David Coulthard posits an interesting little theory in his latest piece for the Telegraph.
It is, essentially, that having to do all the usual PR stuff taps Formula 1 drivers’ performance. And it is worst, typically, at home races. Thus McLaren’s drivers tanked in Britain and Sebastian Vettel did the same at his home grand prix this past weekend.
To his credit, Coulthard spends a bit of time saying: “Yes, these guys have it good. Put that aside for a second, though.”
And that’s fair. While we might all love to spend a week acting like Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button, even if it meant driving some wacky rich* dude around a track, put it in context: You’re having to do that while others are spending their time preparing for the race. Do you think they would have a leg up come the starting lights?
That’s pretty much Coulthard’s point. Here is an excerpt:
[box type=”shadow”]In many respects it is good for Lewis that the equally marketable Jenson has arrived to shoulder some of the burden, because when it was him with Heikki Kovalainen it did not take a genius to guess which driver the sponsor was going to want for their contracted time.
Red Bull, by contrast, bought a team to market its brand and sell fizzy drinks. Other sponsors have since arrived, but essentially the team is its own advertising vehicle and the external demands on the drivers are far less than at McLaren.
It is all about finding the right balance because there is no doubt that mental and physical fatigue will cost a driver in terms of his performance.
These are finely-tuned athletes we are talking about — believe me, they are supremely fit — and in a sport where hundredths of a second can make all the difference they need every ounce of concentration they can get.
It would not surprise me in the least if Lewis’s time off last week to rest and train — he cancelled a sponsors’ trip to India a fortnight ago to help him in this respect — had a major bearing on his sensational performance in Germany.
We will never know for sure, just as we will never know whether Sebastian Vettel’s unusually subdued performance was in some way linked to the additional demands he felt racing in front of his home crowd; the increased PR demands, media coverage, weight of expectation, family and friends in the crowd et cetera.
I believe the last driver to win his home grand prix was Felipe Massa for Ferrari in Sao Paulo in 2008 so perhaps there is a direct link between PR demands and performance? It’s one hypothesis anyway.[/box]
What Coulthard doesn’t say — maybe this is pushing things into uncomfortable territory given his Red Bull affiliation — is whether the sport has become too sponsor driven, thus robbing fans of seeing the drivers at their best.
So, has the sport become too sponsor driven? (But is there really any other choice?) Do Red Bull’s drivers have an advantage because they have less requirements on this front? Who do you think might be the next driver to capture his home race?
* For Grace, to see if she’s reading, I mean “job-creator”.