Full Throttle – Monaco Still the World’s Biggest Racing Event
During the Indianapolis 500, a heated debate broke out in the Charlotte media center about the importance of the race vs. the Coca-Cola 600. Several NASCAR writers felt as though there was no question that the 600 is far more important than the 500 in today’s world of racing. The Indy supporters pointed out that, even though there were empty seats, the race still pulls in 200,000 fans, more than any single Cup race will seat throughout the racing season. But, the point both sides were missing was the fact that Formula 1 is still the biggest racing series on the planet, and Monaco is the crown jewel of that series.
NASCAR and Indy car racing are North American sports, but Formula 1 is a worldwide sport that draws in far more viewers from across the globe. The Monaco Grand Prix draws a reported TV viewership of 650 million people from 50 different countries. While Indy does have an international audience, it pales in comparison to the global appeal that F1 garners, with approximately 294 million households viewing the 500. IndyCar and NASCAR teams are all based in the United States and the sponsors are predominantly North American, although Indy cars do have some sponsorship from Brazilian companies and some other South American entities.
Indy car racing has been on the rebound over the past few years. After the open-wheel split in 1996, the stands at Indianapolis were ridiculously empty; on pole qualifying day there were as many ushers as there were fans in the stands. Fortunately, since the series has been reunified, the stands are now getting back to the pre-split days, and Indianapolis is becoming a relevant race once again. Plus, if rumored rule changes take effect in 2012, the race will hopefully once again becoming a cradle of automotive innovation.
Currently there is a single engine provider and a single chassis provider, and the innovation that used to be a hallmark of Indy has been completely squashed. The discussion is that the series is thinking of having a basic rule for displacement and chassis measurement, and anything that fits in that box will be allowed. Should that change take effect, there will most likely be quite a few more entrants for the 500, and its relevance on the world stage may once again reach the pinnacle.
NASCAR racing is in the midst of a struggle to put butts in the stands and get its TV ratings back to its glory days from several years ago. This past weekend was a positive showing for the sport with a strong crowd at Charlotte, albeit nowhere near a sellout, and television ratings two percentage points higher than Indianapolis in the United States. While NASCAR is going to be the number one motorsport in North America for at least the near future, it is never going to be the international phenomenon that F1 is. F1 races on six continents and pulls in fans from everywhere across the globe, while NASCAR is always going to be an American-dominated sport. There is nothing wrong with being the big fish in your pond, but NASCAR fans who think their sport is ever going to rival F1 on an international level are kidding themselves.
Monaco isn’t the best racing on the F1 schedule, but it is the most prestigious event they hold. Tickets for the event run in the thousands of dollars and even with a price tag like that, the race pulls some 150,000 fans to the small city because it has the mystique that epitomizes F1 racing. The series has enormous racing budgets, and the extravagance that surrounds every race embodies the excess that the teams pour into the sport.
A top-flight NASCAR team runs on a budget somewhere between $20 and $30 million. McClaren, Ferrari and Mercedes reportedly have budgets nearing and possibly surpassing $1 BILLION. One of their budgets could run the entire Cup starting field for most of the season. There is a reason that the teams spend that kind of money, and that sponsors are willing to give it to them; because there are that many people following the sport. The attention that F1 garners blows away all other racing series on the planet, and that is why they are, for the foreseeable future, the number one most important racing series, with the single biggest racing event in the world of motorsports.