F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

Sebastian Vettel may be greatest athlete America doesn’t know

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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.

‘McLaren’ documentary to honor a true pioneer of the sport (VIDEO)

Bruce McLaren drives the #11 McLaren BRM M4B during the Daily Mail Race of Champions on 12 March 1967 at the Brands Hatch circuit in Fawkham, Great Britain. (Photo by Getty Images)
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“To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”

The above quote came from racing driver and car designer Bruce McLaren, and if a life is measured in accomplishments and impact rather than length, very few have have ever done more than the man originally from New Zealand.

His driving statistics would be enough to stand on their own. He is one of only a few drivers to have won both the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans before achieving a string of victories in Can-Am during the 1960s.

However, perhaps his lasting legacy is as a designer. The founder of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, now known as McLaren Racing Limited, he did more than hold his own while piloting his machinery in Formula 1, even winning the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix. But, his team’s stardom skyrocketing after entering Can-Am in the late 1960s. The group won five of their six races in 1967 and four of six races in 1968.

But those results pale in comparison to 1969, when his team won all 11 races in Can-Am with he, countryman Denny Hulme, Chris Amon and Dan Gurney as the drivers. They even finished an astounding 1-2-3 on three occasions that season, cementing McLaren’s status as one of the greatest drivers and designers who ever lived. In the decades since, the McLaren name has become synonymous with excellence, both in its racing cars and road cars.

Bruce McLaren’s life, sadly cut short at the age of 32 following a testing crash at Goodwood Circuit, is the focus of the upcoming documentary ‘McLaren.’ If the trailer is any indication, the film will serve as an epic tribute to a true pioneer, one who left an indelible mark on the entire racing community.

 

Penske, Detroit both announce new partnerships

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 01:  Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit - Dual II race at Belle Isle Park on June 1, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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Team Penske and the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, which operates under Penske’s ownership, both revealed new partnerships earlier today.

The Penske team announced a multi-year agreement with 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions company Stratasys Ltd., which will provide equipment and support to assist the organization’s engineering and manufacturing efforts in both the NASCAR and IndyCar programs.

image001“Our strategic partnership with Stratasys should keep our manufacturing and engineering processes at the front of the pack,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said of the new partnership. “Stratasys is on the cutting edge of additive manufacturing technology for automotive applications. Utilizing their equipment and technical support will provide us with another means to put our ideas on the race track first.”

For the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, scheduled  for June 2-4, Lear Corporation will join as the presenting sponsor. The supplier of automotive seating and electrical systems maintains an active presence in the Detroit area. Quicken Loans had been the prior presenting sponsor.

800x50031“The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix is so proud to welcome Lear Corporation as our presenting sponsor in 2017,” said Bud Denker, chairman of the newly dubbed Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. “Lear and Matt Simoncini are great supporters of Detroit and our community. We could not ask for a better partner to team with Chevrolet and help us host world-class racing and a weekend full of fun and excitement in the Motor City.”

The event will continues its status the week following the Indianapolis 500 and remains the only double-header on the schedule.

F1 Paddock Pass: Renault R.S.17 Launch (VIDEO)

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It’s a special edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, “Paddock Pass,” kicking off the 2017 Formula 1 season following today’s launch of the new Renault R.S.17 in London.

F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales were on site for the launch of the challenger whose base is split between Enstone and Viry-Châtillon, and whose lineup features Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer.

Check in above for the first edition of Paddock Pass for the new year.

Stay tuned for more on NBCSports.com from the week of launches and leading into the first test next week at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona.

Al Unser to return to the cockpit at the SVRA Brickyard Invitational

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Photo: IMS Museum
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Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser will return to the cockpit this summer to compete in the SVRA’s “Indy Legends” Charity Pro-Am, scheduled for June 17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Big Al” will join son Al Unser Jr., which will be their first competitive race together since 1993. It will also be the first time any member of Unser family has raced at the Speedway since 2008, when Al Unser III contested the Indy Lights Freedom 100 for the now defunct Playa Del Racing.

“I guess I got tired of watching the kids have all the fun,” quipped the elder Unser, who previously served as the grand marshal of the 2015 event. He later explained that expressed gratitude toward organizer Tony Parella, president and CEO of the SVRA (Sportscar Vintage Racing Association) for creating the event and extending an invitation to compete. “Seriously, Tony Parella and his SVRA team have created a first-class event and that’s why the entire Unser family has gotten behind it. We believe in what he is doing and I personally enjoy reconnecting with the great fans of the Indianapolis 500.”

Parella’s enthusiasm mirrored Unser’s.”There have been a lot of great legends in the history of auto racing, but in my book Big Al is right at the top of the mountain,” he asserted. “I am honored beyond words. This is such a validation of what all of us at the SVRA have been working so hard to build. To be able to say that this great champion believes in what we are doing enough to strap in and race with us means everything to me personally and professionally.”

The Unsers will join 31 other Indianapolis 500 veterans to compete in vintage Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs, with model years of 1963 to 1972, in the SVRA’s “Group 6” A and B Production. Each veteran will be paired an amateur driver to split time behind the wheel. Other events slated to highlight the weekend include a Motostalgia car auction, the Hagerty Insurance “shine and show” car corral, vintage motorcycle racing and displays, and hundreds of vintage racers celebrating a century’s worth of auto racing.