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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?

Footnote:

* For Grace, to see if she’s reading, I mean “job-creator”.

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  • JTW

    At least it hasn’t got to this level ….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E8EYTyACQk

    • Shocks&Awe

      Dear Lord,

      Please make NASCAR dead.

      Amen.

      • Williams4Ever

        Dear Lord, Please don’t listen to S&A.

        Just imagine what the core fans of that series will do with all that time on hand ;-)

        • Shocks&Awe

          Well the good Lord will just have to take care of them too.

          (Wait, did I type that out loud? Oops.)

        • Wha?

          Dear Lord, protect me from your followers and NASCAR fans. ;-)

  • Nofahz

    The first guy that adopts a training regimen to simulate sponsorship & PR experiences will get an edge. Seriously though, there are athletes & celebrities that put in way more time than F1 drivers for sponsors, charities & even their own businesses outside their profession. Could it be a distraction, sure. But get over yourself. I think DC was really looking to make up some column inches

    • Williams4Ever

      The first guy that adopts a training regimen to simulate sponsorship & PR experiences will get an edge.
      >> Wasn’t that MSCv1.0 anyway? I am not his fan but he is the first driver who laid down the boiler plate for “work ethic” for F1 drivers, and no body can take that away from him.

      I think DC was really looking to make up some column inches
      >> So true

    • That you for not saying I was really just looking to make a post. :)

  • Rob

    Poor little dears…. Such precious creatures.

    DC must have spent all of 10minutes typing up that – fortunately with most of the screen covered in ads and other crap he didn’t need a real lot of detailed analysis….

    As much as I love F1, I wish these damn drivers (and team owners and the F1 owner) would get over themselves. Seems to come with the outrageously paid and coddled nature of the beast now and IMO that’s a huge loss.

    If someone honestly thinks a few drinkies, ribbon cutting, hand shakes and a little talkie in front of a small privileged sponsor crowd is a serious issue – even on race day – then they need to look in the mirror pretty hard and have someone kick them up the ass until they figure it out.

    • Williams4Ever

      +1, Couldn’t have put it in better words.

    • Well… to try to play the other side, I think it is about having a level playing field.

      Say you’re Lewis Hamilton and you have to spend … let’s say 20 hours during a week before a race doing sponsor events, maybe also some travel on top of that to get to one.

      Alonso has it easier that week, no commitments. Who will be in better shape come race time?

      Having taken that side, yeah, it is hard to feel badly for them. But it’s all context and it’s all relative — we all have worst parts of our jobs. And…

      nah. I can’t do it. Bloody whiny babies, all of them!!! :)

      • Azwing

        But, it could also be that doing a certain amount of events helps in a couple ways. One, the driver is kept busy and mentally engaged in something. An active mind is a healthy one, and all that. Two, perhaps spending time away from overthinking a race is a good thing. Doing events isn’t completely downtime, but it’s not time spent going over the minutae of a race.

        Basically, I could see a driver having too much free time being just as detrimental as having too many sponsorship commitments.

        • BoogWar

          Try signing 3000 autographs in two hours. Funny, the money doesn’t make it easier. I think DC has a point.

          • Williams4Ever

            http://twitpic.com/5fql5h

            The inside story is Webbber is expected to sign additional 500 caps per hours than Vettel and hence his performance on track suffers.

            Another insider news is that Webber and RedBull are taking so much time to finalize the aussie contract since there is a deadlock on the number caps the Aussie should sign. While Webber wants the current work load to be reduced by 500, Management want him to sign 200 more than his current work load. Management’s reason – Thanks to Media Propaganda, the australian is more popular than their German driver, so its but natural that he signs more caps and does more PR work.

            Media(English Media) are you listening…

          • mark h

            I don’t think anyone’s saying it’s fun – but can’t we all agree it’s hardly the end of the world?

            I think he has a point on the other issues – but struggle to sympathise on this particular front.

  • jon

    sorry ,but i think the chin is talking sence,

  • mark h

    I’m in agreement with the understandably sceptical voices here. It’s quite simply a part of their (tremendously generously remunerated) job.

    DC is missing a trick though, I reckon. I agree that many drivers seem to struggle at home – but I don’t think it’s sponsorship commitments, rather the extra pressure that they, the fans, and the press put on them. The spotlight is greater, and maybe that does impact negatively on performance.

    In all seriousness, how many drivers have been traditionally and consistently strong at home? Nigel Mansell flies to mind (well, to my mind, but he would), Alain Prost was pretty mighty in France and Monaco, Piquet Snr bagged two in Brazil and I guess Massa was putting a bit of a streak together, but his last win was that hollow victory in 08. But there, that I can think of at least, the list drops away.

    Senna waited until ’91. Schumi only won four (for Schumi, that qualifies as “only”) in Germany, though Ralf grabbed one too. Vettel’s never won at home. Webber’s never won at home. Rubens might as well stay home rather than go to Interlagos. Damon won only one at Silverstone, Jacques Villeneuve had a miserable run in Montreal but for a podium first time out – Jenson Button has struck out so far. Niki Lauda finally won in Austria in 1984.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but can we talk of “home disadvantage” after all?

    Though – again – I’m categorically NOT putting this theory down to the need for a brief grip and grin over a non-alcoholic cocktail or two at a five-star hotel.

    • mark h

      ah yes, and Fernando Alonso has one Barcelona win and none in Valencia to his name, to date.

      • My favorite part of your comment? “though Ralf grabbed one too.”

        What else can we imagine that “one” to be?

        • mark h

          Well, it’s plausible that it could have been in a certain car and team, with whom Ralf Schumacher may or may not have secured all of his wins. What of it? It just struck me as pertinent – if only because he didn’t win many!

  • budred5

    I wonder if when Schu steps in the golf cart, David said “Let’s hope I don’t F’ing kill you”.
    Spa 98- Everybody drink.

  • If you and a friend of equal ability are asked to sit a test tomorrow, and you have to spend all day today working and your friend cn do what he/she likes, it should be obvious that your friend will have an advantage – in terms of being fresher – than if both of you had been able to do what you liked (or indeed if both of you had had to do the same job today). It doesn’t matter what the job is – being compelled to do anything in and of itself imposes a level of stress on the body and mind, and the heavier that imposition is, the more stressful it will be. This is especially true for the majority of racers who weren’t picked for their PR ability but their driving (and possibly for how much money/other benefits came with them, which doesn’t necessarily tally with PR endurance ability).

    DC’s quote isn’t about whether F1 drivers should be capable of doing the PR work. It was about the disadvantage of having a heavy PR load (as is typical for a home race) compared to a lighter PR load (that non-home racers typically get). It’s about playing fields and a particular way in which they can be made uneven.

  • SuperSix-1

    I think those who are moaning that drivers should just get on with it are people who are probably jealous of these guys and their salaries. Lets take the writers on F1B…would they be happy to be ordered to spend most of their times in making tea for their colleagues…Time which will taken away from them to prepare for the next article and story?
    -You people would probably all go on strike!

    DO these same people have a problem with footballers who spend most of their weeks sitting at home, going out hanging out with celebs and cheating on their partners?
    -Funny how our spoilt & over indulged footballers are treated with less judgement! – and they cant even win a worldcup!!

    Its without any doubt that F1 driver’s sponsorship commitments are more exhausting then probably most of the athletes in all other sports.
    Anyone with any common sense would understand that to be flying around, in and out of countries in a day, unable to have time to even train and prepare for a GP weekend in the week coming up is just plain ridiculous and silly – off course there will be burn out and fatigue.

    All sportsmen should obviously do their bit to help promote sponsors (and Lewis does alot more than anyone else as hes in demand more) BUT the drivers’ preperation for each GP should not be compromised. Especially by a team which has been failing & needs to improve (as without improving they will find that those same sponsors could walk away to another more sucessful team)….more time should be given to their drivers & teams to prepare.
    The teams need to put their foot down abit with the sponsors – and the sponsors should understand. Its all good giving into PR demands when the teams are at their best on track…after all which sponsors would want to carry on sponsoring a team which is falling down the grid?

    ..Its a no-brainer!

    As for DC’s comment about Button being ‘equally marketable’ – yet another deluded exageration from another pal of button. Yes jenson is more marketable than Heikki Kovalinen (in the UK that is) – But to suggest hes ‘equally marketable’ with Hamilton is slightly deluded and over-exagerating.
    Sorry but is jenson as ‘equally marketable’ in the US as Lewis is?
    -NO chance!! Lewis Hamilton is much more well known, popular & more in demand in the US than button.

    Its plain to see that Hamilton is one of the most marketable drivers out there and forcasted to be one of the most marketable sportsman in the world.
    Would Hamilton consider a cheap & tacky sponsorship with ‘Head & Shoulders’ (obviously Lewis doesnt have the hair for it, but even if he did..it wouldnt even be looked at by him).

    Button also has no ‘big-name’ sponsors personally sponsoring him at mclaren.

    McLaren had to change their policy on their drivers bringing in their own sponsorships into the team for Lewis Hamilton – where they allowed him to bring in a personal sponsor in Reebok to the team.
    Santander have openly expressed that Lewis Hamilton has been the reason for them to extend sponsorship with the team. Lewis has plenty of big names still queueing up at him but Lewis has not signed anymore as it will increase his PR commitment when his schedule is already so full up.

    Button wouldnt complain too much about it all as much as Lewis (even though he has) as this is the 1st time in jenson’s F1 career where anyone has taken any interest in him – hes getting the camera & airtime hes always so craved. Button is only popular for his ‘nice-guy’ image…not for his talents. Lewis has also been doing this now for his fifth year now..whereas button is only in his 2nd year.

    I back Lewis and any other driver who feels they need more time to prepare for races….after all that is the main reason for their big salaries….to RACE & to WIN!…thats their main jobs.