Long: NASCAR, Formula 1 more alike than one might expect
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Don’t be distracted by the palm trees, yachts on the fake water and celebrities sauntering by, but listen to what is being said at the Formula One Miami Grand Prix.
You might be surprised.
A sojourn at the first of three U.S. Formula One weekends this year provided the chance to view an exotic event that attracts such powerbrokers — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos both were in attendance Saturday — and VIPs that some F1 journalists liken the star power in Miami to that of the Monaco Grand Prix.
But what my maiden trip to a Formula One event showed is how similar NASCAR and F1 can be.
A key debate this NASCAR season has been about passing, especially at short tracks. Some drivers have called for more horsepower — and if not that, other changes — to make passes more feasible. The argument is that more passing will improve the races, create more interest and draw more fans.
Any increase in horsepower is not likely soon. Any changes to the tires will take time. Minor modifications to the cars have made some races better but not as much as competitors seek.
So the challenge is how to make the passing better.
Formula One faces a similar issue. It’s just that in this series they call it overtaking instead of passing.
The F1 series came to Miami after last weekend’s event in Azerbaijan, a race derided as “boring” by Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said Thursday that he doesn’t view F1 as boring from his seat, but he knows others may with limited passing and the lack of competition — Red Bull Racing has won all four races this year and is on the pole for Sunday’s race with Sergio Perez.
“As a racing fan watching, I can understand because it’s not as much competition as they’re perhaps used to with the NFL or the NBA at the moment,” Hamilton said. “We need to do better as a sport. They have already tried to bring the teams closer, but it never seems to work.”
Hamilton makes a salient point. Many motorsports fans enjoy other sports. Each sport competes for attention. But if a race or game is viewed as boring — or lacking as much excitement as expected — it’s easy for the fan to go elsewhere with their time and money. It’s why so many rule changes in team sports often lead to more offense, creating action that can lure more people.
Racing’s equivalent to more offense in a team sport is passing on the track. That’s why so much attention is focused on that subject.
The lack of passing — even by Formula One standards — was stark in Azerbaijan and a topic of discussion by a number of drivers this weekend.
“I think this year it is more difficult to follow,” said Pierre Gasly, who joined teammate Esteban Ocon in driving an RFK Racing Cup car on the Charlotte Roval earlier this week.
If one struggles to follow another car, how are they going to pass?
It’s similar to a discussion in NASCAR that grew more prominent after last month’s race at Martinsville Speedway. Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano was among those who lamented the difficulties in passing after that race.
“You got 30-something cars out there that run within a tenth of a (second),” Logano told NBC Sports after Martinsville. “I was racing cars that I didn’t think I’d be racing, cars that in the past you would pass with ease. I couldn’t do that. … There’s just not enough speed difference in the cars.
“They’re almost the same. There’s not much fall-off. We need more fall-off, and we need a lot more horsepower.”
In NASCAR’s meeting with drivers last month at Talladega, Denny Hamlin said Goodyear officials spoke about what they could do to the tire in the hopes of creating more fall-off, which would help passing.
“I left that meeting very optimistic with what I heard,” Hamlin said. “The changes in the car. Goodyear, kind of really stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, we had to be very conservative the first year of Next Gen, we’ve been very common with our tires. We feel like we’re comfortable enough now to start mixing that up and really start getting more aggressive with our tire compounds.’
“That’s all fantastic news for us and, hopefully, for competition here in the next few months.”