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.

Hamilton: ‘Incredible’ to surpass Schumacher’s Hungary win tally

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Lewis Hamilton of Greatc Britain and Mercedes GP lifts the trophy on the podium after winning the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton finds it “incredible” to have surpassed seven-time Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher’s number of Hungarian Grand Prix victories after taking a fifth win in Budapest on Sunday.

Hamilton arrived in Hungary tied with Schumacher on four victories at the Hungaroring, his first success at the track coming in his debut season in 2007.

Further wins in 2009, 2012 and 2013 drew him level with Schumacher before a dominant display on Sunday saw him beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg to stand alone on five wins.

“It’s pretty incredible to hear those words, especially when you think I grew up watching Michael,” Hamilton said when informed of the record.

“So to now have had similar, if not one more, than he had here, is just incredible.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the great people I’ve worked with, both at McLaren-Mercedes and now here. It’s a result of great work from such a large group of people.

“I’m really just a chink in the chain. I love it here. I hope there’s more to come before I stop.

“It was not the easiest grand prix I’ve had here in the ten years, nine, ten years – but definitely one I enjoyed.”

RC Enerson joins a list of those Coyne have provided IndyCar debut

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For RC Enerson, the opportunity to debut in this week’s Honda Indy 200 with Dale Coyne Racing means the 19-year-old out of New Port Richey, Fla. will join a decent list of those who’ve started with Coyne and then gone on to bigger and better things in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

He’ll make his debut in the team’s trademark No. 19 Honda next week.

Enerson first hailed the Mazda Road to Indy, where he spent the last five seasons (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda from 2012 to 2014, then Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2015 and partial 2016), for helping prepare him to be the driver he is now.

“The Mazda Road to Indy takes a ton of credit for that,” Enerson told NBC Sports. “The whole ladder system is designed to help you get here. The experience is invaluable. It’s such a great program; it brought me all the way up. We’re to the end of it and they deserve a lot of credit with their preparations, with being at IndyCar events, so you’re going to these huge events in a feeder series. It prepares you really well.”

He then thanked the Coyne team for their immediate ease to work with as he prepares for his debut, alongside teammate Conor Daly in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda.

“The team is awesome. I love this team,” he said.

“The vibe around the whole team is just amazing. There’s not a lot of pressure on me. They basically came in and said, ‘You’re not expected to set the world on fire.’

“But today we made great use of our time. It was great to not only test, but be able to make changes to the car and make setup tweaks.

“We learned a lot of valuable information that will help us for our debut.”

So how does Enerson fit into the rookies-at-Dale Coyne history books?

Here’s a look at the most recent rookies who have made their series debut with Coyne, since the IndyCar/Champ Car merger at the start of 2008:

  • 2015: Rocky Moran Jr.* (Long Beach), Rodolfo Gonzalez (Barber)
  • 2014: Carlos Huertas (St. Petersburg)
  • 2013: James Davison (Mid-Ohio), Stefan Wilson (Baltimore)
  • 2011: James Jakes (St. Petersburg)
  • 2008: Mario Moraes (Homestead)

*Daly also made his first IndyCar road or street course start with Coyne at Long Beach last year, deputizing for the injured Rocky Moran Jr., who was due to debut at the street race last year.

Other notables who have debuted for Coyne include NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy (1991, Long Beach) and other racing veterans Ryan Dalziel (2005, Toronto), Darren Manning (2002, Rockingham) and Andre Lotterer (2002, Mexico City).

Townsend Bell, Tracy’s fellow NBCSN IndyCar analyst, also ran in a Coyne-crewed but Patrick Racing-entered No. 19 car at two European oval races in 2001, his first two IndyCar starts.

Manor: Keeping Haryanto in F1 line-up still ‘plan A’

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23: Rio Haryanto of Indonesia and Manor Racing in the garage during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Manor racing director Dave Ryan says that keeping Rio Haryanto in its car for the second half of the Formula 1 season remains “plan A” despite the Indonesian’s search for funding.

Haryanto became Indonesia’s first F1 driver at the beginning of the season, making his debut with Manor in Australia after spending four years in GP2.

However, Haryanto only had funding to secure the seat until after the Hungarian Grand Prix, confirming in Budapest that he was still working on a deal to be in Germany this weekend.

“If you see me at Hockenheim, then I think that would secure the whole season,” Haryanto told reporters last week.

Speaking to Reuters, Manor F1 chief Dave Ryan confirmed that talks are ongoing with Haryanto’s management to ensure he remains in the car for the rest of the season.

“We’ve got Rio onboard and we’re working with Rio’s management and we’re doing everything we can to secure his drive for the rest of the year,” Ryan said.

Ryan did confirm that Manor has plans in place should talks break down and a replacement for Haryanto be required.

“We’ve got a plan B, we’ve got a plan C, we’ve got a plan D,” he said.

“Of course we have options and we have ideas.

“But plan A is to keep Rio in the car so that’s the intention.”

Besides its race line-up of Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein, Manor also has 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi and GP2 race winner Jordan King on its books.

Rossi raced for Manor five times in 2015, becoming the first American grand prix driver in eight years before being dropped into a reserve role to make way for Haryanto and Wehrlein.

However, a return may prove difficult in the immediate future given his commitments in IndyCar in the no. 98 Andretti/Herta Autosport entry.

A report from motorsport.com over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend claims that McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne is an option to replace Haryanto, having made his F1 debut in Bahrain in place of the injured Fernando Alonso.

The entry list for this weekend’s German Grand Prix will be confirmed on Thursday, by which point a decision will need to have been taken by Manor.

Alonso content with set of P7 finishes in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso was happy to be the ‘best of the rest’ behind the three fastest teams over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend after finishing seventh in every session.

McLaren enjoyed its strongest qualifying performance of the season as Alonso and teammate Jenson Button made it through to Q3.

Although Button’s race was ruined early on by a brake issue, Alonso rose to sixth in the first stintt before falling behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen as the race wore on.

The two-time world champion was left to settle for seventh at the flag – curiously, also his finishing position in FP1, FP2, FP3 and qualifying.

“Well, P7 has been my position all weekend!” Alonso said.

“It’s a pity we couldn’t improve this afternoon but still I think we were best of the rest today.

“Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari are out of reach at the moment for everyone – they’re on another level – so, in the other mini-championship we’re racing in, we were quite competitive and I feel we delivered the maximum we could today.

“There wasn’t much action in the race though. For us, it was a little bit of a boring afternoon at some points – not the usual Hungaroring show – and the only retirement, unfortunately, was Jenson.

“I’m happy about how the weekend went and hopefully we can keep this up progress. We’ve been more or less competitive here and at Silverstone, on two very different circuits, so I’m looking forward to next weekend at Hockenheim.”