The NASCAR mindset Formula 1 needs to bring to intentional contact

Elizabeth Blackstock
NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman spin while avoiding contact at Richmond Raceway, 2024.

NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman spin while avoiding contact at Richmond Raceway, 2024.

While NASCAR’s “rubbin’ is racin'” mindset is well known in the motorsport world, the American stock car racing series appears to have one rule that Formula 1 lacks: Intentional contact is worth a penalty.

During Free Practice 3 for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix, two separate incidents of drivers seeming to make contact with the competition out of frustration took place, and the drivers involved — Charles Leclerc and Lance Stroll — both avoided penalties for what many saw as a serious infraction. What could Formula 1 learn from NASCAR when it comes to intentional contact?

What happened in FP3 for the Spanish Grand Prix?

During the end of the final practice session leading into the Spanish Grand Prix, two incidents of avoidable contact took place that were not penalized.

First, Lance Stroll and Lewis Hamilton collided at Turn 5. Stroll noted a few corners previously that perhaps Hamilton “thinks he’s alone on the track” after he got in Stroll’s way — but as Hamilton drove wide to allow Stroll past, the Aston Martin driver followed Hamilton’s arc and clipped him.

Stroll, though, admitted that he drove into Hamilton because he wanted to “express his displeasure” toward his competition — seemingly admitting that he crashed into Hamilton on purpose.

The stewards reviewing the footage, however, determined that the the contact was “incidental” and “erratic,” albeit not dangerous. Stroll was reprimanded but faced no penalty.

Just minutes after the Stroll-Hamilton incident, Charles Leclerc swiped his Ferrari across the nose of Lando Norris after seemingly being frustrated by the McLaren driver getting in his way. Leclerc moved to his left and made contact with Norris, appearing to be furious in the cockpit.

Though Leclerc took a more gracious approach after the fact and called the coming together a “misunderstanding” occasioned by the two drivers being forced to abort their fast laps, the on-track maneuver was still questionable. He, too, avoided any penalty for the mishap.

While Leclerc’s explanation offers some wiggle room regarding fault and intent, Stroll certainly seemed unapologetic. It should go without saying that it’s incredibly dangerous to make contact with a competitor intentionally, and that kind of behavior should be penalized.

Fascinatingly, in this regard, NASCAR has better protocol than Formula 1.

More on Formula 1’s NASCAR ties

👉 What Haas’ continued NASCAR presence says about its F1 program

👉 Why so serious? Four valuable lessons F1 can learn from polarising NASCAR series

What’s different in NASCAR?

I won’t go so far as to say that NASCAR is the perfect shining example of how a race series should operate when it comes to contact; the stock car series is designed with bumping in mind, and it does often tend to be quite lax about potential penalty issues if there’s at least some doubt that the contact was the result of a racing incident.

However, NASCAR makes no qualms about the fact that it will penalize its drivers who state that their crashes were done with intent.

In early 2023, for example, NASCAR fined driver Denny Hamlin and docked him 25 points after intentionally crashing into Ross Chastain during the end of the spring Phoenix race. Hamlin later spoke out on his podcast, saying that he intended to crash into Chastain.

Stewards cited Sections 4.4 of the NASCAR Rule Book, titled the NASCAR Code of Conduct, that forbids drivers from attempting to manipulate a race by wrecking the competition, or by engaging in “actions NASCAR finds to be detrimental” to the sport.

Yes, that crash took place during a race — but the moment Hamlin verbally admitted to intentionally hitting a competitor, he was penalized.

Formula 1 is unquestionably a different beast when compared to NASCAR in many ways, but those differences don’t mean that knowledge can’t be shared between the two sports. In fact, I would argue that F1 should treat any kind of frustrated, intentional contact with a far heavier hand than it has this weekend thanks to the expense of the cars and the dangers of the open-wheel format. Even if the contact didn’t put anyone in danger, the act was still dangerous.

F1 would do well to revisit its rules regarding contact and intent, and to adopt a mindset similar to that of NASCAR: that any intentional contact is worth a penalty. There’s no reason to wait until one frustrated action results in someone getting hurt.

Read next: ‘Erratic’ Leclerc and Stroll escape grid penalties for causing Norris/Hamilton collisions