On many sports websites and online bookmakers, all motorsports are lumped together, which is really rather lazy. We don’t put all ball games under a single umbrella, after all.
Whilst sports such as MotoGP and Speedway, and even probably Formula 1, do not have as many dedicated fans as sports such as football or cricket, they are very clearly distinct from one another. To fans of these various sports and competitions, it is surely quite frustrating. Whilst there is a lot of crossover, with many F1 fans also loving action on two wheels and vice versa, there are also a number of people who may only watch and bet on one or two specific motorsports.
All that said, here is our motorsports page where, yes, to a degree, all of the following separate sports are detailed:
- Formula 1
- WRC Rally
However, this is more of a “homepage” or motorsports hub and we will have more in-depth information on many of the great sports listed above elsewhere on the site. Here though, for those who aren’t overly familiar with some or more of the many great events that live in the motorsports family, are the basics.
We will look at the key highlights of the various sports, as well as how they operate and what you might want to bet on. We’ll also explain how the season is structured and what to expect – in short, just enough to help you pretend you know what you are talking about with your strange friend who loves speedway/Nascar/[insert your motorsport of choice here]!
What Are Motorsports?
Before we look at the individual sports, we shall first consider what we even mean by the term “motorsport”. It is the sort of term that we all – at least fans of sports in general – know but if one was asked to define it things become a little trickier.
Perhaps the obvious answer would be to say they include all sports where a motor is used. However, there are various boating sports that use motors that are not classically considered to be motorsports. In addition, there are odd events such as cycling’s keirin where the derny, the pacing bike, are motorised, but nobody would put that alongside Formula 1.
One dictionary definition of the word is “any of several sports involving the racing or competitive driving of motor vehicles” and in truth that pretty much does the job for us. It excludes boats, which are not technically driven and also removes keirin from the equation because the racing itself is done on non-motorised bicycles.
Of course, there will always be pub debates about whether some events are or are not truly motorsports, in the same way people like to debate whether things like darts or snooker are sport at all. That said, based on the dictionary definition and the events that are typically included under the sub-heading at bookies and sports websites, we’re confident that the following all fall firmly within the motorsports world.
Formula One (or F1, or Formula 1) is the undisputed king of the motorsports world. In terms of prestige, financing, media attention, global fans and indeed the amount of money wagered on it, it is way ahead of any of the other disciplines we have mentioned. Some people believe it to be boring and too dominated by technology, with the sport being more about engineering than driver skill; however, its legions of fans would disagree and there is no doubt we have seen some incredible action over the years.
F1 is the highest level of racing for what are technically described as single-seat, open-wheel cars. It is governed by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and can trace its roots back to the 1920s. Grands Prix, as F1 races are called, were held in Europe at this time, although the first official F1 race is generally considered to have been the 1946 race in Turin.
Prior to this there had been confirmed plans for a multi-race world championship but the Second World War put paid to that and the plans were not fully formalised until 1947. The first world championship took place in 1950 and was won by Giuseppe Farina of Italy. Much has, of course, changed since those days but at its heart F1 remains the same: cars are driven at immense speeds around circuits at various venues around the world.
The current F1 schedule, for the 2022 season, consists of 23 races, far more than has generally been the case during the history of the sport. This is part of the global expansion of the sport, with races now taking place on five continents and the possibility of a Grand Prix in Africa growing.
As with any long-established event, the format of the competition has changed over the years but right now we see 10 teams of two drivers compete over course of the season. First place is a race earns 25 points, second place gains 18, third place 15, fourth place 12, steadily dropping to one point for 10th place, with an extra point also available to whoever records the fastest lap in the race (assuming they also finish in the top 10, otherwise this bonus point is not awarded).
At the end of the season, the driver with the most points is declared world champion and wins the Drivers’ Championship. This is the prize that matters most to the public and is the most wagered on part of F1 from a betting perspective. However, arguably the bigger prize to the teams themselves (and the people who put their money behind them) is the Constructors’ Championship.
Here the points of both a team’s drivers are combined, the idea being that this is more about the car and the engineering than the skill of a single driver. Whilst the two awards often go to the same team, this is not always the case, and indeed in 2021 Max Verstappen won the Drivers’ Championship for Red Bull, whilst Mercedes (who had second-placed Lewis Hamilton and third-placed Valtteri Bottas) won the team award.
In terms of teams, historically speaking Ferrari have been the dominant force in F1 and indeed, they lead the way with 16 Constructors’ awards. They last won in 2008 though and success is often cyclical. Williams are next with nine wins, those all coming between 1980 and 1997, whilst McClaren have won eight titles, including seven between 1984 and 1998. Mercedes also have eight, incredibly those being consecutive from 2014 to 2021. Lotus are next, with their era being the 1960s and 1970s when they claimed glory on seven occasions.
As for drivers, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton lead the way with seven championship wins apiece, though the Brit will hope to add to that in the years ahead. Next up is Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio with five, then Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel on four. Five drivers have three world championships to their name, including the charismatic Ayrton Senna and the popular Brit Jackie Stewart.
The F1 season typically runs from near the start of the calendar year to almost its end and in 2022 the first race was on the 20th March, with the last scheduled for the 20th November. Sometimes it starts a little earlier and pre-season testing begins around a month before the first Grand Prix. Races take place on Sunday, with qualifying (and practice) held on Saturday and practice on Friday.
The first and last races of any season are always big highlights, with the last few Grands Prix also hugely exciting depending on the state of the title race. In addition, many fans look forward to the iconic street circuit of Monaco, any races that are held at night (often the contests in the Middle East) and, certainly for home fans, the British Grand Prix.
MotoGP is in some ways the Formula 1 of the motorbike world, though those that love their motorsports on two wheels may well take umbrage with that. It is the top tier of road racing bikes, is administered by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) and is also known as Grand Prix motorcycle racing, hence the name. Whilst F1 fans may view the two-wheel sport as inferior, the MotoGP world championship pre-dates the Formula 1 equivalent and is the oldest world championship in motorsport.
One key factor that differentiates MotoGP from other bike-based motorsports is that the vehicles are custom-made, designed solely for use within the sport, not able to be legally driven on public roads and unavailable to the public. Underneath MotoGP sit lower level Moto2, Moto3 and the much newer MotoE, the latter formed in 2019 and using electronic vehicles. Until 2001 the premier level of this type of racing used two-stroke 500cc engines and was known as 500cc but from 2002 four-strokes were reintroduced and it was rebranded as MotoGP.
From a betting perspective and in terms of media and public interest, MotoGP is very much the big draw. The format of races and the season is not too dissimilar to F1, with the same 25 points for a win but even riders finishing as low as 15th claiming a point. Grands Prix typically see about 20 riders taking part and the 2022 season consisted of 21 races, running from March to November.
The similarities with F1 continue as teams generally consist of two riders, though this is not quite as fixed as in Formula 1. In addition, the key prizes are similar, with the sport offering the individual riders’ world championship and the constructors’, although MotoGP also has a team award which works slightly differently from the constructors’.
Legends of MotoGP include Giacomi Agostini, who has won the world title a record eight times, as well as seven wins in the now-defunct 350cc category. Fellow Italian Valentino Rossi comes next with seven titles, as well as a couple of lower-level Moto world championships, whilst Spain’s Marc Marquez won six MotoGP world titles between 2010 and 2019. The UK has done well in this sport too, with Mike Hailwood winning four Moto 500cc (the forerunner to MotoGP) world titles in the 1960s and John Surtees and Geoff Duke achieving that same number during the 1950s and 1960s.
Overall it is Italian riders who lead the way with a combined 20 world titles (including MotoGP and Moto 500cc), with the UK next on 17, albeit almost all of those were won in the 1950s and 1960s. USA is next with 15, largely down to 500cc titles won in the 1980s and 1990s, with Spain fourth on 11.
To those unfamiliar with the main two-wheel motorsports, MotoGP and Superbikes can seem very similar. The fundamental difference is that Superbikes are slower and heavier and more like bikes you might actually see on the road. As mentioned above, MotoGP uses custom-made machines that are not available to the public. In contrast, bar fairly extensive modifications, the motorbikes ridden by those in Superbikes are essentially production bikes, machines very much like those available to the masses and which are road-legal.
Another way of looking at things is to view MotoGP as the Formula 1 of bikes, with Superbikes more like touring or sportscar racing. Both sports are governed and run by the FIM and whilst MotoGP is faster, its teams have considerably larger budgets and the sport receives more media attention, there is no doubt that the Superbike World Championship has its hardcore fans.
In some ways it is down to personal choice as to which type of racing is “better”. If we are talking pure speed there is no contest because the two often race on the same circuits allowing a direct comparison. But of course, there is more to racing than speed and certainly for UK fans, who have seen their riders dominate the sport, the sport of Superbikes holds massive appeal.
The series was only founded in 1988 and so is a newcomer compared to many other motorsports. However, in that brief time, Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Rea has won six world championships, England’s Carl Fogarty has claimed four and James Toseland won in 2004 and 2007.
In 2018 and 2019 the incredible Rea won 17 races, as well as another 16 in 2017. Amazingly in 2019 he backed those wins up with 16 second-place finishes to win the title by a massive 165 points! Those unaccustomed to the sport may be wondering just how many races there are but these incredible stats are possible because Superbikes works a little differently from F1 and MotoGP.
In the 2019 campaign, there were only 13 race weekends, but each of these includes two races and an additional Superpole Race. The two races use a very similar scoring system to that used in MotoGP, with 25 points for first, down to a single point for 15th, whilst the Superpole Race offers 12, for first, then 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and then 1 for ninth place.
This format was introduced in 2019, with the two standard races taking place on Saturday and Sunday, and a shorter 10-lap sprint, the Superpole, being held on prior to Race 2, on Sunday morning. Aside from that things are fairly similar to the previous two motorsports discussed, with a main riders’ championship, as well as a manufacturers’ one. One slight difference is that whilst there are many teams, usually around 15 to 20, there are usually just five or so manufacturers, this essentially being the bike used. In 2019, for example, the final standings were as follows:
- Kawasaki – 673
- Ducati – 623
- Yamaha – 451
- BMW – 249
- Honda – 88
World Rally Championship (WRC)
WRC Rally, or the World Rally Championship (WRC), is run by the FIA, who also “own” the sport. It is the elite level of rallying, rallying broadly describing a sport where road-legal cars drive on roads or tracks from a starting point to a finish (point-to-point) rather than around a circuit. The first formal, codified world championship took place in 1973, bringing together a number of previously existing races that had mostly been part of the European Rally Championship.
Some cars are production models but so great is the fine-tuning and so extensive are the modifications, with additions including powerful turbochargers, anti-lag systems and extreme aerodynamic improvement, that it is thought a typical WRC vehicle costs more than £500,000! Vehicles are four-wheel-drive too, which is essential as some stages will take place on icy and snowy surfaces, as well as gravel and mud. The pristine tarmac of F1, this is not!
The number of races in the championship has varied over the years but in 2022 we saw 13 races scheduled. These were spread over Europe, Africa (Kenya), Asia (Japan) and Australasia (New Zealand) with the first race of the season being held in January and the last in November. Once again, we see a fairly similar scoring pattern, with 25 points awarded for first, 18 for second, down to a single point for 10th place.
The format of each race has also changed over the years but typically drivers will cover around 250 miles in a day, making this a test of endurance as well as skill. A race will be made up of around 20 to 30 stages of varying length, some as short as a mile or so, some stretching to around 30 miles or more. The stages take place on closed roads or tracks but drivers may need to travel over open, public roads to reach the next stage, with these sections being non-competitive and with normal road laws in place.
Races often take place from Friday to Sunday, though some are longer. Because they are point to point cars leave in intervals, usually two minutes apart, with stages timed. After some of the stages, a brief window of time allows teams to maintain their cars whilst after each day there is a 45-minute service period too.
In 2011, Power Stages were introduced in an attempt to add further end-of-race excitement. These are always the final stage of the rally, with extra points offered to the five fastest cars over the stage (five for first, down to one for fifth).
In any one rally, up to 100 or more cars will take part, each with a crew of driver and co-driver. The latter navigates and offers pacing assistance, for example telling the driver what sort of bend lies ahead and how fast to take it.
Sadly for its fans, WRC does not receive a huge amount of coverage, either on TV, in the media, or at bookmakers. That said, some online betting sites offer WRC markets and fans can usually watch races live.
Fins have been traditional powerhouses of the sport but in recent times it is French drivers who have ruled the roost. More specifically, French drivers called Sebastien have won every WRC title from 2004 to 2021 with the exception of 2019 when Estonian Ott Tanak took the glory. Sebastien Loeb won nine titles in a row from 2004 in a Citroen, whilst compatriot Sebastien Ogier won eight of the next nine. Viva la France indeed!
Speedway is yet another motorsport that has a really dedicated legion of fans, even if wider recognition has proved somewhat elusive. Speedway is also (and even its fans would admit it!) just a little bit strange. The bikes have just one gear and no brakes, and that’s just the start of the matter!
We’ll return to the bikes shortly but motorcycle speedway, to use its full name, is governed, like MotoGP, by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM). The sport dates back to the 1920s but its roots may go back to the first few years of the century. It is relatively big in the UK and more widely in Northern Europe and central Europe and to a lesser extent in the USA and Australia.
Unlike the sports we have looked at, in speedway there is no single world championship that dominates the sport. Instead there are many domestic leagues, as well as international competitions. There are also events for individuals, pairs and teams, so there is a far wider range of competitions than we see in something like Formula 1.
None garner huge public, media or betting interest, but events such as the Speedway World Cup and the various Speedway Grands Prix are certainly a big deal within the sport. The exact format of the many events differs but ultimately it entails riding around a relatively short, oval circuit, typically between 260m and 420m in circumference. The track is flat and typically firm with a loose top of shale, gravel or dirt.
Most races take place over four laps of the track, travelling anti-clockwise and powersliding around corners in the way that is so distinctive of speedway. On the short straights, riders reach speeds of around 70mph but it is the highly unusual cornering technique that really marks speedway out and also reduces the average speed to something more like 50mph. Most races contain between four and six riders.
As said, the bikes are single-gear and do not have brakes. In addition, rules stipulate that they must run on methanol and weigh no more than 77kg, with four-stroke, single-cylinder engines. All this is rather technical stuff but you really need to see speedway to appreciate it and marvel at the way the riders slide the bikes around the corners.
Indycar, which is stylised as INDYCAR officially, is also written as IndyCar and, as of 2022, for sponsorship reasons, NTT INDYCAR SERIES, is (in a very simplistic way) North American Formula 1 racing. Whatever we call it, and most people call it Indycar, however they choose to spell that, it is, like Formula 1, all about single-seat, open-wheel cars. On the surface, the two sports are very similar but there are certainly several major differences.
One of the most obvious is that whilst F1 is one of the most global sports around, Indycar is very much a North American sport. We were generous when we said “North American” because in truth the vast majority of races are held in the USA. Whilst there have been Grands Prix held in Canada, Brazil, Australia and Japan, these are the exception, not the rule. For example, in 2022 16 of the 17 races were scheduled to take place in the States with one in Canada.
The other key difference is the tracks on which the cars race. In Indycar, they tend to be far less demanding, with many circuits being simple ovals. Some are held on street circuits and others on road courses and these tend to be more complex but on the whole there are far fewer turns to negotiate in this format than in Formula 1.
Because of this, Indycars tend to have faster top speeds as they do not need the same downforce and cornering ability. An Indycar might max out at around 235mph with F1 cars typically closer to 200mph, though sometimes able to reach around 220mph. That said, the faster acceleration of Formula 1 cars and their superior cornering mean that on most circuits they will be much faster.
There are various other minor differences in terms of the points system, the number of races, the team structure and so but on the whole things are fairly similar in this regard. Points are awarded according to finishing position in each race with the totals determining the winning driver, team (listed as entrant) and manufacturer (though this is often just a contest between two or three).
Whilst Indycar tends to be a little less technologically advanced, with teams generally operating on smaller budgets and there being a more even playing field, it is still hugely popular. Being so US-centric it cannot compete with F1 but races still attract TV audiences of around 5m (compared to more than 91m for many Formula 1 races).
However, its flagship event, the Indy 500, tends to attract a much larger audience and is undoubtedly the biggest race of the series. The race dates to 1911 and is a whopping 500 miles in distance, with 200 laps of the famous Indiana Motor Speedway circuit.
In its current guise, Indycar only dates back to 1996, but its roots go way back to the start of the 20th century. There have been many changes in structure and ownership over the years, with various governing bodies fighting over the sport. Hopefully that is behind us now and certainly Indycar is in a strong position at the present time.
It is not uncommon for F1 drivers to move to Indycar and indeed in the 2022 season, former F1 drivers Romain Grosjean and Juan Pablo Montoya were driving in the sport. In the modern era no major F1 drivers have won the title and since the rebranding as the IndyCar Series; it is Kiwi driver Scott Dixon who has enjoyed most success, with six titles to his name. Scott Dario Franchitti has four titles to his name whilst US driver Sam Hornish Jr has won three times.
NASCAR, less well known as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, was founded in 1948 and has its headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is a privately owned company that runs stock car racing in the USA and is still owned by the same family that first set it up all those years ago. They sanction and organise races in various parts of the world including Europe, Canada and Mexico but the majority of contests are held in the US.
Before we look in more detail at some of the most famous races in the sport, let us first explain what stock car racing is. Whilst some will be familiar with NASCAR, and indeed stock car, thanks to the 1990 film starring Tom Cruise, Days of Thunder, for many, especially in the UK, it may be rather alien. Stock car does take place in the UK (as well as in Brazil, New Zealand and various other nations around the globe) but is certainly biggest in North America.
The name derives from the fact that the cars were initially “stock” models, in the sense of being standard production vehicles. They are now far more specialist and often custom made, with speeds of over 200mph not uncommon. Whilst stock car racing in the UK has various classes, and for many is more associated with banger racing, in the US the focus is very much on NASCAR, the very upper echelons of the sport.
In this form of stock car, you will not see decrepit and/or “armoured” vehicles crashing into each other but you will instead be treated to hugely powerful cars racing for distances of often between 200 and 600 miles. Races are often held at oval racetracks, though roads and dirt tracks are sometimes also used. The cars do not look too dissimilar to high-powered road cars, aside from the bright colours and sponsorship, and manufacturers such as Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Dodge and Pontiac are among those to have produced top-end NASCAR vehicles.
Whilst NASCAR technically covers a huge number of different levels and styles of racing, including regionally in the USA and other countries, for most fans and punters the key event is the NASCAR Cup Series. The Daytona 500 is perhaps the biggest event of them all, and the race is held over 500 miles at the Daytona International Speedway, with the Brickyard 400, held at the same venue as Indycar’s Indy 500, another massive race.
Like many of the other motorsports we have looked at, the Series uses a points system over a number of races to crown a champion, with awards also offered to drivers, teams and manufacturers. In terms of drivers, there are three greats, all from the States, who stand head and shoulders above the rest. Richard Petty won seven NASCAR Cup Series Drivers’ Championships in the 1960s and 1970s, a feat matched by Dale Earnhardt in the next two decades, whilst Jimmie Johnson won seven between 2006 and 2016 inclusive.
NASCAR really is huge in the States and with a large number of races (in 2021 there were 26 in the regular season plus a further 10 that acted as playoffs), is regularly among the most-attended and most-watched sports in the USA. Compared to F1, budgets and global awareness remain relatively low but there is no doubt that for the average petrolhead in the USA NASCAR is where the real action happens.