It was good to read, from the Race of Champions, a few words from Sebastian Vettel about his life away from the Formula 1 world – not that he was giving much away. It is one of the frustrating elements of the modern F1 era that we know so little about Sebastian. He’s a smart, funny, fast and super-talented individual, but his following is relatively small because he makes no effort at all to engage with fans. He doesn’t need to, of course, because he’s paid wild sums of money and wants his private life to be private. He does not seem to feel any responsibility to put himself out there to help promote the sport, but then again that’s quite understandable when the official promoter does next to no promotion. What’s the sport needs is character and you have to figure something is wrong when we have three top German drivers and yet the German GP is skating along on very thin ice. Vettel does not use social media and so what fans he has are based on TV viewing and newspapers. He lives a quiet life in the Swiss countryside with his wife and kids.
Most of the other F1 stars these days (with the inevitable exception of Kimi Raikkonen) use social media to give fans the chance to have a glimpse into their lifestyle. It is a question of balance, of course, but Lewis Hamilton seems to be doing it pretty well. He has three million followers with his tweets about music he likes, promotional stuff, pictures of where he is and what he is up to.
But let’s put this into perspective shall we, F1 claims huge TV figures, but Lewis is nowhere close to the big sports stars on Twitter: Cristiano Ronaldo has 34.5 million, Kaka 22.3 million and basketball’s LeBron James has 19.9 million. F1 may be bigger on TV, but golf’s Tiger Woods has 5 million followers, tennis’s Novak Djokovic has 4.5 million, and MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi has 4.1 miilion. Even Andy Murray has more followers that Lewis.
And the rest of the F1 grid are pretty much also-rans. Fernando Alonso has 2.3 million followers, Jenson Button 2.2 million, so the argument that the figures are based solely on success do not really stand up to scrutiny. Behind the big three is a huge gap back to Nico Rosberg (1.1 million), and then another drop to Sergio Perez (830,000), Pastor Maldonado (794,000) and Felipe Massa (767,000). They are followed by Daniel Ricciardo (595,000) and Romain Grosjean (513,000), Nico Hulkenberg (455,000) and Valtteri Bottas (236,000) with Sainz, Verstappen and the rest giving chase.
In other words, F1 is not very good at social media. People relate to people and if this sport is to make more progress we must encourage characters to express themselves, promote the drivers much more and let people see a little more of the faces behind the masks…