F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

Sebastian Vettel may be greatest athlete America doesn’t know


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.

NHRA: Alexis DeJoria brings free mammograms to Texas, Las Vegas races

DeJoria pink race car for breast cancer awareness month
(Photo courtesy Alexis DeJoria Racing)
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Some drivers see red when they’re behind the wheel of a 300-mph Funny Car.

But NHRA Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is seeing pink in the month of October – and she’s proud of it.

DeJoria, who owns Alexis DeJoria Racing and drives the Tequila Patron Toyota for Kalitta Racing, is using the color pink to call attention to breast cancer awareness month in October.

DeJoria has partnered with Baylor Healthcare Systems to offer free mammograms to race fans attending this weekend’s AAA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex (Friday and Saturday) in Ennis, Texas.

She’ll reprise that role, partnering with Nevada Health Centers for the Toyota Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas Oct. 30-31.

According to a media release, ‘”Mammovans’ (mobile mammography units) will be parked in the nitro pits of the racetracks, and free mammograms will be available on-site during both weekends to female ticketholders over the age of 40, regardless of whether or not they have health insurance.”

Those who seek to be screened do not need an appointment or referral. If you have health insurance, bring your insurance information to the race. Test results will be sent via mail approximately ten days after the event.

This year’s initiative continues a program DeJoria began three years ago when she launched the “Free Mammograms for the Fans” program.

Also, DeJoria will drive a hot pink race car in both events.

“I really want to thank the Patrón Spirits Company and Toyota for their support, as well as Kalitta Motorsports, everyone who bought items on our eBay fundraising page, purchased our pink Fight Like a Girl bracelets and made donations,” said DeJoria. “It all goes toward this very wonderful life-saving cause and we would not be able to provide this service to our fans without their support.”

Added Ed Laukes, vice president of marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales USA, “If we are able to save the life of so much as one mother, daughter, sister, wife or friend, it will be well worth our additional investment in our partners at DeJoria (Alexis DeJoria Racing). It truly is rewarding to be able to assist one of our race teams on a program that is so meaningful to so many people.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Sir Stirling Moss: Enclosed cockpits in open-wheel racing ‘ridiculous’

Sir Stirling Moss Getty
(Getty Images)
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While IndyCar mulls some type of enclosed cockpits or canopies in their race cars as early as 2017 to enhance driver safety, one racing legend scoffs at the notion that open-wheel racing should go down that path.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Sir Stirling Moss told Road and Track at the recent Lime Rock Historic Festival. “Motor racing is dangerous. And one does it – some of us do it – because it is dangerous. I was one of those. And I think to go and put forward things like that is absolutely ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.”

MORE: IndyCar CEO: No safety changes for 2016 car, despite Wilson death

It’s the opinion of the 85-year-old Moss that safety elements in one form of open-wheel racing – namely, Formula 1 – are as good as they can be at the moment.

“I think quite honestly, most events have good flag marshaling, which is very important,” Moss said. “The drivers know what they can do and they usually stick within their realistic limits.

“But of course, obviously, the sort of racing and etiquette you have on a circuit like this, or, a club circuit, is necessarily pretty different when you start talking Formula One.

“But, I think (danger) is part of the sport. I don’t think anybody wants to get hurt, but they’re all going to push themselves up to their limit, and that’s pretty good.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski