Which is faster: a NASCAR or a Formula 1 race car? If you’re brave enough to keep your right foot pinned to the accelerator pedal in either of these cars as the speedometer needle races towards 200 mph, you’ll quickly learn that both those cars are incredibly fast. We have investigated these motorsports to bring you the answer to this adrenaline-fueled contest.
In terms of outright speed, Formula 1 race are faster than NASCARs. Formula 1 cars achieve a 235 mph top speed and sprint from 0 to 62 mph in 2.5 seconds whereas a NASCAR’s top speed has been recorded at 212 mph and accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 3.5 seconds. Furthermore, Formula 1 cars reach 200 mph in 9 seconds while in that same time a NASCAR will only attain 160 mph.
So there you have it, a Formula 1 race car will accelerate faster and have a higher top speed than a NASCAR. You might be asking yourself what makes a Formula 1 faster than a NASCAR and, if you stay strapped in from here, I’ll bring you the nuts and bolts of this NASCAR vs. Formula 1 match-up.
Why F1 Cars Are Faster than NASCAR Cars
There are five main differences between NASCAR and Formula 1 that explains just why Formula 1 is the undisputed pinnacle of motorsport in terms of performance:
- Design Dynamics
- Acceleration and Deceleration
- Race Formats
Formula 1 and NASCAR cars’ performance is heavily regulated – and in very different ways. NASCAR emphasizes the role of the driver in the overall performance of a car and the outcome of a race, while Formula 1 is about building the fastest car and creating the newest technology in pursuit of marginal gains.
To underline the performance differences, let these figures and numbers sink in:
An average NASCAR team’s operating budget for a season is about $7 million with a race car costing about $1.5 million each.
An average Formula 1 team’s budget is $300 million per season with a car costing about $9 million each.
A NASCAR team comprises of at most 100 members while Formula 1 teams employ over 1,000 people each.
With this in mind lets dive into 5 reasons why an F1 car is faster than a NASCAR.
1. Design Dynamics
By taking a look at these two different race cars and their race series’ regulations, it is plain to see that both are far more technically advanced than our road cars, but Formula 1 cars trump NASCAR for technical innovation.
All NASCARs are built on identical chassis (but feature manufacturer-specific body shells on top), the same 4-speed manual transmissions, the same engine size and power output, and their engines even feature the same general design too albeit with certain engine parts used to differentiate between the different manufacturers (Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota compete in NASCAR). This allows for closer racing, more overtaking during races and allows the drivers’ skills to play a large part in the outcome of a race.
NASCARs are closed sedan-style vehicles weighing a minimum of 3,200 lb with a hulking 5.8-liter V8 engine that produces 750 hp on tap, revs to 9,000 rpm and is linked to a 4-speed manual transmission. These stock cars are designed to roughly resemble our own everyday road cars.
Formula 1 race cars are highly complex in design with one aim in purpose: speed. They are futuristic, computer-designed race cars that look unlike anything else in the motoring world.
Teams are required to manufacture all their race car’s components in-house, and in fact these designs are closely-guarded trade secrets. From the chassis, their steering wheels, to suspension parts, engines, clutches and even items such as the front and rear wings are all unique to each team.
Formula 1’s rules allow team’s engineers to constantly push the boundaries of these regulations – but not to overstep those parameters. This leads to one team usually dominating a race or a season due to its technical advantages, while not necessarily due to the driver being the most skilled.
Formula 1 cars are open-wheeled, open-cockpit racers with a minimum weight of just 1,604 lb. They are powered by 1.6-liter turbocharged V-6 engines that develops 800 hp, rev to 15,000 rpm and are mated to 8-speed semi-automatic transmissions that changes gears in split seconds.
These low-slung race cars feature extremely intricate and complex aerodynamic aids to improve downforce and generate huge levels of traction in ways similar to those of jet fighters to cut through the air.
We’ll be diving into some technical language to break down just why power isn’t quite enough to make a NASCAR as fast as a similarly-powered Formula 1 car.
NASCAR engines generate around 750 hp while Formula 1 cars develop slightly more at 800 hp. They should then have nearly the same top speeds and acceleration figures. But, that’s not the whole picture. What sets a Formula 1’s performance apart from a NASCAR is its weight: a Formula 1 is only half the weight of a NASCAR.
A car’s power-to-weight ratio is more indicative of its performance than mere horsepower figures.
From its high-revving 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged V-6 engines, Formula 1 cars pack out 800 hp to move just 1,604 lb. of weight around a race track. A NASCAR weighs 3,250 lb. and its 5.8-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine has 750 hp to move it forward. The power-to-weight ratio of a Formula 1 car is calculated at 0.498 hp/lb versus a NASCAR’s 0.233 hp/lb.
In theory, a Formula 1 could accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in less than 1 second, but that amount of power simply cannot be converted to forward motion at those low speeds due to traction loss – the car would just burn up the tyres and hardly move forward.
As speeds rise above 80-90 mph, the traction loss is reduced and the air moving over and around the Formula 1 car would increase its downforce (more on that later) to accelerate the car quicker.
That is why with that higher power-to-weight ratio a Formula 1 car can accelerate from 0 to 200 mph in 9 seconds, while a NASCAR is able to attain 0 to 160 mph in those same 9 seconds. And, that’s not slow by anyone’s standards, but in this NASCAR vs. Formula 1 duel the NASCAR is truly trounced.
3. Acceleration and Deceleration
Thanks to a Formula 1 car’s incredible power-to-weight figure it is capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 mph and back to 0 in less than 5 seconds. This blinding acceleration and deceleration set these cars apart from all others in just about every type of acceleration and deceleration comparisons.
Acceleration and deceleration forces play a huge role in NASCAR and Formula 1 cars and the ways in which their engineers manage these forces. These different race cars are built to not only withstand these forces but to use them to improve performance.
When accelerating and decelerating (usually when braking), a race car experiences intense forces that impact on the car’s speed and the way it handles.
Up to about 125 mph, a Formula 1 car generates an acceleration figure of 1.45 Gs, meaning that the driver’s neck and head is pushed backwards by a force that is 1.45 times greater than that of Earth’s gravity.
This force increases as speeds reach 200 mph and beyond, with drivers experiencing 4.74 Gs on straights to make a driver’s head weigh nearly five times more. To put these numbers into another context, a rocket launch generates 3 Gs of accelerative force.
Formula 1 and NASCARs’ aerodynamic wizardry (more on that later), their braking systems and tire technologies help their race cars cut through the air, stop in extremely short distances and turn corners at eye-watering speeds.
The most astounding aspect of a Formula 1 car isn’t its acceleration, but rather its deceleration and braking performance.
Driver experience a deceleration force of 6.78 Gs – meaning a driver’s head is nearly seven times its normal weight. Our everyday road cars, in comparison, only generates 1 G of braking force.
A Formula 1 car’s aerodynamics glue the car to the road surface so much so that when a driver lifts off the throttle and coasts, it will slow down as fast as most sports cars can achieve at their extreme braking force.
When a Formula 1 driver does use the car’s braking power, it is enough to bruise a driver’s ribcage. The biggest braking action currently in Formula 1 sees drivers braking from 200 mph to 40 mph to negotiate a tight turn. This heavy braking is achieved within just 239 ft and in only 2.5 seconds with a deceleration of 6.02 Gs. And, drivers need to negotiate that corner 67 times in a race.
A NASCAR, which isn’t allowed anywhere near the same amount of aerodynamic aids as allowed in Formula 1, is still able to generate 3.05 Gs of accelerative force when hurtling around an oval track at 200 mph.
On average, a NASCAR driver hardly touches the brake pedal of their race car on large oval tracks such as Indianapolis, Talladega and Daytona – other than when entering the pit lane or in braking to avoid crashes.
Lapping at consistently high speeds of 200 mph for 300-plus laps calls for a NASCAR drive to be very brave indeed. When a NASCAR driver stands on the braking pedal, the car is able to slow from 200 mph to to 0 in about 7.5 seconds.
However, NASCAR race tracks are completely different from Formula’s 1 road circuits: a NASCAR doesn’t need to continually accelerate and decelerate as many times each lap as a Formula 1 car.
Aerodynamics is the way air passes over, around and under a race car to affect its performance and handling. Reducing drag (the resistance a car experienced when passing through air at high speeds) and increasing downforce (the downward force air exerts on a race car’s wheels) are the two major areas that aerodynamicists focus on for performance gains in Formula 1 and NASCAR.
When comparing how a NASCAR and Formula 1 car look, a NASCAR’s aerodynamics might seem unsophisticated to the untrained eye, but it employs the same principles as Formula 1 in seeking ways to cheat the air.
It is, however, in the way in which the aerodynamicists are allowed to cheat the air in Formula 1 and NASCAR that are so different.
NASCAR’s aero technology includes low and wide front spoilers, wind tunnel-shaped body shell surfaces and steeply raked windscreens to be more slippery through the air and tall rear spoilers to lower the car’s air resistance while optimizing its downforce for traction on the rear wheels for speed. The aims of NASCAR’s aerodynamic regulations promote drafting and overtaking to improve the racing spectacle on-track.
A Formula 1 team’s aerodynamicists push the envelopes of this ‘dark art’ through tens of millions of dollars in research and development each season to lower their race cars’ lap times by tenths of a second per lap.
With multiple left- and right-hand corners of varying speeds, a Formula 1 race car’s aerodynamics focus more on downforce for improved grip for cornering than seeking to reduce drag for higher speeds.
Aerodynamic downforce pushes Formula 1 cars to the ground with such force that it could theoretically drive upside down in a tunnel.
Every surface of a F1 car shapes and channels air over, under and around it.
These cars’ front and rear primary wings are intricately designed with different profiles depending on the downforce requirements of a particular track – for race tracks with many low-speed corners, a car will feature very different aerodynamic wing settings and designs than for a track with long straights and few slow-speed corners.
The front and rear wings feature separate blades to not only reduce drag on straights but to also increase downforce when cornering. In fact, every surface of a Formula 1 race car – even the driver’s helmet – is taken into consideration when working on the aerodynamics of the race car for different tracks.
As quick as Formula 1 aerodynamicists find ways to cheat the air, the sport’s rules are revised and force the aerodynamicists to find ever more creative solutions.
Today, those full-width wings work in the same ways as aircraft wings but in reverse: instead of generating lift for a plane to fly, it pushes the car further down onto the ground to improve the tires’ contact with the road.
Since the start of the 2011 Formula 1 season, cars run with an adjustable rear wing known as the DRS (Drag Reduction System). This allows drivers to deploy DRS on straights, which opens the rear wing and dramatically reduces drag to increase speed by as much as 10 mph.
As I’ve established, NASCAR’s aerodynamic regulations promote overtaking and while Formula 1’s rules make overtaking more difficult when you disregard the DRS system; a Formula 1 car’s aerodynamics are designed for outright performance, to create the fastest possible race car on the grid.
5. Race Format
The DNA of Formula 1 and NASCAR races and race tracks plays a huge role in determining their race cars’ performance. NASCAR races can be likened to marathons while Formula 1’s races are sprints.
A NASCAR race is usually 3 to 4 hours in duration with drivers clocking up between 400 and 500 miles each race over 350 laps of tracks that are 1- to 2-miles long. With only 2 or 4 left-hand turns per lap to negotiate, NASCAR drivers focus on maintaining high speeds and using their cars’ brakes as little as possible.
Formula 1 races are completed in less than 2 hours with cars running for around 185 miles over tight and twisting multi-corner tracks. Where NASCAR drivers aim to lap at around 200 mph without lifting off the gas, Formula 1 tracks require drivers to be incredibly accurate in accelerating and braking for around 22 corners per lap for an average of 57 laps a race.
NASCAR racing puts an emphasis on a driver for race wins and championship wins, while Formula 1 places the same focus on the driver’s and team’s championships.
A Formula 1 team will spend many hours developing race strategies to help one of their cars scoring as many championship points as possible, and will usually not allow teammates to fight for victory. In NASCAR, it is quite common for teammates to race each other throughout a race to the very last mile for victory.