin Magnussen clocked in qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix. That’s not light years ahead of Bubba Wallace’s 305.78 km/h at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, the fastest qualifying lap of the year in the American series.

But of course there’s more to it than just top speeds.

Magnussen’s time was set on a road course, as NASCAR calls them, while Wallace’s was at an oval. Added to that the Haas driver’s time was at one set point of the circuit whereas Wallace’s was the average overall for that oval track. The Michigan track is also one of the fastest on the NASCAR circuit given its lack of a restrictor plate requirement.

Part of NASCAR’s slower speed is because of the acceleration time, going from 0-96km/h in around 3.4 seconds. An F1 car hits that speed in roughly 2.6 seconds.

Which engines are more powerful: F1 or NASCAR?

While achieving a similar maximum RPM, the Formula 1 power unit is a much more sophisticated piece of equipment to what NASCAR runs as it’s fitted with an MGU-K and MGU-H, to name a few extra parts. It is, the sport’s bosses would argue, the best of hybrid technology. It’s also bloody expensive.

Let’s start with a NASCAR power unit, a 5.8-litre V8 engine…

It is the engine Sebastian Vettel wishes would return to the F1 grid, a V8. You can hear that roar. Largely production based, and tightly restricted in regards to allowable parts, materials, and dimensions, the NASCAR PU weighs about 260kg and can run for about 800 miles.

It reaches peak power at about 820bhp at 9000 RPM.

But don’t think for a moment this is the engine that powers your Ford or Chevy, or my Hyundai. This PU is larger than a road cars with a combined volume of the pistons inside the cylinders of about 358 cubic inches. It also has an intake and exhaust that are designed to provide a power boost.

Formula 1 engines, 1.6 litre turbocharged V6s, are expected to last about 840 miles, but ask any 2022 Ferrari-powered team, that doesn’t mean they do.

They reach peak power at around 755bhp, limited to 15,000 RPM. While they have less BHP (brake horsepower) than a NASCAR unit, they make up for it with using energy recovering systems that add 160bhp for up to 33 seconds per lap.

And they are a great deal more complex with a turbocharger, a compressor device that increases the density of the air the engine breathes in to help increase the power output and the afore mentioned Energy Recovery System that harnesses power created by the car.

There’s also the MGU-H and MGU-K, both of which add to the car’s power by using, well, the car, and then the Energy Store – which quite simply is the battery where the energy created by the car’s various parts is stored.

Finally the Control Electronics which is the computer – for lack of a better description – where the coding to tie all the energy creating, recovering, storing parts is logged.

But perhaps the biggest difference between a NASCAR engine and a Formula 1 PU, the price. NASCAR = $100,000. Formula 1 = $10.5 million.

What are the differences in qualifying formats between NASCAR and F1?

Formula 1, as of 2022, has two different qualifying systems – the traditional and the sprint race.

Under the traditional system all the cars take to the track late on a Saturday afternoon in what is called Q1. The slowest five cars after 18 minutes of running are eliminated with 15 going through to Q2. Those slowest five make up the five places at the back of the grid, penalties aside of course.

There too the slowest five are eliminated after 15 minutes with only the top 10 going into Q3, which makes up the top 10 positions on the grid.

That one is simple, the faster you go, the higher you qualifying with the fastest driver in Q3 taking pole position.

Like Formula 1, NASCAR also has different systems with their differing between ovals, of which short tracks have a tweaked system, super-speedways and road course.

On the oval tracks the cars are divided into two groups, A and B. (Yep, a lot of thought was given to those names). They each go out for a single flying lap of which the fastest five to into the final round.

That round, compromising 10 cars, is again a single-lap shootout for speed with the fastest car taking the Busch Pole. Positions 11 to 40 are determined by the times set during the initial qualifying.

At the short tracks, Martinsville, Richmond, Bristol and Dover, the drivers have two laps to get their best qualifying lap time, instead of the afore mentioned one.

The super-speedways don’t divide the field, it’s just one lap each with the top 10 going into the final round. There again it’s one hot lap each to determine the fastest driver.

As for the road courses, again there is group A and group B and this time each has 15 minutes, unlimited laps, to determined the fastest five. Those 10, five from A and five from B, go into the final round which is a 10-minute session to determine the top 10 on the grid.

And if that doesn’t confuse you enough, Bristol’s dirt race grid is decided by a random draw.

What are the differences in race formats between NASCAR and F1?

Aside from having practice sessions, qualifying and a race, Formula 1 and NASCAR differ in a lot of ways. Let’s start with the length of the season.

In 2023 there will be 36 NASCAR race weekends as well as a further three events that aren’t a part of the championship. The season starts with two of those, the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum and Daytona Duel, while later in the year there’s the NASCAR All-Star Race. None of those score championship points, they’re prize money events.

As for Formula 1, there’ll be 23 races this year, the sport visiting 20 different countries with America hosting three races for the first time, Italy being the only other country to host more than one race. But speaking of America, all the NASCAR events take place in the United States.

Then there are the tracks. While in Formula 1 every circuit is a road circuit, some on designated tracks and others incorporating the city’s roads, over in America they also use ovals although technically the Pocono Raceway is a triangle, it’s even dubbed the ‘tricky triangle’. They do have a few road courses, but the majority of the season takes place on ovals.

Well, it takes place on ovals when it’s not raining. NASCAR doesn’t allow the drivers out on track when the drops are falling, it’s deemed too dangerous as they only run slick tyres. This year that may change with the series expected to debut a ‘wet weather package’ that will include a windshield wiper, flaps behind the wheels, tail lights as well as rain tyres.

Formula 1 doesn’t mind if it’s raining, torrential yes but a downpour is okay. The single-seater sport has two sets of wet weather tyres to help with that, intermediate tyres and full wets.

Back to the format. For the majority of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series races the field will be split into two groups who participate in a two-hour practice and qualifying event. But for six of the weekends, classified as ‘expanded weekends’, there’ll be one one stand-alone 50-minute practice with qualifying taking place later in the day. The race is on the Sunday.

Formula 1 also hosts its races on Sundays with two hour-long practice sessions on Fridays, one on a Saturday which is followed two hours later by a three-part elimination qualifying session. But like NASCAR, this year six events will be different, those classified as ‘Sprint’ weekends.

For those there will be one practice hour on a Friday which will be followed by qualifying. Saturday will also have a practice session with the Sprint qualifying race taking place later in the day that will determine the grid for the Sunday’s grand prix.

As for the race, that is another one where NASCAR and Formula 1 have little in common. In the Cup Series, the race consists of three stages with drivers scoring points after each stage. For Stage 1 and 2 the first 10 across the line score points – 10 to 1 – while the winner of the final stage receives 40 with second taking 35 and third 34. And so on it goes down to 36 although 36 to 40 all bag one.

In Formula 1 the top 10 drivers across the line at the very end of the race are the only ones who score points, 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1. There is an additional point if anyone inside the top 10 records the fastest lap time of the race. Sprint qualifying also comes with points but only for the top eight, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.

What are the other key differences between an F1 car and NASCAR?

A Formula 1 Drivers’ Champion is the driver who scores the most points over the course of the entire season. In NASCAR it’s one of 16 who scores the most points in the final 10 events.

The playoff system, previously called the ‘Chase’ but now the ‘Playoffs’, came into effect in 2004 with the 16 drivers scoring the most points in the first 26 races entered into it. The driver who was top of the regular season log carries with them points into the playoff, as do the rest of the top 10 drivers – 15, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.

The 16 eligible drivers earn points in the stages and the overall race with four drivers eliminated after every three races. They only have to beat each other to progress, the rest of the field doesn’t count. And an overall race win means automatic promotion to the next stage of the competition even if they don’t have the points to progress.

Four drivers go into the final race of the season vying for the title, and it’s a case of whoever finishes ahead out of those four wins the NASCAR crown. And if you bump the other guy into the wall, or into a spin, to win the title, so be it.

That’s the attitude of NASCAR where ‘rubbin’ is racing’ is the mantra. Back in 2017 chief operating officer Steve O’Donnell made this very clear on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio when he said: “NASCAR is a contact sport.

“We feel like we can discern when something is so blatantly intentional. You know, where we have to come in an make a call, we will. But, we’re not a sanctioning body or a sport that’s going determine an illegal pass. Based on where somebody went or slight contact, being illegal.”

That’s contrary to Formula 1 where contact is frowned upon and penalised, even pushing someone off the track without contact earns a driver a penalty. The single-seater series even has a penalty points system to keep track of who has done what wrong. In NASCAR that’s the drivers’ memories, and payback can be a thumping DNF.