The NASCAR Fan’s Formula One Spotter’s Guide

NASCAR equivalent: Joe Gibbs Racing
Mercedes has won the Constructors’ Championship every year since the turbo-hybrid engines were introduced in 2014. Their sudden ascent to domination, and the fact that many accuse them of having unfair sway with the rulemakers, makes them kind of like the Joe Gibbs Racing of Formula One.

NASCAR equivalent: Jimmie Johnson, Bubba Wallace
F1’s elder statesman is a seven-time champion considered by many to be among, if not the greatest driver of all time. While some of the other greats are notable for their ruthlessness, Hamilton’s peak years were characterized by unflappable perfectionism – but the cracks have started to show as he moves into the twilight of his career. Additionally, his off-track (and on-track) support of the BlackLivesMatter movement and other social justice causes have transformed him into a media figure that spreads beyond F1, a position which he intends to use to help diversify motorsports. Notably, as the two highest-profile Black racing drivers in the world, Hamilton and Bubba Wallace are vocal supporters of each other. 

NASCAR equivalent: Alex Bowman
Russell spent the last three years proving his talent at the backmarker Williams team, but proved himself a top contender in a relief drive at Mercedes in 2020, almost winning the race but for circumstances out of his control. Now, he enters his first campaign at a top team, and expectations are high for the talented young driver, who is NOT a rookie, he promises.

NASCAR equivalent: Furniture Row Racing. . . kinda
For a team originally meant as a marketing exercise to transform into champions might seem odd to outsiders, but those following along in real time saw the team named after a product putting in serious work and hiring the right people. The combination of genius designer Adrian Newey, political mastermind Christian Horner, and star driver Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive championships in 2010-2013, and after a few years rebuilding around new superstar Max Verstappen, the team captured its first title since at the end of 2021. 

#1 – MAX VERSTAPPEN (Netherlands)
NASCAR equivalent: Kyle Larson
Blasting onto the scene at a young age with an already incredible reputation, Verstappen took perhaps a few more years than expected for him and his team to reach championship competitive level. When he got a car under him that could compete for the title, he immediately looked like one of the greats, combining a fearless driving style with a fervent fan base and (unfortunate) off-track controversy. Verstappen is the 2021 champion expected to fiercely defend his title.

#11 – SERGIO PEREZ (Mexico)
NASCAR equivalent: Martin Truex Jr
It would be too easy to call Sergio Perez the Suarez of F1. Both drivers are fan-favorite underdogs with particularly strong support in their native Mexico, and have been financed throughout their careers by billionaire Carlos Slim. So instead, I’ll offer the fact that the career path of Sergio Perez – flaming out early at a top team in decline, developing his skills at mid-pack upstarts before finally getting a second chance at a championship-competitive outfit late in his career– mirrors that of the driver from Jersey almost exactly. 

NASCAR equivalent: Hendrick Motorsports
Whatever your opinion of Hendrick, you’ll find Ferrari is the same, but greater. It’s either the most incredible fan-favorite team in racing history, or so shady you can’t understand why other people like it. Fans’ excitement for Ferrari’s home race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, makes the Dawsonville Pool Room look indifferent.

#55 – CARLOS SAINZ (Spain)
NASCAR equivalent: Chase Elliott
Son of a legendary driver, joining a legendary fan-favorite team at the start of its youth movement, and overseeing its growth back into championship contender? Is that Chase Elliott or Carlos Sainz? Hired to replace a four-time champion, (Hey! That too!) Sainz out-performed expectations in his first season at Ferrari, beating his teammate and finishing “best of the rest”. 

NASCAR equivalent: Chase Elliott (again)
The new Chosen One of the most successful team in history, look for Leclerc to be a serious title threat in 2022. In his first year at Ferrari, he out-performed his champion teammate Sebastian Vettel, and scored his first two wins back-to-back. Since then, the Ferrari has been off the pace, but Leclerc still put in excellent performances. Though I said Chase Elliott fans should root for Sainz, I think Leclerc may be a better fit. Elliott fans should root for Ferrari, is my main point. It’s the obvious choice, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

NASCAR equivalent: RFK Racing
The Pepsi to Ferrari’s Coke, and the Roush to Ferrari’s Hendrick, McLaren Racing took a serious tumble down the grid since its last series championship. Now under new management, the team is on its way back forward. Still in a rebuilding phase, McLaren could be a title contender again in years to come. 

NASCAR equivalent: William Byron
Bursting onto the grid a few years ago, and still younger-looking than just about anyone else, Norris was the driver who first legitimated esports and simracing in the F1 garage. Lando has been well-placed to capitalize on McLaren’s growth since the dark years in 2017-2018, and had race-winning speed on multiple occasions last year. Unfortunately, he couldn’t capitalize on it the way he would have wanted, but regardless is sure to be a superstar of the future.

#3 – DANIEL RICCIARDO (Australia)
NASCAR equivalent: Clint Bowyer
Danny Ric is among the best drivers in recent memory not to score a championship, but his off years tend to make fans doubt his capabilities. Despite going years without winning, he remains a fan favorite, known as one of F1’st most exciting drivers both on and off the track. If you hear F1 fans repeating some silly saying, Ricciardo probably coined it. 

Generally, it would be hard for a NASCAR fan not to back Ricciardo. He chose #3 because he grew up an Earnhardt fan, and won a chance to test drive an old Intimidator Monte Carlo in a bet with his team principal. He considers the US Grand Prix in Texas his second home race, and he’s talked about racing NASCAR sometime in the future, too. 

NASCAR equivalent: Chip Ganassi Racing (but with a little bit of Roush)
Pronounced al-PEEN ren-OH, (the French way) the boys in blue won 2 World Championships with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006. Originally the Toleman team, it became Benetton, then Renault, then Lotus, then Renault again, and finally Alpine as of 2021. The French team has been promising to become a championship competitor each year since 2017, but have not yet been able to break out of the midfield pack. 

NASCAR equivalent: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch
Largely considered one of the greatest wheelmen in F1 history, his 2 World Championships are unrepresentative of his staggering talent – or so say his fans. After initially retiring in 2018, Alonso returned to the Alpine team for the third time at the start of 2021, and immediately went back on form. However, he likely won’t have the car to contend for wins this season. He’s a titan of the sport who might not be on the grid much longer.

#31 – ESTEBAN OCON (France)
NASCAR equivalent: Erik Jones
Ocon capitalized on a wacky race in Hungary to score his first F1 win last year: a French driver winning in a French car with a French engine for the first time in decades. He was a Mercedes development driver for years, until George Russell’s star on the rise knocked Ocon sideways into the Alpine seat. Ocon has an Erik Jones kind of uncapitalized promise to him, and it will be great to see how he makes it outside of the development pipeline that seems to have failed him.

NASCAR equivalent: Wood Brothers Racing
This is the B-team that exists for the sole purpose of developing talent for use at the Red Bull mothership, no matter what they claim. It can call on its long heritage as Minardi, but really isn’t the team it once was, its identity almost solely absorbed into its role as satellite.

#10 – PIERRE GASLY (France)
NASCAR equivalent: Erik Jones, but angrier
The AlphaTauri driver has been in the Red Bull pipeline longer than any other, having been promoted to the big team, then struggling, being demoted back to AlphaTauri, then winning the Italian Grand Prix in 2020 for the satellite team. Gasly is a fierce competitor with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove against his own team. 

#22 – YUKI TSUNODA (Japan)
NASCAR equivalent: Daniel Suarez
A young guy whose lightning-fast run up the career ladder may have disadvantaged his early years at the top, Tsunoda was also disadvantaged by having to learn Italian to communicate with his AlphaTauri team. Tsunoda became known last season for his deeply entertaining foul mouth, swearing over the radio at anyone who got in his way. Frankly, with how little time he has spent at every team he’s driven for, his results may not show his potential, but he is one of the most exciting prospects in F1 at the moment.

NASCAR equivalent: 23XI Racing
A team born from the wreckage of another, most significant for its billionaire owner who refuses to lose, pairing a champion in the twilight of his career with a rising star, and adopting a name with an impressive legacy outside of this sport. The talent is there, the pace is there (on good days), and there have been some truly incredible moments. But if this team didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. 

NASCAR equivalent: Kurt Busch
With a redemption arc that transformed him from one of the sport’s most hated champions into one of its most beloved, Sebastian Vettel is reminiscent of Kurt Busch’s late-career renaissance (although Seb never experienced legal troubles or anger concerns, people just thought he was cocky).Though many thought Vettel lost his edge years ago, he took the Aston Martin to a podium last season (and would have made it two, if not for a disqualification that wasn’t his fault). Vettel’s sense of humor and dedication to environmental and LGBTQ rights causes has earned him some spotlight off the track as well, and he has said after retirement he wants to go to university and become an engineer. 

#18 – LANCE STROLL (Canada)
NASCAR equivalent: Austin Cindric (before he won Daytona)
After entering F1 as a teenager, backed by the sponsorship of his dad Lawrence’s many, many billions of dollars, the “daddy’s cash” accusations followed Stroll to Aston Martin. In the years since, while Stroll hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire, he has scored the occasional podium and more often than not brought the car home clean. His detractors claim he took his seat from a more deserving driver, just because of who his dad is. His fans point to the hardware. 

NASCAR equivalent: Richard Childress Racing
A dominant force of the late 80s and 90s, and strong even through the early 2010s depending on the driver, this team has fallen to the back of the grid in the last few years, been forced to downsize, and faced accusations of nepotism. But you can’t keep a good team down, and they have made some serious changes to modernize and get back towards the front. 

#6 – NICOLAS LATIFI (Canada)
NASCAR equivalent: Paul Menard
The second of two children of Canadian billionaires on the F1 grid, Nicolas Latifi didn’t set the world on fire in the lower series, and many accused him of being the worst example of the “pay driver” phenomenon of all time. Except, when he actually started racing, he was. . . fine. Latifi doesn’t really get in anyone’s way, doesn’t run his mouth too much, and he’s kept up with George Russell on his best days. 

#23 – ALEX ALBON (Thailand)
NASCAR Equivalent: Daniel Hemric
Albon only ended up in F1 because Red Bull suddenly needed someone to fill the second seat at its junior team. He was swiped from Formula E and promoted into F1, impressing immediately at the Red Bull B-team, and then being suddenly promoted to Red Bull proper halfway through his first season. Unfortunately, his results in the main Red Bull were unflattering, and he was let go in favor of Perez at the end of 2020. He returns after a year off with Williams, a popular driver who has shown promise, but unfortunately (and perhaps undeservedly) more widely known as a disappointment.

NASCAR equivalent: Petty GMS Racing
Yes, Alfa Romeo was the first great team in Formula One history, and the name is legendary for its contributions to the early history of the sport. This is not that team. Really, it’s the Sauber team, just called Alfa Romeo for sponsorship reasons, an underfunded entity plodding along at the back of the field. 

#77 – Valtteri Bottas (Finland)
NASCAR Equivalent: Ryan Newman
A multi-time race winner who never really made a championship challenge, Bottas has moved to the backmarker Alfa Romeo team to help rebuild the operation in 2022. Bottas isn’t really loved or hated by the majority of F1 fans, though he does have his fervent supporters.

#24 – Guanyou Zhou (China)
NASCAR Equivalent: Todd Gilliland
The first Formula One driver to race under the Chinese flag, Guanyou Zhou has seen success in the lower formulae, but no championships. His move to F1 has seen little fanfare, although the driver he is replacing also never had very much fanfare to begin with. 

HAAS F1 TEAM (Ferrari)
NASCAR equivalent: Rick Ware Racing
Haas is the minnow of F1, who gave up on development in the last few years of the previous regulations hoping that the new cars coming in 2022 would allow them to finally get towards the front. They need success, as last year their cars were seconds per lap off the pace.

The Haas team is owned by Gene Haas, and run from the same Charlotte-area campus as NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing, though the team also has facilities in the Motorsport Valley region of Britain where most F1 teams are based and another in Italy near its technical partners Ferrari and Dallara.

#47 – Mick Schumacher (Germany)
NASCAR Equivalent: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (circa 2001)
The pressure on the son of a seven-time champion to replicate his father’s success is something only a very few people understand. Mick’s father Michael, considered by many the greatest F1 driver of all time, retired from public life after suffering a tragic ski accident in 2013. Mick hasn’t really had the opportunity to prove himself as a driver at the F1 level, mired at the back of the grid in a dangerously slow 2021 Haas, but his thoughtfulness and professionalism already reflect well on him and his family name.

#20 – Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)
NASCAR Equivalent: Ricky Stenhouse Jr
After being dropped by Haas at the end of 2020, the Danish driver returns to the team as a last-minute replacement for Nikita Mazepin, who was dropped by the team along with title sponsor Uralkali in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when the Mazepins were sanctioned by the EU for their close relationship with Vladimir Putin. Magnussen is a veteran driver known for his aggressive, confrontational driving style, but has never really had the opportunity to drive a car that could compete at the highest level.

Featured image from Ryan Vargas on Twitter

Published by Jack Swansey

Originally from North Carolina, Jack has been a NASCAR fan since 2008, and his favorite driver is Bubba Wallace. At Wesleyan University, he studied film and anthropology and wrote his senior thesis about the fan culture of American stock car racing. When not watching NASCAR, Jack is probably looking for some other motorsport to watch, scouring antique stores for hard-to-find diecasts, or investigating the history of some obscure backmarker team or another. To fund his HotWheels collection, Jack works in television production.

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