The F1 fan engagement mentality that surprised a Daytona 500 winner


But for Cindric, the most noticeable contrast is not in the technical regulations or in the completely different sporting approach. Instead, it’s fan engagement that stands out for him as the biggest turnoff.

Cindric attended his first F1 race in Canada last weekend and got to see up close what a real grand prix was like. Accustomed to a series where the fans fully bond with the pilots, he was surprised to see how different the relationship between competitors and spectators was.


“Perhaps it’s the mentality more than anything else that makes the difference,” he told Autosport. “Unlike most traditional NASCAR drivers, I guess I’ve been exposed to a lot of different forms of motorsport and I think it’s not exclusive, but it’s all very structured, it’s all almost one a little tense, a little serious. And maybe on a rainy day like in Canada, it’s probably amplified.

“It’s certainly very different from what I’m used to as a driver, especially in terms of your business obligations over the course of a weekend, versus the number of racing fans you interact with. really.

“I can’t say I saw a single race fan after driving the pontoon boat to the paddock here. Whereas I can’t walk anywhere, probably within five miles of a NASCAR race, without seeing a racing fan and spending time with them.

This distance between the fans and the driver is, he believes, a factor in why the Netflix series: Drive to Survive has been such a big hit around the world: because it finally offered a window to the outside world. to see the real personalities at play in the F1 Paddock.

MORE: Why Netflix isn’t the only reason for F1’s modern boom

“I think it humanizes a seemingly untouchable sport: even from an outside fan,” he said.

“Maybe it’s something that F1 desperately needed because so many people came to the race this weekend and you don’t have access to it as a NASCAR fan.

Cindric is used to meeting fans trackside at NASCAR events

Photo by: Tim Parks / NKP / Motorsport Images

“If I go to a NASCAR race and I have access to the garage, there is a 90% chance that you will see or meet your favorite driver. While I guarantee anyone wearing a Red Bull hat here will probably never see the whites of Max Verstappen’s eyes until he steps onto the podium at the end of the day.

“It’s just a difference. When you humanize those moments, which I think is what they did with that Netflix show, they brought to life who those people are, and that’s where you get the connection.

As the son of Penske chairman Tim Cindric, Austin grew up surrounded by the American motorsport scene – but F1 was always there in the background.

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“I think my earliest memories are for me IndyCar,” he says. “I grew up around IndyCar racing: being in IndyCar races, being in the IndyCar paddock.

“My earliest memories of F1 are probably at the IMS, the morning of the Indy 500, and walking into the garage. Everyone had their pre-race jitters, and that was the engineering staff and the drivers all glued to TV screens watching Monaco, so that’s probably my earliest memories.

“But really, I just have an appreciation for motorsport. Obviously F1 is a completely different discipline to NASCAR. That’s even how safety cars are: a yellow flag has a very different procedure with restarts and everything we do in NASCAR, which I think makes our sport very different from a lot of other forms of racing.

“While in F1 it’s more about pure racing strategy. And the fact that you don’t have to refuel during the race: the only strategy you have is the tire strategy. There’s so a lot of differences, and it’s kind of exciting to watch.

The appeal of F1 for Cindric is clear, which is why he chose to spend a rare weekend away from NASCAR not relaxing at home, but rather trackside in Montreal.

Cindric believes Netflix has helped F1 drivers become more humanized and revealed another side to them that is not easy for fans to understand.

Cindric believes Netflix has helped F1 drivers become more humanized and revealed another side to them that is not easy for fans to understand.

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

“It’s my first time at an F1 Grand Prix, so it’s quite a unique opportunity,” he said. “We have a weekend in our program from February to November, and I decided to spend it on a racecourse!

“I remember watching F1 qualifying on TV recently and wondering if there was a day of the year when it would work, I could go: and it happened to be the Canada. Obviously it’s pretty close, a pretty easy trip. So I contacted people from Shell and Pennzoil. And they took me out of here. To be able to experience this, there are certainly rather interesting perspectives.

Under the ownership of Liberty Media, F1 has made a huge push to expand its presence in the United States – and that will culminate with three grands prix in the country next year.

And although the culture of the hugely popular NASCAR series is a far cry from the Eurocentric tradition of F1, Cindric says there’s nothing wrong with the two categories being at different ends of the spectrum for the American public.

MORE: How F1 finally cracked America

“I think they can be adopted by the same people in different ways,” he explains. “What makes me excited as a fan to watch an F1 race is completely different from what makes me, as a racing fan, excited to watch a NASCAR race, so I think both should be embraced.

“I think you see guys like Daniel Ricciardo talking about how much he loves NASCAR and his appreciation for what we can do every week. And I think the more it can be accepted, and the more you don’t alienate yourself, the better.

“They are two racing series, but they can be so different. In America, we have college football diehards and NFL diehards. They both play [American] football, but they are two completely different groups of athletes. In racing, I think it’s even more different.

“You have completely different disciplines taking place at different racetracks, with different challenges. And the cars are obviously about as different as it gets. »

NASCAR and F1 couldn't be more different in terms of spectacle, but Cindric doesn't think that's a bad thing for the American public

NASCAR and F1 couldn’t be more different in terms of spectacle, but Cindric doesn’t think that’s a bad thing for the American public

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

Although Cindric’s career is currently focused on NASCAR, he is not shy about admitting that he would like the opportunity of an F1 test at some point.

“You can say I’m too big, but people have told me that all my career,” he laughed. “I would definitely like to drive one. I think to the extent that I hope to race one? I think the culture just doesn’t support that. You don’t have unique entries. It just doesn’t happen. just not.

“But I am very passionate about motorsports. I am very passionate about my journey and my versatility, and you sometimes miss it. I feel like [Juan Pablo] Montoya was kind of one of the last guys that could do it, although you got Kimi [Raikkonen] come and do a NASCAR race.

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“I would definitely love the opportunity to drive one. It’s a great respect for the machinery and the driving and what’s going on in it for sure. And definitely having more perspective on that to be here in Canada.

Cindric says he has a lot more perspective on F1 after seeing it up close

Cindric says he has a lot more perspective on F1 after seeing it up close

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images