Oct 24, 2013, 3:36 PM EDT
Sebastian Vettel appears ready to equal his racing hero and German countryman Michael Schumacher and also Juan Manuel Fangio as the only drivers in Formula One history to win four consecutive World Championships. That alone places him in the Mount Rushmore of legends in the sport; since entering in 2007 as a teenager, Vettel has stormed through the F1 record books with nearly every single Grand Prix.
Schumacher’s all-time marks of 91 wins and 7 World Championships are eventually going to be in range for Vettel, who thus far has 35 and 3 at age 26. He’s already the youngest to win three titles. Schumacher had runs of seven and five straight wins in 2004, the year of his final title. Fangio never won more than three races in a row and won just 24 races in his career, but raced during an era when only nine to 11 Grands Prix were on the calendar.
Yet while his status among the all-time greats of F1 is being solidified, his awareness to an American fan base is not at the same level as his on-track achievements.
Compared to some of America’s most dominant and recognizable stick-and-ball athletes – such as LeBron James, Tiger Woods, and Tom Brady/Peyton Manning – Vettel matches up from a dominance and success level.
LeBron’s at least a third of the way to his “not three, not four, not five, not six” proclamation with back-to-back rings. Brady’s run of success netted three Super Bowls in a four-year run earlier this century. Woods’ streak included holding all four major titles at the same time from 2000 to 2001, and his total of 14 majors is still unrivaled among other golfers even though he’s been stuck on 14 since that U.S. Open win over Rocco Mediate in 2008.
And yet Vettel’s got a record streak that would trump them all, with four successive season-long championships assuming he caps it off this weekend in India. One site rates his marketability behind that of NBA star Blake Griffin and tennis player Sloane Stephens, not to mention fellow F1 driver Lewis Hamilton.
So why is he not as well-known in these parts? Several factors, actually.
The obvious, of course, was the lack of a United States Grand Prix until the event’s return at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas last year. Still, you can catch him for this year’s race on Nov. 17 on NBC, or in person at the track.
Looking historically, Vettel actually made his debut at the last USGP in Indianapolis in 2007 – as a then-long-haired, blonde, 19-year-old as an injury replacement for Robert Kubica at the BMW Sauber team. He scored a championship point with eighth place, the youngest driver to do so, and began his march on the record books.
Those who paid attention that weekend – and are F1 devotees – will know they witnessed the beginning of the legend. The more casual observers, though, likely would not have known of Vettel until the series’ return a year ago.
Second is his sponsor, Red Bull. For all its marketing brilliance over the years, Red Bull has not opted to make Vettel the focal point of its ads in the U.S. since he joined the team in 2009. There’s been more ads from new Red Bull partner Infiniti this year – one with generic Red Bull Formula 3 cars racing through streets I can think of off the top of my head – and Vettel’s not included directly.
Red Bull got more mileage from a marketing and buzz standpoint out of the “Red Bull Stratos” event last October, when Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner free fell from more than 125,000 feet in space. It truly felt like “an event;” a Vettel Grand Prix win seems like “just another Sunday.”
You could argue Mobil 1 has made McLaren driver Jenson Button and, previously, Hamilton bigger names in the U.S. Hamilton and fellow Mobil 1 driver Tony Stewart memorably exchanged rides for a day in a made-for-TV 2011 event, and the two were in commercials together as well. This year, Button’s starred opposite “Smoke,” as the term “Soda cookies” has officially entered the vernacular.
All three – Vettel and the pair of English World Champions, Button and Hamilton – are much bigger on the other side of the pond compared to here. The Barclays Premier League has gained recent traction in the U.S., but it and F1 are the two major sports in England by contrast to here, where the NFL rules all.
Perhaps comparable examples for Vettel in the U.S. are Spanish soccer players Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, who have won multiple titles with their club team, Barcelona, and international trophies with Spain. But a U.S. sports fan may be hard-pressed to pick either out of a crowd. The same applies to Vettel.
Third, and the issue all F1 stars worldwide all seem to have here, is that the races often come on in the overnight or early morning hours. Only the most devoted, fervent fans have the desire and passion to want to wake up that early, or stay up that late, to watch Grands Prix.
And with Vettel’s recent run of success – five straight victories heading into this weekend – it has the potential to turn fans off with the notion that a race is as good as decided before it even begins. Say what you will about what it takes to achieve that, but unless you’re a fan of dominance and watching the best at their peak, it can get old.
We know Vettel’s an excellent shoe and from those who cover him every Grand Prix weekend, he has a sunny disposition, quick wit, sharp, insightful answers to journalist questions and an enthusiasm for winning that is evident every time that finger waves “number one.”
It just hasn’t waved “number one” here in terms of awareness of his level of dominance.
What might happen to Tony Stewart when District Attorney’s review of Kevin Ward Jr. case is completed?
Sep 15, 2014, 10:54 PM EDT
Tony Stewart is expected to learn later this week if he will not face charges or may be indicted in last month’s Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy. A noted attorney with extensive experience in death and catastrophic injury cases explained to MST the legal process in Stewart’s case.
Sep 15, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
In his first-ever race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Aric Almirola suffered a blown engine at Chicagoland Speedway for the first time in his three-year career.
Sep 15, 2014, 9:31 PM EDT
On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we recap how Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson struggled in the first race of the Chase.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
Monday’s edition of NASCAR America recaps all the highs and lows of Sunday’s opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, from Brad Keselowski’s win to Aric Almirola’s heartbreak.
Sep 15, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
John Paul Jr. keeps fighting despite Huntington’s disease.
Sep 15, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Parker Kligerman recaps his Indy Lights test at IMS.
Sep 15, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
Aric Almirola came into Sunday’s opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup with high hopes of being perhaps the Cinderella of the playoffs, someone who would fly under the radar all the way to the final four season-ending battle at Homestead.
Sep 15, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT
Pirelli World Challenge race winners and champions crowned after Utah doubleheader.
Sep 15, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Next generation of potential IndyCar drivers on display at IMS test.
Sep 15, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Mercedes names 19-year-old its new reserve driver.
Sep 15, 2014, 9:53 AM EDT
Josef Newgarden tests the new Indy Lights car at IMS.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:52 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. — One day after announcing he would not be returning to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2015, Marcos Ambrose made it official that he’s going home to his native Australia to and race in the V8 Supercars series for Roger Penske.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:25 PM EDT
For the second time in the last three races, the National Hot Rod Association has been forced to start a race in one location and finish it in another.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. – Oh, how we’d love to be a bug on the wall when Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. get home after Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Jeff Gordon makes strong ‘Drive For Five’ start, also has high praise for Kyle Larson in Chase opener
Sep 14, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. – In the first race of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon took the first step in his “Drive For Five” – and put his best foot forward.
Sep 14, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. – Sunday’s opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup was good for 12 of the 16 contestants, as they dominated the top-15 finishers in the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. But four others struggled and find themselves in a hole heading into the second race of the Chase.
Sep 14, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. — While Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick were jousting for the lead, Keselowski slipped up in-between them and then sailed right through with 15 laps left to win Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400, the opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway.
Sep 14, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. – With 134 of the scheduled 267 laps complete, Brad Keselowski leads the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Sep 14, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. — Kevin Harvick made a celebrated trade of pit crews with Tony Stewart for Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 due to numerous mistakes and errors committed by his pit crew during the first 26 races of the regular season. Unfortunately, Harvick’s pit road jinx continued with the new crew.
Sep 14, 2014, 1:34 PM EDT
JOLIET, Ill. — If Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 plays out the way folks in the garage were talking Sunday morning, there’s going to be at least a few surprises both in the course of the race and potentially in the outcome in the opening event of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Video from NASCAR America
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- Keselowski surges between Harvick, Larson to win Chase opener at Chicagoland 0
- For 16 Sprint Cup drivers, the time is here: ready, set, Chase 0
- Kyle Busch starts Truck race ticked-off, only to end up in victory lane at Chicagoland 1
- Joey Logano: ‘We’re ready’ to win Sprint Cup championship 1
- Kyle Busch ready to claim his ‘second’ Sprint Cup championship 2