F1 championship closer than NASCAR

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Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, Monte-Carlo, 2008, qualifying, 470150

Formula 1 often gets compared unfavourably with NASCAR, especially in America where NASCAR is king. Among the various criticisms levelled at F1, some fair and some not, is the charge that Formula 1 is too predictable and the same drivers win all the time.

Four years ago, when Michael Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 races, it was a reasonable point. But has that stared to change?

Last year the top three drivers were within one point of each other at the end of the season. Halfway through 2008 the top three are tied in F1, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup is looking rather one-sided.

F1 championship standings

1. Lewis Hamilton 48 (three wins)
2. Felipe Massa 48 (three wins)
3. Kimi Raikkonen 48 (two wins)

Full F1 points standings

NASCAR Sprint Cup standings

1. Kyle Busch 2,881 (seven wins)
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,619 (one win)
3. Jeff Burton 2,590 (one win)

The F1 points system awards the title to the driver who scores the most points over a season. In the event of a tie, drivers are ranked by who has the most best finishes. So Hamilton and Massa are ahead of Raikkonen (three wins each to two) and Hamilton is ahead of Massa (one tenth place to none).

NASCAR uses a system called the ‘Chase for the Sprint Cup’ to ensure the championship battle lasts until late in the season. Ahead of the final ten races the top 12 drivers’ championship points total are reset to the same level and although they continue to race all the other drivers, only one of those 12 can be champion.

Of course, this means that the best driver over the course of the entire season doesn’t necessarily become the champion. (Read more on how the Chase works here).

F1 and NASCAR could not be more different in concept. And it’s surprising to see that in F1, where the performance of different cars can be great, the championship battle is so close. Meanwhile in NASCAR, where the cars are practically identical, Kyle Busch has won more races than the other top ten NASCAR drivers put together.

How has Formula 1 become so close? And why is Busch doing so well?

Busch drives for Toyota in NASCAR and his successes are regularly booed by a large number of NASCAR fans who resent seeing a driver of a Japanese car doing so well in an America-based series. Busch is apparently going to drive Toyota’s F1 car at the end of the year. As one of the most well-recognised American racing drivers it would be a gigantic PR coup if the 23 year-old got a race seat.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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37 comments on “F1 championship closer than NASCAR”

  1. It’s amazing how close and exciting the past two F1 seasons have been. It makes you wonder if those complaining about the state of F1 and how little overtaking there is and blah blah blah, I wonder if they are all just talking complete nonsense. I will say this: if 2009 — with its new regulations — turns out to be a bore, I will scream.

  2. It is shaping up to be a fight to the finish for the F1 title…the good news about Nascar is that they do reshuffle the points when the Chase begins. Kyle Busch is so dominant now, but could falter when it counts.

  3. I think some of the reason for the standings becoming closer is that the regs have caused the cars to become much more similar to each other. When I first started visiting F1 blogs, I recall getting a response to a comment about how far apart teams’ performances seemed to be (that year, how slow Spyker were) and I got a response that the cars’ times have never been closer, it just wasn’t showing on the standings yet.

    It’s starting to show on the standings now.

    Yes, it’s the same usual suspects qualifying well, but the regs have now made it difficult enough on the drivers that there can be performance problems again, if not in the cars, than in the drivers, that we have a reason to watch: if Ferrari or McLaren make a grave mistake, someone from a mid-level team is going to score the good points, and someone we don’t expect to see getting points is going to earn some.

    An English fellow I was talking to commented that he saw a Nascar race where the driver was changed. I explained that although all the attention is put on the drivers, in truth, historically, Nascar is a competition between the cars and that the driver is not even obligated to qualify his own car for the race. Somehow, Nascar’s media machine have forgotten that when they made all the cars the same.

    As an aside, I’ve noticed that the current Nascar has problems with dirty air and drafting.

    The F1 twin championships of the Constructor’s (the competition between the cars) and Driver’s (the competition between the people in the cars) is specifically designed to prove who is best. Nascar’s cup system was overhauled to generate TV money.

    I’ve gathered for a while that Formula 1 are at the end of an era; perhaps we are seeing a foreshadow of better times ahead.

  4. Robert McKay
    13th July 2008, 16:44

    I’m going to sound like a stuck record here, but F1 2007 was not exciting. It was on paper because the championship was so close but only three races (Canada, China and Japan) were really any good.

    Having said that F1 2008 is genuinely very good. We’ve already had 4 great races and we’re only halfway into the season (Australia, Canada, Monaco and Britain), so we’re up on 2007 in my book.

    But the F1 regs still need fixed. Dry races are still largely uninspiring, the odd race excepted. What the big help is is being able to race in the wet… It’s all the extra variables that wet running brings that really have added a lot to F1 over the last couple of seasons. Obviously it can’t be done in NASCAR, but the sea change that occurs when it rains is so important to F1. Barrichello on the podium would not have happened in the dry.

    NASCAR’s Chase System is brilliant for shooting themselves in the foot too. What’s the point of a 36-race calendar (or whatever it is) if only the last 10 decide who is champion? I presume most of the top drivers are just content to be in the Chase positions and cruise for most of the season, be safe, and then watch the leaders come back to you as the adjust the points. It’s as artificial as WTCC’s race-by-race ballast decisions and is, ironically, similar to the complaints levelled at F1 in that going for the win is not encouraged because you only get a couple more points. A win in the non-Chase NASCAR rounds is considerably less important. Good for glory, but means a lot less from a championship view.

  5. Robert: That is exactly what happens in Nascar; in the US we compare it to the NHL hockey playoff system, where teams just try to be among the best 16 and don’t play seriously until they’re in the Stanley Cup tournament.

    It works for generating ratings on a big calendar, but we know that competitively, it makes no sense. The other cars only run in the post-season to collect advertising and possibly steal away some of the prize purse.

  6. The NASCAR system is awful. Imagine being 5-0 up in a world cup final and it getting to the 80th minute and they reset the score to make it closer! If they were that bothered why not make it 20 for first, 19 for second etc. instead of 400,000 for first, 390,000 for second or whatever the hell it is

  7. Kyle Busch has been getting booed for years, I don’t think it has anything to do with driving a Toyota (this is his first year doing so). I think the recent booing is mostly caused by wrecking Dale Earnhart Jr. (by far the most popular driver in NASCAR) earlier this year. While we Americans can be xenophobic, sometimes a driver’s just perceived as a jerk, no matter what car he’s driving =).

    FWIW, I’ve never understood the “foreign car” concept. Until recently I lived very close to the Princeton, Indiana Toyota production facility which employed a large number of my fellow citizens, pumping a ton of money into the local economy. In 2002 I was shopping for a new car and had narrowed it down to a Toyota or a Ford. I went to the Ford dealership and asked them to tell me why I should buy theirs over the Toyota, and the first thing the guy said was “it’s American made”. Unbelievable…

  8. mJohnHurt – I agree with you about the nationalism thing, it does matter to some people, but I’m not accusing the entire population of American of being xenophobes! I understand Earnhardt Jnr’s popular though, so that must have as much to do with it as the Toyota thing. I’m told Busch is pretty handy, but I can’t really judge if he could (or would want to) make the jump.

  9. Montoya did say that Kyle will have to train his neck muscles before he tests the Toyota F1 car, or his neck won’t cope with the G-Forces apparently.

    Certainly I would imagine to start with, Kyle would get overtaken in the braking zones, as he is not used to braking heavily like in F1. NASCAR only runs on two road courses a season.

  10. Robert McKay
    13th July 2008, 19:22

    “NASCAR only runs on two road courses a season.”

    Which is a shame, because from what I saw of the one road course they’ve run on so far this season it actually looked quite good. Cars are a handful, very squirrely under braking, very tail happy putting the power down, lots of outbraking moves and a very good road course to boot. Similar to the Speedcar series, but with cars that looked less unwieldy, more reliable and (much, much) more of them. If they could get it up to 5 or 6 that would actually be more welcome, but I suppose that’s not going to happen.

    It would be interesting to hear of the hardcore NASCAR fans views on the road course races – do they tolerate them, hate them, ambivalent on them, wish there was just two more ovals or what?

  11. @ Robert Mckay, Im sorry but 2007 was the most exciting F1 season since 1999 in my book. If you found last season boring then how did you last through 2002 & 2004, not seasons I found boring but much more predictable, and unmemorable than last years epic!

    What has been your favourite season since 1995? (I only say from then because it was the first season I fully watched)

    No nastyness ment by this post I just don’t really see why you thought last year wasn’t exciting? Ben x

  12. Jumping into the conversation here, but Robert may not have “lasted through” 2002 and 2004, I certainly didn’t!

    I’ve watched F1 full-time since 1997, and I was a supporter of Schumi for a long time until he started dominating so much so that after a couple of races in 2002, I abandoned it right through until 2005. It was annoying that 2003 turned out a be a good season.

    In my opinion, 2007 was by no-means the best season I’ve seen. As a whole, the results were very close, but only 4 races in the season were exciting, the rest were bore-fests. Compare that to 1995, where the season was practically drenched with the rain! On paper, it wasn’t close, but the races were amazing!

    2008 is doing very well so far, 4 great races out of 9, and the results are close.

  13. “Squirrely”

    Robert McKay leads the ‘adjective of the year’ contest I just created.

    As for what makes an exciting season…

    2007 had an exciting narrative, no question. Spygate and Hamilton vs Alonso were two enormous stories. But which were the great races? There was no Suzuka ’05 or Silverstone ’03 – by which I mean no ‘pure’ good race that wasn’t a safety car smashfest or a wet race.

    2003 and 2005 on the other hand had some of the kind of politics we remember ’07 for (the Michelin tyre ban and the Indianapolis debacle) but also exciting races of the kind we really didn’t have last year, as Robert points out.

  14. Robert McKay
    13th July 2008, 20:53

    “@ Robert Mckay, Im sorry but 2007 was the most exciting F1 season since 1999 in my book. If you found last season boring then how did you last through 2002 & 2004, not seasons I found boring but much more predictable, and unmemorable than last years epic!
    What has been your favourite season since 1995? (I only say from then because it was the first season I fully watched)
    No nastyness ment by this post I just don’t really see why you thought last year wasn’t exciting?”

    No worries Ben it’s a fair point. 2002 and 2004 were also incredibly dull years. Even more so than 2007, because they had fewer memorable Grands Prix without the closeness of the title fight to match (though there were a few good ones). I think my point about 2007 still stands – sure, the title fight was exciting and close, but how many times did that spill onto the track? Rarely. Most of the GPs were individually quite dull. The aero is destroying the ability to even run close, let alone pass, and that problem has just got worse and worse as long as I’ve been following the sport.

    This year has all the closeness of last years title fight, plus more memorable races already, so it’s shaping up to be a classic. In terms of good seasons, 1999 as you say, 2000 as well, 2003 was pretty good too because three teams were fighting it out. 2005 was a great season too.

  15. Keith, “squirrelly” is one of those terms that Americans took up, like saying “tight” and “loose” instead of understeering and oversteering. It describes the wheelslip from stepping on the accelerator if you didn’t gather.

    I think the closeness of the races and how good they’ve been is a bit more luck than anything else; I think most of the craziness we’ve seen are from the teams failing to adapt to the changes and we can expect more of that in the coming years.

  16. Robert McKay
    13th July 2008, 22:12

    I nabbed “squirrelly” from Brundle, so he must have stolen it from Americans. Good word, works nicely :-D

  17. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever heard Hobbs say it, now…

  18. “squirrelly”…..loose in the corners and almost too much to handle….shimmies,and wiggles(there is two more funny words for you)

    Take it from a Yank…that’s OUR word.

  19. Robert: I can understand you… 1993, for example, is one of my favorites season (I began watching in 1991)… even if it was quite clear, from the beginning, that Prost and Williams were the combination to beat, exactly because of that Senna drove his underperforming McLaren beyond the limits, and almost made the title fight interesting. Even without winning the Championship, Ayrton drove his best races, like the unforgetable 1993 European Grand Prix, in Donington…

  20. I bet it sounds great in an American accent too! ‘Sqwirly’

  21. I love the American use of the word ‘winningest’.

    e.g. “Kyle Busch is the winningest driver of this season”

  22. Keith,

    why are you even bothering comparing the pinacle of (true) racing w/ garbage like NASCAR ? I think we are stooping too low here.

  23. The reason, in my eyes, for Kyle Busch’s success this season is his desire, total desire, to prove his distractors wrong.
    When Busch was dumped by Hendrick Motorsports last season, to make way for Dale Earnhardt JNR, Busch took alot of flak from alot of people. He was seen as a car wrecker, reckless.
    He had displayed great driving, but at times showed a ruthlessness that at times ran faster than the car itself. In the All Star Race, Busch took out his older brother Kurt during the race, an act that apparently left the two brothers relationship in tatters.
    Hendrick Motorsports is basically the same to NASCAR as Ferrari are to Formula One. They are the dominant force, and with multiple champions Jeff Gordan and Jimmie Johnson onboard, along with the hugely popular Earnhardt JNR, Hendrick Motorsports looked to be the ones to beat for 2008.
    Kyle Busch has set out to prove them wrong, and has done it in complete style. I watched his victory last week in the Daytona 400 and could not help to be impressed. At one stage, he fell as far back as 37th, only to charge back through the field to take the victory, amidst a torrent of beer cans from the crowd.
    To me, the F1 connection with Kyle Busch is another snipe at his NASCAR distractors. He is saying to them just how good he is, that he is capable of plying his trade elsewhere, and that NASCAR is not his only alternative.
    If NASCAR lose Kyle Busch to F1 the ramifications will be significent. He is the form driver at the moment in American stock car racing, the second most watched sport in the nation. To lose him to a rival series, especially F1, which is seen as European based, will be a major blow.
    In F1 I see a void that has been left since the departure of Michael Schumacher in 2006. A void that we all thought would fall to Fernando Alonso, or even Kimi Raikkonen. In fact, it has not fallen to either of those men alone, but to five men in total. They are Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Massa, and Kubica.
    These men have shown, two of them have proven, qualities of being a champion. Speed, consistency, maturity, and will.
    For most of Schumacher’s reign, he normally only had to contend with one other serious rival at a time. Hill, Hakkinen, Montoya, Raikkonen, Alonso. He never faced, year on year, consistent challenges by different drivers driving different cars.
    In the days of Senna and Prost, the championship was regulary fought between several different drivers in different machines.
    The true art of a competitive series, no matter what it is, is that the more drivers fighting for the championship, the more entertaining.
    Six years ago, Michael Schumacher would secure pole on the Saturday, and more often than not, drive unhindered to victory on Sunday. The races were predictable, and in the case of Austria 2002, almost criminal.
    Now it is different. Pole position now, does not always mean victory. The teams are alot closer together, and with BMW Sauber’s arrival, the old guard are finally being challenged.
    Everything in life has the habit of going full circle, even motor racing.

  24. On the topic of the quality of recent F1 seasons, 2008 is my first following the sport, so I can’t offer much there! I will say, however, that as the 2007 season wound down, the close battle for the championship played a key role in catching the attention of many mainstream American sports fans such as myself, and it was a key factor in developing my F1 interest- it was a refreshing break from years of Schumi domination.

    I’m not a NASCAR fan, but the chase for the cup was a major PR/marking plus for NASCAR, as it showed the American sporting public that drivers and teams needed to perform well early in the season just to get into the chase. In my view, the chase format ensures quality racing for the entire season, and that ensures that the championship will be decided late in the season no matter what happens. I think it’s a great thing for NASCAR, but would not be benificial for F1 for a number of reasons.

  25. the limit, that’s a great post, and I was just going to talk about Kyle Busch here also!

    From what I’ve seen and heard from Kyle, he’s enthusiastic about his F1 test in the off-season, but I doubt he’d be jumping to F1 even if he were offered a seat right away. He dose indeed want to prove Rick Hendrick and company- as well as the rest of the NASCAR establishment- that they made the wrong decision by bringing Jr. aboard this season, and that means dominating NASCAR for at least another year or two. Still, he’s young and if he maintains ties in F1 and wins a few Sprint Cup titles, I think he may give F1 a shot. He’s done well on the road courses he’s driven this season- winning both at Inferion in the Sprint Cup, as well as at the former F1 venue in Mexico City on the Nationwide Series- essentially NASCAR’s junior formula.

    If- and I’m just saying if- Kyle Busch or another NASCAR driver made a sucessful jump to F1 and did some winning, it would be just the bombshell F1 needs in America. I would love for an American driver to emerge from the European junior formule and show the world that Americna talent can be developed in the traditonal F1 mold, but a NASCAR champ turned F1 star would be a smash hit in America.

  26. I believe the points system in NASCAR has been a big factor in Kyle Busch dominating the title chase. In F1, it is difficult to put a wide gap from your rivals even if you win all the races. Also, the rain races, the emergence of BMW Sauber and relative mid-pack consistency from Weber and Trulli has meant that scoring no points in 1 or 2 races is not going to siginifcantly affect a drivers chances at the title.

    However, the NASCAR Chase will start with the top 12 drivers all level except for 10 points for every win earned in the prior races. Kyle Busch will have a slender lead going into the chase on his rivals. However, one race can wipe out that difference. So I feel that it is too early to say that the NASCAR title chase is lopsided.

    Regarding whether Kyle Busch will make the jump to Formula One, I don’t see it. Unless he gets a race seat in a Ferrari or McLaren, why should he leave the lucrative NASCAR scene to languish in the F-1 mid-pack or worse?

    I believe he is talented enough to be competitive in a F-1 ride after a year or two of testing and/or GP2. And since he is only 23, he will still be a viable candidate for F-1 for a while.

    But why should he do it if he can run 2-3 races a weekend in NASCAR and make a boatload of guaranteed money while competing for wins?

  27. But that’s the sad thing about the NASCAR points structure: the championship will always feel… artificial, especially if you grew up a fan of any other form of racing (save the WTCC, I guess) and you’re watching NASCAR as a casual fan.

  28. I have yet to get to grips with the NASCAR points system, and now it seems that I never will! The idea of a reset of all the points for that last ten races is a bit wierd, but then since there are so many cars on the grids, I suppose you have to stop somewhere and see who is the best of the best.
    Actually, the current BTCC is doing something vaguely similar each race weekend, with the top 8 positions from Race 2 being reversed for Race 3, and the winners getting ballast too, its very much ‘OK Mr fast guy, now beat your opponents!’
    If the current F1 season continues as it has been, with Ferrari and McLaren sharing victories, and other teams taking points away from them, it would be intreging to know what the official position on an absolute 3-way tie after the last race (and I mean equal points and equal wins too). Would Bernie have to organise a whole extra ‘tie-breaker’ race weekend, like tennis? Or would it be a Race of Champions ‘penalty shoot-out’, like football?
    It would be much better to give points for getting Pole positon, Fastest Lap and leading the race, it really does help to show who is the better driver!

  29. Oh, DG, as much as I’d love a “Race of Champions” shootout, the FIA rules state that if two or more drivers have the same number of points and wins, they could the number of 2nds and 3rds and so on until a winner can be found.

    If there is still no winner after going through all that, only then can the FIA set their own criteria as they see fit. If Max and Bernie are still at war, I don’t like how this could end. But if they’re on better terms by then, why would Max stop Bernie from holding a shootout race, right? :)

  30. @ Gman “On the topic of the quality of recent F1 seasons, 2008 is my first following the sport”

    You’ve chosen a great season to start watching mate :)

  31. Journeyer – would it include the ‘Best of the Rest too? In which case it would be a very dramatic version of the NASCAR system…..

  32. Simply put, comparing F1 to NASCAR is like comparing apples to bicycles. There is absolutely no comparison. One is a high-tec, International series with highly-skilled drivers and a world-wide fan base. The other is simply a dull, not very interestin rural American spec series with a bunch of yahoo’s for fans.

  33. @ Robert “The aero is destroying the ability to even run close, let alone pass, and that problem has just got worse and worse as long as I’ve been following the sport.”

    I agree with this but feel the tracks have a bigger impact on the excitment, year after year we have great races at the great tracks (Montreal,Melbourne,Suzuka,Interlagos,spa,Monza) and processional races at the usual suspects (Barcelona,France, characterless Tilkedromes). Yes the aero does matter but if every race of the year was at a brilliant track then we would all be happy.

  34. Trig, the opposite of “winningest” is “suckingest”.

    I think the question being asked is, why is F1 having a closer championship in its not really identical cars than Nascar in their virtually spec cars?

    I think the regs have made F1 more “spec” than most of us like to think, thank the engine freeze for that, and Nascar and other spec series where the same teams dominate prove that unless the spec is changed often, a few teams will learn to excel at it in a very drastic way.

  35. Nascar changed to the Chase format to emulate other pro sports and their playoff system–in the states, not something you guys over the pond have in EPL. Last years champ Jimmy Johnson didnt have a stronger year than Jeff Gordon, he just won damn near every chase race. This year Kyle Busch is just dominant.

    I think it is because he is great at driving a loose race car and with the new car, it is really hard to make the handling feel right for the drivers. The thing that Nascar has that F1 doesnt is the ability for more than a few drivers to win a race. Kyle Busch might win the most, but a dozen or more guys will win a race (twice as many races and cars however).

  36. Good entry. Totally agree with you.

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