In the build-up to Sunday’s races, the racing world had seemingly turned into nothing but a F1 vs NASCAR debate.
Who will get higher ratings, is this F1 surge at the moment real, can NASCAR’s throwback weekend bring in or keep enough viewers, how will F1 race on a new track that literally is a parking lot, and how will NASCAR’s new car handle one of its most difficult tracks?
Sunday’s races came and went, and in the head-to-head between the two racing series, nothing really changed. It was a pretty standard weekend for both circuits, with each delivering what we’ve come to expect of them, for better or worse.
Let’s start on the F1 side of things. From a hoopla and this being an “event” perspective, this was a massive home run. You name the celebrity, and they were in Miami to take part in the weekend’s festivities. The build to the race was exciting and seemed to grow each day as the cars hit the track for practices and qualifying, and really seemed to reach a fever-pitch in the hour or so leading up to the race with the pre-race show and the paddock walk. Adding Danica Patrick to the broadcast was a great choice, and she continues to show her abilities in that role regardless of series.
We also got a hilarious moment when Martin Brundle mistook soon-to-be NBA Lottery pick Paolo Banchero for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. It was all building up to what might have been the most anticipated race in F1 history, and certainly the most anticipated F1 race in the United States.
And then the racing happened. Let me start with this: The F1 broadcast courtesy of Sky Sports that we get here in the US is great. The camera work is interesting, the graphics are good and easy to follow, and the announcers genuinely seem to know their stuff, and prefer to stay on the more bland side of things rather than practicing their standup routines like another broadcaster we’ll get to later.
But back to that racing thing, the whole point of the series. It was…OK I guess in Miami? Maybe you can chalk it up to a new course that is still working out the kinks and can be made better in the future, but there was not a lot of on-track action, which week-in, week-out seems to be the biggest complaint from casual or non-F1 fans. Watching yesterday’s race from start to finish, there wasn’t anything that happened yesterday that would have changed their minds.
There seemed to be one race line, maybe two opportunities for passing, and turns that were both too close together on the track and too tight for any real action to occur in them. The start was exciting with Max Verstappen passing a Ferrari car for second within a couple hundred feet of the start/finish, but from there the race seemed inevitable. Once he passed one Ferrari, Chales Leclerc was basically a siting duck, and a handful of laps later was passed by Verstappen. And that was pretty much it for the action in the Top-5.
At one point with around 20 or so laps to go, even the announcers seemed kind of resigned to how little action there had been and would be down the stretch. Almost audibly sighing, looking at the running order and out-loud saying that one through five were set and there weren’t many battles on the track. If not for a safety car thanks to Lando Norris losing a wheel, there’s no telling how bad it may have been, as Verstappen was more than seven seconds clear at that point. And even after the track was cleared and we got back to green, not much changed.
While not the greatest race ever, start to finish it was around a tidy hour and a half of racing, which makes it easier to sit through a race that hadn’t showcased the greatest action.
As soon as Verstappen crossed the finish line for his third win of the season I immediately flipped over to NASCAR’s race at Darlington on Fox Sports 1.
NASCAR’s 400-mile race at arguably its best track for showcasing driving skill was barely halfway through what would go on to be a three hour and 20 minute race. Luckily for fans of NASCAR or those flipping over to the race after F1 wrapped up, it was an exciting race that saw 24 lead changes, 13 different drivers lead a lap, a number of different guys move in and out of contention throughout the race, along an exciting and controversial finish.
As far as on-track action goes, this was one of the better races all season, and should make for a fantastic second race there later this season.
That’s when we were able to actually watch the race. Because to go from the commercial-free F1 race to FS1 saw three full-screen commercials, no side-by-side, within the first 25 minutes of coverage after the F1 race wrapped up. Not exactly the best way to keep viewers who may have been interested locked in and fully committed to the rest of the race.
I get that FOX has bills to pay when it comes to the NASCAR TV rights and expecting a commercial-free broadcast is a stretch, (and this day is coming for F1 so enjoy those commercial-free races while you can) but going to three full-screen ad breaks under green in the span of 25 minutes is outrageous. Even for the most diehard of fans, that’s a lot to sit through without getting the urge to change the channel to something else showing the actual thing you want to watch.
As if the ad breaks weren’t bad enough, the FOX booth for NASCAR continues to age like milk. With Sunday’s race being throwback weekend, they brought in NASCAR legends for each stage, Richard Petty, Bobby Labonte, and Bill Elliot, who were each mostly fine, and perfectly reasonable picks to have in the booth for the race. But Mike Joy and Clint Boyer are just clueless.
Mike Joy is well past the expiration date, and has been for a number of years. He’s a legend, but it’s getting close to the time where he kind of needs a nudge into retirement. But Clint Boyer is the real problem. Boyer was brought in last season fresh after retiring with the hopes of him being NASCAR’s equivalent to Tony Romo and the NFL. Somebody who was recently out there and could provide real insight into what today’s drivers are dealing with.
It has not gone that way.
Instead of offering any sort of real insight about the cars, or strategy, or really anything technical when it comes to the race, we get three-plus hours of Clint’s Comedy Show each week. Remember that exciting and perhaps controversial finish we got? With a couple laps to go, Joey Logano closes in on William Byron, and finally catches him. Rather than pass him clean, Logano puts the bumper to Byron, nearly spins him, and puts him up in the wall to get by and claim the win. It was a dramatic and enthralling finish. And rather than showcase that, we had Boyer almost not aware that an exciting finish was happening, and instead yucking it up again. It was baffling to watch in real-time, and almost no-sold what might have been the best finish of the season outside the Daytona 500.
I’m not saying every bit of the race has to be straight-faced and only about the action happening on the track, but for the biggest moment of the day to almost be ignored by your lead announcer is almost unforgivable.
All of this is to say, nothing that happened Sunday is going to change how anyone viewed the sport. Yes, Miami was an absolute event in F1, but at the end of the day, and this is the thing that to me stops the sport from ever really getting huge in the US: You need action. Maybe they tweak the track to make it better, and I know people always say, “Well the real action in F1 is in the mid-pack!” but watching a battle for 13th in a 20-car sport with points only going to the Top-10 ain’t it. On the other side of that coin, NASCAR had an action-packed race and a finish that should have people talking throughout the week, but the broadcast was so bad that it was borderline impossible to sit through and pay attention.
For better or for worse, both F1 and NASCAR showcased all they had to offer Sunday when it comes to a TV product.