What's With All the Funny Cars in Austin This Weekend?

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For the first time in five years, Formula 1 is holding a race in the U.S. on Sunday. The "Circuit of the Americas" will run in Austin, Texas. Formula 1 racing is one of the biggest sports in the world, but it's also almost completely ignored in North America. We know. The race is on a Sunday afternoon so most people will be watching football. But commercials! Also, the games this weekend are all terrible. Enjoy your New York Jets playing the St. Louis Rams, masochists. For the rest you, we consulted An Expert who helped put together a beginner's guide so that you can have your friends over and enjoy something cool and new and fun that will make you feel slightly European. Ritzy car racing! 

What is Formula 1 racing and how does it differ from Nascar? 

They occasionally turn right, for one. The biggest difference is probably the cars. Nascar cars look like, well, cars. They look like something really, really ugly you might see on the street, whereas Formula 1 cars look like rocket ships. On top of that, Formula 1 tracks are super cool. 

Is Dale Earnhardt involved? 


Will Jeff Gordon be fighting anyone

Still no. Formula 1 drivers aren't from Mississipi. (Gordon is actually from California.)

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What were you saying about the cars? How else are they different?

The cars in Nascar are called "stock" cars because they have to conform to a certain set of guidelines. The cars are all nearly identical at the end of the day. But Formula 1 cars have a lot more leeway. There's a "formula" they have to adhere to, but ultimately they can change whatever they want about their car so long as the end result is always X. Formula 1 is like grade eleven algebra. Nascar is remedial math.

Why is it in Austin of all places?

Formula 1 is extremely popular with the South By crowd. No, not really, that was a joke.

Some history: the race ran at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500, for seven years. The last time it ran was in 2007. There hasn't been an F1 race on American soil since. (There is one in Canada, though.) Putting an F1 race in the heart of Nascar country seems like a good idea on paper (cars are cars are cars, right?), but it didn't take in Indy. They're calling this year's race the "Circuit of the Americas," which, boss title, in the hopes it'll draw an international crowd. The logic is that Austin is smack dab in the middle of Canada and South America and that'll make it easier for people thinking about travelling. It's not too far for one set of people. It's too far for everyone

Also, Austin is pretty. And the local seniors seem excited about the race. 

Who should you cheer for?

F1 has a points system much that's pretty similar to Nascar's: drivers get a certain amount of points depending on where they finish. The two people you have to watch out for are Sebastien Vettel and Fernando Alonso. They are one and two, respectively, in the standings and no one else can catch them. Vettel races for Red Bull Racing, who our expert likened to the Yankees, and is the two-time defending champion. Alonso races for Ferrari, who are the Red Sox in this analogy, and trails Vettel by ten points in the standings.

It's rare for the season to not be decided by this point, and depending on tomorrow's results it could even be tied going into the last race of the season in Brazil. Translation: stakes is high

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.