I’m following the American-owned Haas F1 Team through its weekend at the only Formula One race in America: The United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin. This post is the sixth in a series.
I’ve spent the past four days documenting some of the differences between Formula One and NASCAR while experiencing my first F1 event. At times, it seemed very foreign — not just the accents, but the racing itself.
But fear not: Sunday’s United States Grand Prix actually showed how similar F1 and NASCAR can be.
Don’t believe me? Check out these quotes below and see if you can tell which were from the NASCAR race in Kansas and which were from the F1 race in Austin:
1. “The rules have got to be consistent. You can’t apply them differently to different instances. That’s our frustration out of today.”
2. “The problem is, we all spend an awful lot of money going racing. You want it to be consistently refereed — professionally refereed. And when you get decisions like today, it’s difficult to understand where the consistency is.”
3. “Where do you draw the line? For fans and casual viewers, it needs to be clear.”
4. “Don’t say everyone else can run off the track anywhere you like and never give any penalties — then I do it, and you give me a penalty.”
5. “I don’t know what any of the rules are. Seems like we’ve got a lot of stuff that kind of gets changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it.”
Think you know the answers? Let’s see how you did.
— The first four quotes were all from the F1 race. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made the first three comments, and No. 4 was a comment Max Verstappen made to NBCSN.
— Quote No. 5 is what Matt Kenseth said after a penalty for too many men over the wall ended his championship hopes at Kansas.
So there you have it. It took until the last lap of the F1 race, but it finally felt like someone was speaking my language.
Rules are a funny thing in racing. The complaints often turn out to be about the application of the rules rather than the worthiness of them.
For example: Martin Truex Jr. was penalized on a restart early in the Kansas race for going below the white line. That lit up NASCAR Twitter for two reasons — first of all, that penalty is not called very often (if ever); second, Kevin Harvick — the car behind Truex — did the same thing, but was not penalized.
According to reporters at the track, the rule was discussed in the drivers meeting and it only applied to the front row, so NASCAR probably called it correctly. But that sort of thing drives fans absolutely crazy, because getting it right this time means they’ve missed it in the past.
If there’s going to be a rule, all fans really want is for each driver to be treated the same — every time.
A similar scenario happened on the last lap in Austin. Verstappen, an electrifying 20-year-old racer, chased down Kimi Raikkonen and made a sick pass in the second-to-last corner of the race to earn a podium finish.
The fans were thrilled, and Verstappen was understandably giddy with glee on the radio. It was a fantastic moment!
But it didn’t last long, because F1 officials — or “stewards,” as they call them here — decided Verstappen had not stayed within the “track limits.” He used the inside of the turn and “left the track” to make his pass, which resulted in a five-second penalty.
Raikkonen got third place instead.
Now, was the penalty called correctly? By the letter of the law, yes. But it was a head-scratcher, since fans immediately started posting images on social media of several other drivers using the inside of Turn 19 (as well as Turn 9) without any penalty.
Horner, the Red Bull exec, worried that since F1 is trying to gain fans in the U.S., the inconsistency of the penalty would be a turnoff.
“Formula One is still immature in this country; and it’s a big race,” he said. “With the lack of consistency in the decisions, I should think all the viewers and fans watching today should not understand why (Raikkonen) was on the podium and not Max today.”
Don’t worry, Christian. American race fans are already used to inconsistency.
Just look at two weeks ago in Charlotte, when Jimmie Johnson’s crew was allowed to fasten a lug nut while the car wasn’t inside the pit box — something NASCAR later acknowledged was a rule it hadn’t even informed all the teams about.
It’s no wonder, then, that situations like Truex’s black flag or Kenseth’s penalty — where he had too many crew members working on his car in a crash damage situation — appeared questionable.
Both were actually the right call. In Kenseth’s case, that’s the rule and has been all year, and it was just enforced during last week’s race at Talladega.
But fans are so used to inconsistent enforcement of the rules, they assumed the calls were incorrect.
NASCAR — and F1 as well, it turns out — doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt that it’s making the right call. That’s something both forms of motorsport should strive to fix.