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.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Wednesday’s UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway has been postponed due to heavy rain and lightning. The race has been rescheduled to 10 am ET on Thursday morning, weather permitting.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:52 PM EDT
Heavy rain showers coupled with occasional lightning are delaying Wednesday’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, we looked at the struggles Jimmie Johnson and his team have had over much of the last six weeks.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:24 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, in the continuing absence of Tony Stewart this weekend at Bristol, it was announced that Jeff Burton will drive in his place for the second week in a row.
Aug 20, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT
Kyle Busch (who else) earned the No. 1 qualifying position Wednesday afternoon for this evening’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 6:30 p.m. ET — Stewart won’t race at Bristol, talk with Jeff Burton, JJ and Harvick
Aug 20, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT
We have a huge show for today’s edition of NASCAR America, including the latest on Tony Stewart not racing at Bristol, Jeff Burton back in the No. 14 to replace Stewart, Kevin Harvick’s GoKart race, Jimmie Johnson’s recent struggles. And those are just for starters. Make sure you tune in.
Aug 20, 2014, 5:27 PM EDT
Tony Stewart will miss this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the third consecutive race Stewart has skipped in the aftermath of the tragic racing incident with sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. nearly two weeks ago.
Aug 20, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT
Amidst news that a grassroots campaign is building support for Tony Stewart, including plans to stand up and cheer during Lap 14 (Stewart’s race car number) of Saturday night’s race at Bristol, one question still remains: When will Stewart race again
Aug 20, 2014, 2:53 PM EDT
The famed STP logo will once again grace the legendary No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports in Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
Kyle Busch will attempt to win all three NASCAR races at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Will Power and Team Penske have been dominant over the last several years at Sonoma, and if they are again, the IndyCar championship could be put out of reach.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
If Mike Conway wins Sonoma this weekend, he’ll have his third win of 2014, and tie Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay with the most in the IndyCar field.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Gabby Chaves to get new teammate in form of Ryan Phinny for Sonoma, at Indy Lights weekend finale.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
NBA legend Dominique Wilkins tours Charlie Kimball’s No. 83 team during the Milwaukee IndyCar weekend.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Le Mans champion Andre Lotterer confirmed for surprise Formula One debut with Caterham at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:09 PM EDT
Last year, reliability was the problem for Toyota’s engines, not power. This year, the situation has been reversed, and Toyota Racing Development’s president says they’re hunting for more performance ahead of the Chase.
Aug 19, 2014, 8:07 PM EDT
Alan Gustafson may not be as well-known as other crew chiefs, but it’s clear that he’s played a big role in Jeff Gordon’s success this season. The NASCAR AMERICA crew breaks down what’s made them such a good pair together.
Aug 19, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA talks about Carl Edwards and Daniel Suarez’s move to Joe Gibbs Racing – and the impact of their new sponsor, telecommunications equipment company ARRIS.
Aug 19, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Coming up today: Reaction from 2015 JGR drivers Carl Edwards and Daniel Suarez, and current JGR Cup drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch; No. 24 crew chief Alan Gustafson on the team’s win at Michigan; the Michigan edition of “Scan All 43.”
Aug 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Four days after racing in Michigan, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series faces the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway in Wednesday night’s UNOH 200.
Video from NASCAR America
- It’s official: Tony Stewart to miss Bristol race, Jeff Burton to once again drive No. 14 3
- When — or will — Tony Stewart ever race again? 2
- Andre Lotterer confirmed for Caterham debut at Spa 6
- NASCAR: Joe Gibbs hopeful for eventual return of Tony Stewart 12
- The 2014 Milwaukee IndyFest weekend high on promise, with more positives than negatives 5
- NASCAR’s worst-kept secret is official: Carl Edwards joins Joe Gibbs Racing from 2015 4
- Report: Comcast’s Xfinity, NASCAR closer to series sponsorship deal 0