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.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Rosberg felt that Hamilton overstepped the mark with one of his moves in Bahrain.
Apr 17, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
After Stefano Domenicali’s departure, there’s a change in the wind at Ferrari.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:52 AM EDT
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing withdraws from the TUDOR Championship, after previously announcing a temporary hiatus.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
The final eastern adventure until October looks to be a Mercedes game once again, but a number of other stories are set to define the weekend.
True Americana with a racing twist: Martinsville Speedway once again hosts high school prom after-party
Apr 16, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
What do Martinsville Speedway, New York’s Central Park and a prom after-party have in common? They’re all one-in-the-same – kind of. For over a decade every April, NASCAR’s oldest racetrack has played host to Martinsville (Va.) High School’s prom after-party.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
A few days after a wild Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, 18 car/driver combinations turned laps at Texas Motor Speedway this afternoon.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT
Sunday’s win in the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway held special significance for NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Andrew Hines. The three-time NHRA PSM champion earned his 33rd national event win, tying him for third in Pro Stock Motorcycle’s wins list with the late John Myers.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Schmidt Peterson driver Luiz Razia posts photo of the Long Beach podium to inspire him to get better.
Apr 16, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT
Marcus Jadotte, one of the leading forces behind NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program over nearly the last decade, announced Wednesday that he’s leaving as the organization’s vice president of public affairs and multicultural development.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:38 PM EDT
Steve Letarte, Ricky Rudd offer insights on Wednesday’s NASCAR AMERICA.
Apr 16, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Sebastian Saavedra fined $10,000 for yellow-flag infraction in Long Beach.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Bentley confirms Pirelli World Challenge GT program with Dyson Racing, to premiere later in the year.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon has said several times that if he were to win a fifth Sprint Cup crown, that he likely would retire after that championship season and go out on top. Some of his competitors may be looking forward to that day coming – and some hope it comes as soon as after this season so Gordon won’t continue to confound them in coming seasons as he has for the last 21 seasons. But ever the kind of guy who plays his cards close to the vest, Gordon may be getting ready to throw his fellow drivers and NASCAR fans a curve ball.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT
NASCAR’s birthplace, the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., is going to be – well, streamlined. According to Wednesday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, the hotel where NASCAR was formed back in 1947, will soon undergo extensive renovations to bring back some of the hotel’s luster of days gone by.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
Relive the drama from Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Scott Bloomquist just keeps motoring along in the National Dirt Racing League. Bloomquist is coming off a strong weekend performance where he was runnerup Saturday at Virginia Motor Speedway, and then for an encore won Sunday’s main event at Winchester (Tenn.) Speedway.
Kentucky Speedway June Nationwide Series race to promote program encouraging use of designated drivers
Apr 16, 2014, 2:42 PM EDT
It’s rare that someone is happy to get or pay a traffic ticket from a state trooper. But thousands of NASCAR fans will gladly fork out their hard-earned money for a different kind of ticket, and one that carries the same kind of meaning as many of the tickets that police across the U.S. issue countless times each day.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET — Rudd, Letarte, Hollywood Armstrong and why good restarts are key
Apr 16, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
While much of NASCAR may be on its version of spring break, the NASCAR AMERICA team is hard at work to bring you some intriguing content. Rick Allen and Kyle Petty hold down the fort at the anchor desk on Wednesday’s show at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for your online or mobile device.
Apr 16, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
NASCAR may have the upcoming weekend off for the Easter holiday, but that doesn’t mean its crack team of statisticians is on vacation like most of the drivers and teams. Even without a race, they’re still pumping out numbers that fans love to devour. So for an appetizer prior to next week’s countdown to the April 26 race at Richmond International Raceway, here’s some food for thought and to munch on
- Cooler heads prevail as IndyCar drivers test at Texas (VIDEO) 0
- Jeff Gordon has bad news for his rivals: He’s thinking of racing for 10 more years 2
- NASCAR’s birthplace, the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, to get significant makeover 0
- IndyCar remix: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (VIDEO) 0
- Ten with Townsend: Long Beach Debrief 2
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